How does RCV Change the Tone of Campaigns?

// Published April 15, 2015

RCV and Incentives to Campaign Positively

In addition to indicating their first choice, voters in RCV elections may rank candidates second or third (or beyond) on the ballot. In the case that a voter's higher ranked candidates lose, the voter's vote may count for their second- or third- ranked candidate. Unlike plurality systems, under RCV the contest for each voter's vote is not a zero-sum game. In many instances,  to be elected a candidate needs both the first choice rankings from his or her core of supporters as well as some lower rankings  from other voters.

These characteristics of RCV, in theory, ought to encourage more civil discourse between candidates since a candidate needs to appeal to a broader range of voters -- core supporters and supporters of other candidates -- in order to win. It is riskier for Candidate A to offend Candidate B's supporters by attacking or besmirching Candidate B, since the Candidate A may lose second- or third- rankings from Candidate B's supporters in the process. There are no equivalent incentives under plurality, where the contest for every vote is a zero-sum game. Indeed, negative campaigning is often a sound strategy for victory because it may enliven the candidate's base.

This page outlines groundbreaking research to test these hypotheses.   

Newspaper Coverage and Tweets

Professor Martha Kropf, at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte, has used a sophisticated “content analysis” technique to show that newspaper coverage of local contests in RCV cities was significantly more positive (and less negative) than in cities using plurality during the 2013 election campaign. Kropf also shows that mayoral candidates in Minneapolis addressed other candidates on Twitter more often and more civilly than did mayoral candidates in non-RCV cities. 

Sarah John reports on Prof. Kropf's work on the 2013 elections in Ranked Choice Voting in Practice: Content Analysis of Campaign Tone in Newspapers and Twitter Feeds in 2013 RCV ElectionsSee also: Kropf, Martha. "Impact of Ranked Choice Voting on Election Cooperation and Civility: Measuring Public Sentiment through a Content Analysis of Campaign-Related Communications." Presentation prepared for the Workshop on Electoral Systems, Electoral Reform, and Implications for Democratic Performance. Stanford University, March 14-15, 2014. 

Cambridge Project

FairVote is currently researching the dynamics of the multi-seat version of RCV used in Cambridge, MA, local elections since  1942.

That analysis will be published here soon. In the meantime, visit our page on Cambridge elections