Voices & Choices

Emerson Polling Shows Value of Asking for Second Choices

Emerson Polling Shows Value of Asking for Second Choices

The Democratic presidential primary has been full of twists and turns in recent weeks, with unexpected endorsements and candidate exits changing the dynamics of the race at a moment’s notice. A candidate exit can “spoil” many single-choice polls of the race that were taken, at least in part, before the given candidate dropped out, but Emerson Polling’s March 4-5 poll of Missouri Democratic primary voters showed there’s an easy way for pollsters to avoid this unfortunate fate: ask for voters’ second choices. 

As FairVote has shown in our ranked choice voting (RCV) polls of the presidential primaries, asking voters for backup choices allows journalists and voters to quickly understand how candidate exits may impact the race.  

Emerson’s Missouri poll was able to report “up-to-date” results of former Vice President Joe Biden at 48% and Senator Bernie Sanders at 44%, even though Senator Elizabeth Warren announced she was dropping out of the race in the middle of the poll. Emerson reports that “Warren supporters were asked who their second choice candidates are. A majority, 53%, said that Sanders was their second choice, followed by 32% who said Biden was their second choice, 5% who chose Gabbard, and 10% who were undecided as to who their second choice candidate will be.”

Unexpected candidate exits cause headaches for pollsters and voters alike, with more than one million votes already wasted in the Democratic presidential primaries due to candidates dropping out before election day. In both polls and elections, the solution to this headache is simple: ask for backup choices by using RCV.

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