Experiments in Election Reform: Voter Perceptions of Campaigns using Ranked Choice Voting vs Plurality Voting

302 (Commons) Schaeffer Hall
Wednesday, April 30th, 2014

Caroline Tolbert
Political Science

Experiments in Election Reform: Voter Perceptions of Campaigns using Ranked Choice Voting vs Plurality Voting

American politics and governance has reached a disturbing level of dysfunctionality in Washington D.C and in many states with party polarization at a 100 year high in Congress.  Competitive political campaigns are dominated by negative attack ads that exploit differences rather than promote common ground. Election reform may be necessary to foster compromise and bi-partisan compromise. There is reason to believe that rank choice voting (RCV) elections (alternatively known as instant run-off voting, alternative voting or preference voting)—where voters rank candidates from most preferred to least preferred (usually their top three)—may increase the level of civility and cooperation in political campaigns as candidates work together to create coalitions. The research is driven by two overarching questions. First, do RCV elections lead to more cooperation and civility among political candidates than non-RCV elections? Second, is conflict and negative campaigning more prevalent in non-RCV elections than RCV elections?

The study draws on a unique random sample 2013 post election telephone survey of 2400 respondents conducted by the Eagleton Poll of likely voters in three jurisdictions with RCV elections, who are matched with respondents in six jurisdictions without RCV elections. One survey samples likely voters living in three cities holding RCV elections in 2013 and the second survey likely voters from the control group of cities without RCV elections. In order to isolate the effects of RCV elections on campaigns and political behavior, we compare campaigns in cities with and without RCV using an experimental design imbedded in the survey.

Survey questions designed by the authors measure perceptions of the local campaigns, negative/positive campaign ads, campaign civility, etc. in cities with two different types of election systems. Holding other factors constant, are there differences in the campaign civility that can be attributed to the use of RCV? Using local elections to expand experiments in election reform, the research provides a systematic study of the effects of RCV elections in the United States.