FairVote has been a consistent advocate for polling that goes beyond asking voters for just their first choices. As the race narrows in the Republican field, second choices will inevitably play a large role in how the eventual nominee consolidates support. On the Democratic side, second-choices may prove pivotal as soon as this evening, if Martin O’Malley’s supporters tip the scales in the Iowa Caucus towards Hillary Clinton or Bernie Sanders.
However, even second-choices don’t reflect the full preferences of voters. A true ranked choice poll would provide a more complete understanding of how the electorate views the field and candidates. PPP’s latest polling data from Iowa offers both the simple second choice preferences as well as head-to-head and three-candidate match ups that we can use to simulate a ranked choice poll, allowing us to compare both methods of polling voters.
On first choices, the only measure reported in most polls, Trump leads Cruz 31% to 23% in Iowa. With the addition of second choice preferences, Trump’s lead declines to 35.55% versus Cruz’ 30.32%. However, these numbers only reflect respondents who listed Trump or Cruz as their first or second choice, about 65.9% of the voters in this sample. The remaining 34.1% of the respondents who did not rank either candidate as a first or second choice are not represented. These respondents are excluded from the above comparison, even though they likely do have a preference between the two candidates. In a ranked choice poll, this remaining third of respondents would still have their voices counted for either Trump or Cruz, even if they listed these candidates further down the ballot, for example as a third or fourth choice.
We are able to simulate this scenario using PPP’s head-to-head match ups. When the full group of respondents is asked to choose between Trump or Cruz, with all other candidates eliminated, Cruz wins with 47% to Donald Trump’s 40%. When all respondents are able to weigh in, Iowans clearly prefer Cruz to Trump, even if they list neither as a first or second choice. This finding is obscured in a simple second-choice comparison by excluding the third of the electorate that would list Cruz and Trump farther down their ballot. As we look forward to an extended primary season, polls that allow voters to rank all candidates and fully express their preferences will best equip us to understand and predict these crowded campaign fields.
In another interesting finding from the poll, Dr. Ben Carson and Mike Huckabee earn the highest favorability ratings of all candidates (72% and 60%, respectively), despite running well behind the candidates at the top of the field in our simulation. If candidates favorability ratings are taken as a proxy for their likely success in an approval voting contest, it would suggest that these systems could lead to very different outcomes.
Image Source: Gage Skidmore