Voices & Choices

When candidates drop out of the presidential race, where do their backers go?

When candidates drop out of the presidential race, where do their backers go?

In the past week, three more Democrats have joined California Congressman (and former FairVote intern) Eric Swalwell in dropping out of the Democratic candidate nomination race: Washington state governor Jay Inslee, former Colorado governor John Hickenlooper, and Massachusetts Congressman Seth Moulton. That still leaves more than 20 active Democratic candidates, only one of whom can become the nominee.

Hickenlooper, Inslee, and Moulton all had their bases of support, though each candidate’s was too small to make them a frontrunner. Inslee’s backers who are passionate about climate change will now review the field and identify their new top choice. Hickenlooper’s backers may move to another moderate. Moulton’s backers who are passionate about veterans’ treatment may survey the field for another candidate with similar policies.

The idea of moving from first choices to backup choices is, in fact, a fundamental reality in American politics. Inslee, personally, is going to his second choice -- running for re-election as Washington's governor. Hickenlooper is running for Senate in Colorado. Moulton is focusing on reelection. Because there is plenty of time to choose another candidate before the primaries begin, voters will also get the opportunity to peruse second choice candidates. 

But what if it didn’t have to be this way, where voters only get to reveal their second choice preferences once their preferred candidate drops out? What if we had ranked choice voting?

Ranked choice voting (RCV) takes that reality—of voters ranking their candidates in order of preference--and builds it directly into our elections in a way that make democracy better for everyone. By removing any penalty for supporting their favorite candidates, it empowers voters. In short, RCV is an ideal structure for such a large primary field. 


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