FairVote Projects

As part of our commitment to understanding electoral systems and electoral reform in the United States, FairVote conducts large research projects. The significant recent projects are listed below. 

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With the support of the Women Donors Network, FairVote has launched two ambitious research projects that explore the impact of electoral systems on the representation of women, people of color and women of color: 

  • Electoral Rules and Representation in Counties: The Who Leads Us databases, created by the Women Donors Network, record the gender, race and ethnicity of candidates and elected officials from the local county to national level of public office in 2012 and 2014. Utilizing these extensive databases, FairVote is exploring the impact of different electoral rules on the representation of women, people of color and women of color. We will explore the impact of multi-winner districts, proportional representation and many other electoral rules on the reflectiveness of a county’s elective government. By the end of 2016, we will publish:
    • A full dataset containing variables for multiple electoral rule features (including election dates, the size of county commission, the use of partisan elections, the use of multi-winner districts)
    • A report that summarizes the findings of the research and main recommendations for achieving a more equitable representation of women, people of color and women of color.
    • Interactive visuals that rank and provide data on each county. 
  • Fair Representation and Representation In this project, we explore reflective representation in proportional systems in the American context.  We will study all the jurisdictions that use Fair Representation voting systems. The existing literature indicates that proportional representation systems, including Fair Representation voting, lead to better representation of women and people of color.  
  • RCV and Representation in the California Bay Area: In this project, FairVote is quantifying the impact of RCV on the representation of women and people of color in the Bay Area. We use an extensive database of candidates dating back to 1992 and a rigorous difference in differences method. We anticipate completing our project in 2016.

The Ranked Choice Voting Civility Project

In 2013, FairVote received a generous grant from the Democracy Fund to conduct a comprehensive two-year study of the impact of ranked choice voting (RCV) on campaign cooperation and civility in local elections in the U.S. The project involves two large public opinion surveys, content analysis of media coverage and candidate communications, and analysis of voter turnout and error data, for the 2013 and 2014 elections. 

Public Opinion on Ranked Choice Voting

As part of the project, the Rutgers-Eagleton Poll, with Professor Caroline J. Tolbert (University of Iowa) and Professor Todd Donovan (Western Washington University), conducted two rigorous independent opinion polls exploring voters' experiences in local campaigns and elections.

  • In November 2013, 2,400 likely voters were surveyed in 10 cities. Three cities had just held local elections using RCV (Minnesota's Twin Cities of Minneapolis and St. Paul, as well as Cambridge, Mass.); and seven control cities had used plurality voting in their November elections. The seven control cities were Lowell, MA, Worcester, MA, Boston, MA, Seattle, WA, Tulsa, OK, Cedar Rapids, IA, and Des Monies, IA.
  • In November 2014, over 2,400 likely voters from eleven cities were surveyed for their views on the conduct of local elections. Likely voters in 4 California Bay Area cities (Berkeley, Oakland, San Francisco and San Leandro) that had just held local RCV elections were polled, as were likely voters in seven California control cities. The control cities were Alameda, San Jose, Richmond, Anaheim, Santa Clara, Santa Ana, and Stockton.

For more information on how the surveys were conducted, download our survey methodology document.

Content Analysis of Media Coverage and Candidate Communications

In the second stream of the RCV Civility Project, Professor Martha Kropf, at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, used content analysis techniques to explore the sentiment--the levels of positivity, negativity, anger etc--expressed in local newspaper coverage of elections in RCV and non-RCV cities. Professor Kropf also examined  the content of candidate tweets to explore the sentiment and the manner in which candidates communicated with other candidates on Twitter in cities using RCV compared to cities that used plurality voting. 

Analysis of Voter Turnout and Error

In the third stream of the RCV Civility Project, Professor David Kimball, at the University of Missouri-St. Louis, and Ph.D. candidate Joseph Anthony studied voter turnout in 26 American cities across 79 elections. Using a difference-in-differences research design, the study compares cities that adopted RCV against those that did not adopt RCV to observe how voter turnout changed over time in general elections and primaries. They also explore how the proportion of residual votes changed in the two types of city. 

Kimball and Anthony also delve deeper, using the case-study of Minneapolis, Minnesota to investigate the impact of RCV on voter turnout inequities. 


Reports and detailed findings from the RCV Civility Project are available on the "Ranked Choice Voting - The American Experience" page. 

Structural Reform Assessment Project

FairVote’s Comparative Structural Reform project took place in 2015 and is reported on in our final report page. It entailed an extensive survey of 14 prominent political scientists about the likely impact of 37 electoral reforms. The participants in this project were leading authorities on electoral reform and legislative functionality, with extensive collective expertise and mastery of both quantitative and qualitative approaches to the study of American legislatures, elections and electoral rules. Participants included: 

  • Barry Burden (University of Wisconsin)
  • Michael Crespin (University of Oklahoma)
  • Ronald Keith Gaddie (University of Oklahoma)
  • Nicholas Goedert (Lafayette College)
  • John Hudak (The Brookings Institution)
  • Jason Kirksey (Oklahoma State University)
  • Thad Kousser (UC San Diego)
  • Seth Masket (University of Denver)
  • Jack Nagel (University of Pennsylvania)
  • Jonathan Rodden (Stanford)
  • Mathew Shuggart (UC Davis)
  • Nicholas Stephanopoulos (University of Chicago)
  • Dan Tokaji (Ohio State University)
  • Caroline Tolbert (University of Iowa)

 Each of the 14 participants was asked to assess each reform’s impact on 16 different criteria fitting within four topline categories: 

  1. Legislative functionality
  2. Electoral accountability
  3. Voter engagement
  4. Openness of process

The participants were provided with background documents and annotated bibliographies to inform their opinions and completed eleven surveys, grouped by reform category. A sample survey instrument is provided for reference. Participants rated the likely impact of each reform on a scale of 1 - 5, with a score of one indicating no impact (or a negative impact), a score of three indicating a moderate impact, and a score of 5 indicating that the reform would, on its own, have a profound, “game-changing” impact on the criterion in question. In conjunction with impact ratings, participants were also asked to rate the certainty of their rating for each reform on a scale of 1 to 5, where 1 indicated low certainty and 5 indicated high certainty. Participants were also asked to provide additional comments about the potential impact of each reform on each criterion. 

Participants were compensated for their participation. All participants responded to all eleven surveys and provided a wealth of insightful comments, new sources, and useful information in addition to their well-considered ratings of each reform.

The responses of the participants were then aggregated and analyzed. Results are presented in our Comparative Structural Reform Report


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