Voters in RCV elections may rank candidates beyond just selecting their first choice. If a voter's higher-ranked candidates loses, the voter's vote will count for their second-, third-, or later-ranked candidate. The contest for each voter's vote is not a zero-sum game, unlike in plurality elections. Candidates do best in RCV elections when they attract a strong core of first-choice support while also reaching out for second and even third choices.
These characteristics of RCV encourage more civil discourse between candidates since a candidate needs to appeal to a broader range of voters – including their own core supporters and supporters of other candidates – in order to win. Candidates have less incentive to make negative statements about their opponents because they risk alienating that opponent's supporters. Former Minneapolis Mayor Betsy Hodges describes this phenomenon in the video below:
In 2013-2014, FairVote conducted a comprehensive two-year study of the impact of RCV on campaign cooperation and civility, thanks to a generous grant from the Democracy Fund. As part of the project, the Rutgers-Eagleton Institute of Politics, 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.
The Eagleton surveys show:
For more information on how the surveys were conducted, download our survey methodology document.
Fine grained analysis by socio-economic and demographic groups is possible for the California 2014 poll. Likely voters in cities that used RCV were more satisfied with the conduct of candidate campaigns, and perceived less candidate criticism and negative campaigning in the lead up to the November 2014 elections.
These tendencies were especially strong with regard to candidate criticism and negative campaigning.
Figure 1: Perceived Negativity, Socioeconomic Groups, RCV cities and Plurality cities
Figure 2: Perceived Negativity, Select Demographic Groups, RCV cities and Plurality cities