Voices & Choices

New poll simulates ranked choice voting in presidential contest

New poll simulates ranked choice voting in presidential contest

As 10 Democratic candidates prepare to take the stage in tonight’s presidential debate in Houston, voters are getting their popcorn ready in anticipation of seeing the contenders duke it out.  

And while the debate—the first time the frontrunners will grace the stage together—will surely produce fireworks, it will also allow voters to winnow their list of preferred candidates.

After all, even though there are still more than four months until the Iowa caucus and five months until the Super Tuesday primaries, voters will eventually have to parse a field of 20+ candidates and support just one.

But what if it didn’t have to be this way? What if voters weren’t forced to select a single candidate, but could instead rank their choices? What if a vote for a low-polling candidate wasn’t a throwaway vote or a spoiler? What would the primary look like then?

FairVote has the answer.

In a first-of-its-kind poll, FairVote has partnered with YouGov to simulate what the Democratic primary would look like—if conducted in the past week—were ranked choice voting (RCV) used to choose a nominee.

The results may surprise you. While current polling frontrunner Joe Biden wins a plurality of first-choices, once lower-polling candidates are removed and their supporters’ votes are distributed to their second and third choices, Senator Elizabeth Warren comes out on top.

Want to look under the hood and see how that vote transferring process works? Vox, in a feature about the poll, created a wonderful series of graphics illustrating the process.

Also, using FairVote’s interactive, innovative widget, one can select different demographics and remove certain candidates to envision several scenarios that might take place under RCV.

Notably, the poll also reveals that voters are ready to rank their candidates—in both surveys and real elections. According to an official report, more than 95 percent of survey participants opted to rank more than one candidate, while upwards of 85 percent of participants opted to rank all five frontrunners when offered the opportunity.

Most encouragingly, more than two-thirds of respondents said the ranking process was easy—and 65 percent said they favored RCV (as opposed to only 13 percent who said they opposed it).

In the Vox piece, authors Andrew Prokop and Christina Animashaun explained how RCV could be used in the context of the Democratic primary, in which candidates who receive at least 15 percent support in states accrue delegates:

“You could cut off the tally once there are only candidates who have 15 percent of the vote or more — to ensure that no votes are “wasted” on candidates who didn’t meet the threshold. In our example above, things would wrap up at the third tally (showing Biden with 39 percent, Warren with 38 percent, and Sanders with 23 percent).”

In fact, six states—Alaska, Hawaii, Kansas, Iowa, Wyoming, and Nevada—will use some form of RCV to select a Democratic nominee. Maine, while it will not use RCV in its presidential primary, will actually use RCV in the presidential general election in November 2020.




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