The following briefly describes and links to research on the use of ranked choice voting. This page was last updated September 1, 2016. For more detailed information, check out our research page on ranked choice voting.
Taken together, this research suggests that ranked choice voting, whether used in single-winner or multi-winner elections, helps promote inclusive and civil campaigning, and that voters of all demographics use it effectively. When used in multi-winner elections, it also promotes fair representation and good governance based on a variety of metrics.
Todd Donovan (Western Washington University), Caroline Tolbert (University of Iowa), and Kellen Gracey (University of Iowa)
In November 2013, 2,400 likely voters in 10 cities were surveyed about their local elections. Three cities had just held local elections using RCV (Minneapolis and St. Paul (MN) and Cambridge (MA)), and seven control cities had used plurality voting in their November elections. The surveys show that likely voters in cities that used RCV were more satisfied with the conduct of local campaigns than people in similar cities with plurality (first-past-the-post) elections, and were more likely to have in-person contact with candidates for office. People in cities with RCV were also less likely to view campaigns as negative, and less likely to respond that candidates were frequently criticizing each other. The results are consistent across a series of robustness checks.
David C. Kimball (University of Missouri-St. Louis) and Joseph Anthony
Available at http://www.umsl.edu/~kimballd/KimballRCV.pdf
This study examines the degree to which voters turn out to vote and properly cast their votes, comparing ranked choice voting to plurality voting in the United States. It compares demographically similar cities with RCV and plurality voting. It finds that RCV helps increase voter participation in decisive elections when reducing the substantial drop in voter participation that commonly occurs between primary and general elections and between first round and runoff elections, but otherwise does not appear to have a strong positive or negative impact on voter turnout and ballot completion. In a case study of Minneapolis, it finds similar levels of socioeconomic and racial disparities in voter participation in plurality as in RCV elections. The study found no increase in total residual voters (meaning total ballots where voters skipped voting in the election or invalidated their ballot in that election) compared to non-RCV elections. This is particularly significant finding in California city elections with RCV, because they are held at the same time as non-RCV races like president or governor that appear first on the ballot and are the bigger drivers of participation. Kimball and Anthony have updated their research for presentation at the September 2016 American Political Science Association conference and are preparing to submit their work for publication in the fall.
Haley Smith, Sarah John, and Andrew Douglas
The Eagleton Poll at Rutgers University conducted two polls—one in 2013 and another in 2014—that explore the impact of RCV on city elections in the United States. In both surveys, more respondents in cities using RCV reported candidates spent less time criticizing opponents than in cities that did not use RCV. More respondents in cities using RCV reported less negative campaigns than in cities that did not use RCV. In the 2013 survey, 90% of respondents in RCV cities found the RCV ballot easy to understand; 89% of respondents in RCV cities in California found the RCV ballot easy to understand. A majority of all respondents in both surveys believed RCV should be used in local elections in their city. Support was greatest in cities already using RCV.
Available at https://fairvote.app.box.com/v/RCVunderstandingmemo
This memo focuses on voter experience with RCV in U.S. cities, based on analysis of RCV ballots after they were cast and public opinion surveys. It summarizes research suggesting that voters understand RCV at levels comparable other systems (like the “Top Two” primary used in California and Washington) and that they readily use the option to rank candidates for local offices. It provides detailed information on overvote and undervote rates in RCV elections. Notably, more than 99% of voters in Bay Area elections cast an RCV ballot that counts and more than eight in ten rank more than one candidate in competitive multi-candidate mayoral elections.
This study examines the effect of ranked choice voting on women and people of color running for elected office in the California Bay Area. San Francisco began using RCV in 2004 for their city elections, followed by Oakland, Berkeley, and San Leandro in 2010. Women and people of color hold more than 80% of these cities’ 52 offices that have been elected by RCV. The findings of the study reveal that RCV increases descriptive representation for women, people of color, and women of color. Some reasons for RCV’s positive effects can be related to how often it replaces low, unrepresentative turnout elections and that it allows for multiple candidates appealing to the same community to run without splitting the vote. The unambiguously positive impact of RCV on descriptive representation encourages further study.
Andrew Spencer, Christopher Hughes, and Rob Richie
Available at https://fairvote.app.box.com/v/EscapingtheThicket
In this law review article, FairVote staff make the case for the use of multi-winner districts with ranked choice voting for U.S. congressional elections. It reviews the history of plurality voting in U.S. congressional elections, and how this emphasis on single-winner elections intersects with the Voting Rights Act, which makes vote dilution of racial and ethnic minority populations illegal. In some cases brought under the Voting Rights Act, jurisdictions have adopted semi-proportional voting methods rather than the use of single-winner districts. The articles reviews what makes those voting methods most effective, and concludes that they would have their most potent application in congressional elections. It lays out a proposal for multi-winner districts with ranked choice voting for congressional elections and describes its likely impact.
This 2015 report presents an extensive assessment of the potential impact of 37 structural reforms to election laws and legislative structures in collaboration with fourteen prominent political scientists. The participating scholars were asked to assess each reform’s impact on 16 different criteria fitting within four topline categories: legislative functionality, electoral accountability, voter engagement, and openness of process. In the scholars’ assessment, the three structural reforms that would have the greatest positive impact on U.S. democracy are two forms of multi-winner RCV (ranked choice voting in five-winner districts, and ranked choice voting in three-winner districts) and Districts Plus (a form of mixed-member proportional representation). Single winner forms of RCV were also judged to have a positive impact compared to many of the other reforms that were analyzed. The report also includes background information on each reform with links to a large number of scholarly resources.
Available at http://www.fairvote.org/monopoly_politics
FairVote’s biennial report, Monopoly Politics, presents in-depth analysis of U.S. congressional elections, with factsheets for each state and detailed analyses on a range of topics. It uses a partisanship metric to project election results in “safe” districts, with greater than 99% accuracy despite not making use of any polling data or spending data or anything else other than prior election results. In November 2014, more than two years before the 2016 elections, we projected winners in nearly six out of seven House races to take place two years later using a methodology that was wrong in only one out of more than 700 races going into the 2012 and 2014 elections.
The report also makes the case that the exclusive use of single-winner districts causes the overwhelming majority of congressional elections to lack meaningful competition; distorts partisan outcomes such that a clear majority can vote for one of the two major parties and still have the other win a solid majority of seats; and polarizes politics as representatives lack any accountability to those outside their party base. As an alternative, the report includes sample multi-winner district plans for every state with at least three seats, using districts that are never larger than five seats. Projections of outcomes using RCV in these districts suggest that not a single multi-winner district would have representatives from only one major party, and the current partisan skew in House elections would be nearly entirely removed.