- Ranked Choice Voting
- Details about Ranked Choice Voting
- Data on Ranked Choice Voting
Ranked Choice Voting and Representation
Different voting systems impact all types of representation, including voter ideology, race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic status, experiences and interests. This page explores research into the representation of different groups under ranked choice voting (RCV) and other American election systems.
Representation for Women and People of Color
A 2021 study by FairVote examines the ways candidates of color and voters of color benefit from RCV. The study finds that candidates of color earn more vote pick-ups in the round-by-round counting process than White candidates and that in RCV elections, candidates of color pay no penalty when competing against other candidates of the same racial or ethnic group.
FairVote. May 2021. Ranked Choice Voting Elections Benefit Candidates and Voters of Color.
- A 2021 paper by Cynthia Terrell, Courtney Lamendola, and Maura Reilly explores how RCV has impacted women's representation both historically and in currently elected bodies in the U.S. The paper finds that the proportional version of RCV was effective at increasing women's representation in cities that used it in the early 20th century, and that the single-winner version has been effective in the 21st century.
Terrell, C., Lamendola, C., Reilly, M. June 2021. Election Reform and Women's Representation: Ranked Choice Voting in the U.S. Politics and Governance, 9(2), 332-343.
John, S., Smith, H., & Zack, E. August 2018. The alternative vote: Do changes in single-member voting systems affect descriptive representation of women and minorities?
RCV voters in presidential primaries used rankings to identify the strongest presidential nominee while ensuring diverse representation at the national convention, according to a study on the 2020 Democratic presidential primaries.
Liu, B., Mahallati, N., & Turner, C. April 2021. Ranked-Choice Voting Delivers Representation and Consensus in Presidential Primaries.
- A 2019 FairVote report on racial minority voting rights shows that people of color hold office at a higher rate under RCV than under the prior system, and that people of color win office more often since the adoption of RCV.
FairVote. November 2019. Ranked Choice Voting and Racial Minority Voting Rights.
- Candidates of color appear to earn lower support than White candidates in both plurality elections and RCV elections. A survey experiment from 2021 finds that RCV does not ameliorate that penalty, penalties were significantly lower for respondents who displayed a high level of understanding of RCV. Adding partisan labels to the candidates also significantly reduces the penalty.
Crowder-Meyer, M., Kusher Gadarian, S., Trounstine, J. January 2021. Ranking Candidates in Local Elections: Neither Panacea nor Catastrophe.
- In 2014, FairVote's Andrew Douglas used ballot image data to show a pattern of racially and ethnically cohesive voting among Cambridge, MA, city council voters. The report demonstrates that at-large RCV benefited candidates from ethnic and political minority groups. The benefit is attributed primarily to the low electoral threshold which allows minority groups to have representation based roughly on their share of the population.
Douglas, Andrew. February 2014. The Effect of Fair Representation Voting on 2013 Cambridge Municipal Elections
- A 2016 Fairvote report examines the effect of RCV on women and people of color running for elected office in the California Bay Area. The findings reveal that RCV increases descriptive representation for women, people of color, and women of color. Some reasons for RCV’s positive effects can be related to how often it replaces low, unrepresentative, turnout elections and that it allows for multiple candidates appealing to the same community to run without splitting the vote.
John, S., Smith, H., & Zack, E. July 2016. Ranked Choice Voting and Representation of Underrepresented Groups.
RCV does not decrease racially polarized voting, according to two studies (here and here). Racially polarized voting occurs when voters of different racial or ethnic groups vote distinctly from one another. These results are unsurprising because RCV tends to attract more diverse candidates, giving voters more opportunity to cast a vote for someone who represents their community.
Atsusaka, Y. & Landsman, T. April 2021. Does Ranked-Choice Voting Reduce Racial Polarization? A Clustering Approach to Ranked Ballot Data.
McDaniel, J. October 2018. Does More Choice Lead to Reduced Racially Polarized Voting? Assessing the Impact of Ranked-Choice Voting in Mayoral Elections.
Representation for Differing Political Viewpoints
Roughly 35% of voters self-identify as Independent according to Gallup polling. In spite of their numerousness, unaffiliated voters have little influence in Congress or in most state legislatures.
RCV improves prospects for independent and third party voters and candidates. While single-winner RCV might not increase the election of minor party candidates in the US, as candidates must clear a majority threshold to win, RCV allows supporters of those candidates to sincerely rank their preferred candidate first without feeling like their votes are wasted and with minimal chance that support will spoil the election outcome.
- Independent and third-party candidates fare better under RCV elections, according to a 2021 study. However, respondents in a survey experiment reacted negatively to the idea of a come-from-behind victory in an RCV election while feeling no dissatisfaction with come-from-behind victories in two-round runoffs or non-majority winners in plurality elections. In actuality, non-majority winners in plurality elections can be a key driving force behind implementation of RCV, indicating voters are in fact dissatisfied with the status quo.
Cerrone, J., McClintock, C. March 2021. Ranked-Choice Voting, Runoff, and Democracy: Insights from Maine and Other U.S. States
- RCV does not lead to more support for extreme candidates, according to a 2021 study. Ideologically extreme candidates are not viewed as more electable in RCV elections than in plurality elections, among both liberals and conservatives.
Baker, M. April 2021. Voters Evaluate Ideologically Extreme Candidates as Similarly Electable under Ranked Choice Voting and Plurality Voting.
- In multi-winner RCV, it also becomes possible for Democrat or Republican voters who live in a district with the opposite majority to gain representation. As long as the Democrat or Republican population is equal to or greater than the threshold to win, people can gain representation where they currently feel left out.
- A 2016 FairVote report explores how RCV might reduce legislative polarization by allowing space for moderate, conservative, liberal and other voters to elect candidates in proportion to their overall numbers in the electorate. Evidence for Cambridge, Massachusetts, which uses multi-winner RCV, indicates that candidates and city councilors are not highly polarized there.
John, S. & Leinz, B. April 2016. Polarization and Multi-winner Ranked Choice Voting in Cambridge, Massachusetts, City Council Elections.
- A study of municipal RCV use in nine cities found that RCV had no apparent impact on ideological composition of city councils in those cities, and does not appear to change councilors' voting behavior. The study questions whether RCV will in fact improve ideological representation, but notes that it only considers progressive cities, and further research on other cities and statewide implementation will be informative.
Electoral Institutions and Substantive Representation in Local Politics: The Effects of Ranked Choice Voting by Arjun Vishwanath. (July 2021).