What Rick Perry's 2016 Exit Can Teach the GOP About Ranked Choice Voting

Posted by Ethan Fitzgerald on September 16, 2015
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The seemingly ever-expanding Republican presidential field experienced its first drop-out last week when former Texas governor Rick Perry suspended his campaign. Though Perry’s support among voters was limited, pollsters are eager to see where his supporters will move their allegiance now that he has left the race. Our poll, created in partnership with Civinomics via an online app, shows us exactly that and will prove instructive as more popular candidates drop out.

Perry received just 1% of first choice support and 3% of second-choice support in Public Policy Polling’s July survey, meaning his departure will not have a huge impact on the race. In our poll, Donald Trump received a plurality - but not a majority - of votes in the first round, and is followed by Ben Carson, the actual front runner according to most national polls. Perry’s elimination gives the most visible gains to Trump and Carly Fiorina, but with Trump still below a majority. This falls in line with recent polling by Public Policy Polling that shows Trump with a broad swath of second choice support.

As more candidates are forced to drop out of the unprecedentedly large 2016 Republican field, frontrunners will look to secure the votes of their former opponents’ supporters. This makes it crucial to understand which candidates are gaining the most secondary and tertiary support among the electorate, even though Republican primary voters will be able to choose only one candidate when they go to the polls in 2016. While an increasing number of polls ask about respondents’ second choices, our simulation offers a comprehensive view of voters’ preferences because it allows them to rank as many candidates as they like in order of preference.

Our unscientific simulation gives us an idea of how support may shift as candidates drop out of the race. This is best illustrated by focusing on some of the more popular candidates in our RCV poll. Rand Paul picked up 9% of votes in the first round of our model. Were he to drop out, his supporters are split in our simulation, with the bulk of support going to Carson, Fiorina, and John Kasich. Should Fiorina drop out, our app shows that Ted Cruz would be the biggest beneficiary.

Using an RCV model to simulate the Republican primary demonstrates the need for candidates to appeal to as broad a portion of the electorate as possible. The GOP and any party should considering using RCV in their primaries to better understand where their members’ support lies when it comes time to plan debates and so they can better build consensus behind the eventual nominee.
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