How Ranked Choice Voting Impacts Elections

How much of an impact do you believe ranked choice voting makes on a Primary election?
Ben: It had a huge impact in the New York Mayoral Primary election. First of all, every campaign had to figure out a strategy in terms of how they were going to deal with ranked choice voting (RCV). It meant our campaign couldn’t just determine a strategy to get the most 1st place votes, but also how to ensure we got enough 2nd and 3rd place votes (and 4th and 5th!) to ensure we got the 50+1 we needed to win. The bottom line is it required our campaign to have a more complex, multi-dimensional strategy that would not have been the case had RCV not been in effect.
Adam: It expands the pool of voters for some candidates because, while a candidate might not be the first choice of a voter, they absolutely need to compete to be second, third, fourth, or fifth.
Does ranked choice voting have any effect (positive or negative) on voter turnout?
Ben: Difficult to say. I believe turnout in the New York Mayoral Primary election was so large due to the fact that this was the first open mayoral race in 8 years, that there was a very diverse and talented field of candidates who attracted a wide array of voters, and that New Yorkers had just endured a tough year due to COVID and are experiencing a serious crime wave, so there was a lot at stake in this election and a lot of reasons for New Yorkers to get out and vote.
Adam: We will likely see, at least in the short term, that ranked choice voting suppresses voter turnout. The confusing nature of the system turns people off. Statistics promoted by RCV advocates that suggest it yields greater participation fails to take into account other factors, like interest in the contest.
How is your polling analysis different when ranked choice voting is at play? Does this system more accurately reflect the collective will of the majority?
Ben: In terms of my polling analysis, I had to spend a lot more time figuring how to build a coalition that not only got us the most 1st place votes, but that also could appeal to a broad enough coalition to get other voters to get to 50+1 percent of the RCV vote in the final round.
Adam: Polling for RCV is not more different than typical one-person one-vote elections, but it is easier to do in online research vs. telephone polling. But more than 75% of voters prefer to complete surveys online. And no, ranked choice voting does not have some magical powers that shine a light on the true nature of what the majority wants. It is a voting scheme, just like any other.
Does ranked choice voting affect the strategies that campaign consultants usually rely on during a campaign cycle?
Ben: Absolutely. RCV scrambled the game a lot and made all campaigns put more effort in their strategies and approaches to how they campaigned.
Adam: Yes. Conventional campaign strategy dictates that we hold up our candidates high and pull the rug out from under the competition – if their position in the race warrants the attack. But RCV changes this equation. With RCV, hits need to be much more calculated because your candidate might hurt their chances at being the 2nd choice of that voter if they know she is attacking their number one.
The one net positive to RCV to independents like me, is that RCV has a moderating effect on campaign rhetoric.