Ranked Choice Voting
Ranked choice voting (RCV) is currently used in at least 10 U.S. cities and many university and organization elections. It is also used in numerous national, state and local governmental elections around the world. In this section we explore emerging research into the impact of ranked choice voting in the United States as well as the body of research on RCV around the world.
The American Experience
Since 2000, the number of American cities using single-winner RCV has dramatically increased. More than ten cities now use single-winner RCV including four cities in the Bay Area in California, Minneapolis and St. Paul, Minnesota, and Portland, Maine. FairVote and a team of researchers are eagerly investigating America’s emergent experience with RCV.
Voters’ Experiences with RCV
The Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, with Professors Caroline J. Tolbert and Todd Donovan, conducted two rigorous independent opinion polls exploring voters’ experiences in local campaigns and elections in 2013 and 2014. These polls show:
- Likely voters in cities that used RCV in their local elections in 2013 and 2014 were more satisfied with the conduct of candidate campaigns, and perceived less candidate criticism and negative campaigning in the lead up to their local elections. Click here for more on campaign satisfaction, negativity and criticism in RCV elections.
- Ranked choice voting was supported by a majority of voters with an opinion. In both 2013 and 2014, a majority of voters in RCV cities supported the use of RCV in local elections. In the 2014 survey of California cities, a majority of voters with an opinion in cities that use plurality voting supported the adoption of RCV in their local elections. Click here for more about voter support of RCV.
- An overwhelming majority of voters in cities that used RCV found their ballot instructions easy to understand. Click here for more on voter understanding under RCV.
- Self-reported understanding of RCV is high and compares favorably to understanding of plurality and the Top-Two primary. Click here for more on voter understanding of different electoral systems.
Candidates’ Experiences with RCV
In a survey of more than 200 candidates for city office, Professor Todd Donovan found that candidates in cities using RCV were:
- * more likely than candidates in non-RCV cities to report hiring paid staff and relying on volunteers.
- * slightly less likely to report using TV or radio ads.
- * more likely to report praising their rivals.
- * less likely to say their election was negative.
- * less likely to report that their campaign or their opponent’s campaign portrayed candidates in negative terms.
For more information, read Todd Donovan’s conference paper: Donovan, Todd. Candidate Perceptions of Campaigns under Preferential and Plurality Voting. Presentation prepared for the Workshop on Electoral Systems, Electoral Reform, and Implications for Democratic Performance. Stanford University, March 14-15, 2014.
Traditional and Social Media under RCV
Professor Martha Kropf, at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, has used content analysis techniques of newspaper articles and candidate tweets to show that newspaper coverage of local contests in RCV cities was significantly more positive (and less negative) than in cities using plurality during the 2013 election campaign. Kropf also shows that mayoral candidates in Minneapolis addressed other candidates on Twitter more often and more civilly than did mayoral candidates in non-RCV cities.
Sarah John reports on Prof. Kropf’s work on the 2013 elections in Ranked Choice Voting in Practice: Content Analysis of Campaign Tone in Newspapers and Twitter Feeds in 2013 RCV Elections. See also: Kropf, Martha. “Impact of Ranked Choice Voting on Election Cooperation and Civility: Measuring Public Sentiment through a Content Analysis of Campaign-Related Communications.” Presentation prepared for the Workshop on Electoral Systems, Electoral Reform, and Implications for Democratic Performance. Stanford University, March 14-15, 2014.
Representation under RCV
FairVote is currently exploring the impact of RCV on the representation of women and people of color at the local level. For more information about our projects, progress and plans see the Representation page.
In nations that use RCV for partisan elections, the impacts of RCV on independent and third party voters has been studied. For more see our International Experience page.
Voter Turnout and Understanding under RCV
Voter turnout in cities that have adopted RCV is comparable to, and often higher than, turnout in other cities. In elections using RCV in the Bay Area in 2014, voter turnout decline was less than in other parts of the state and voter turnout was generally higher than past non-RCV elections.
Professor David Kimball, at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, has studied voter turnout under RCV. His study finds that RCV in American local elections has a limited impact on turnout, with more important influences on turnout including a competitive mayoral election, other races on the ballot (including initiatives) and the use of even year elections. However, Professor Kimball’s study shows that, when compared to the primary and runoff elections they replace, RCV general elections are associated with a 10 point increase in voter turnout.
For more research into RCV and voter turnout and understanding, visit the Voter Turnout and Understanding page.
Voter Preferences, Spoilers and Majority Winners under RCV
Some of the key advantages of RCV include its tendency to limit the spoiler effect, so long as voters rank candidates, and to elect the winner with the support of the majority of voters. In the “Voter Preferences, Spoilers and Majority Winners” section, we explore FairVote research on how voters express their preferences under RCV, the operation of the spoiler effect in practice, and the election of majority and Condorcet winners under RCV.
As advocates in Benton County work to bring a better ballot to elections there, the rest of Oregon should be considering the advantages of ranked choice voting as well. FairVote, the premier nonpartisan elections reform organization, has an outstanding trove of materials about ranked choice voting and its benefits. Reprinted from the FairVote website, with links.