Former Vice President Joe Biden continues to lead the narrow democratic field – but under a "ranked-election" system designed to sweep the majority's ultimate preference, Senator Elizabeth Warren would top Biden, 53 percent to 47 percent, according to a new survey exclusively provided in advance to Vox.
The national online survey of probable Democratic voters was conducted by YouGov and sponsored by FairVote, a non-partisan advocacy group that supported electoral reform. Unlike a regular opinion poll, it asked respondents to rank several candidates in order ̵
The way voting works is eliminating candidates with fewer votes and then redistributing their votes to whoever the voter was elected as their second ranked preference. For example, a voter could rank Senator Bernie Sanders as their first choice and Warren as their second choice – meaning that if Sanders were eliminated, that vote would be passed on to Warren.
YouGov tested the ranked electoral methodology that offers all 20 remaining Democratic candidates as alternatives (with the ability to rank 10 of them) – and also by offering only the current top five candidates (Biden, Warren, Sanders, Sen. Kamala Harris, and South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg) as alternatives. The end results were pretty much the same for both versions, so this article will focus on the five-candidate version for simplicity's sake. (The more comprehensive results for both versions are available on FairVote's website.)
In an initial bill that only voted for voters' highest-ranked elections, Biden leads the Democratic area by 33 percent and is followed by Warren by 29 percent, Sanders by 20 percent, Harris with 10 percent, and Buttigieg with 8 percent, per survey.
But it turns out that the defendants who originally favored Sanders and Harris prefer Warren over Biden, with about two-to-one quota. So when the field has narrowed down to a match-to-head matchup by only Biden and Warren, and the votes for the eliminated candidates are that who each voter is ranked higher, Warren would lead Biden by 6 points.
The results are an interesting indication of how an outcome can change due to another tally system. But they can also indicate something bigger.
Although voters can theoretically choose from many of the candidates, we are still months away from a day when primary voters will vote. So how the voters rank their alternatives in a smaller field can tell us a lot about what the race might look like in the future, and what could happen was the field to win further. These results at least suggest that Warren would benefit more than Biden would.
Going through the ranked results
To the uninitiated, ranked poll (sometimes called "instant runoff vote" or IRV) may seem like a confusing and complicated system. Our respondents were asked to rank Biden, Buttigieg, Harris, Sanders and Warren according to preference – from the first election, to the second, to the third, to the fourth, to the fifth. (If they didn't vote for any of these candidates at all, they could also report it.) The graphic below goes through the speech.
A quick note here: The actual calculators are rounded off from a weighted sample – they are presented here to help simulate how the speech would work in a real choice, based on these voting results.
What it means
If the top line result of this poll was the result in a typical American election, Biden would only win directly – he got most first-choice in the first number. But he has just over a third of the vote among five candidates.
Now, if it was a typical Democratic presidential election it wouldn't be that simple. That's because rather than declaring a winner, the Democrats allocate proportionally to all candidates who receive 15 percent of the vote in each primary or caucus. These delegates continue to vote in the elections.
Ranked elections can also inform such a system. You can cancel the number when there are only candidates who hold 15 percent of the vote or more – to ensure that no votes are wasted on candidates who do not meet the threshold. In our example above, things would be broken up in the third century (shows Biden with 39 percent, Warren with 38 percent and Sanders with 23 percent).
However, on DNC's rules and statutes for committee meetings this summer, several members expressed skepticism about whether voting can or should be incorporated into the primary contest given the party's current rules. And Maine, the state that has most embraced the system, will only use it in the general election next year rather than the presidential election.
The goal of ranked elections in general is to ensure that the winner is, at least in some sense, the election of a majority of voters – and that voters who cast ballots for candidates other than the main candidates must not just see their votes cast.
Imagine a choice with only three candidates. Candidate A gets 35 percent of the vote, candidate B gets 33 percent and candidate C gets 32 percent. In the most common American voting system (the "first-in-post"), candidate A would only win. But 65 percent of voters did not vote for him – in fact, they can completely despise him, and have badly wanted him to lose, but were split between the other two options.
Ranking elections would prevent this result: Candidate C would be eliminated and their supporters redistributed to their next ranked choice. Another advantage is that voters under ranked elections are free to choose an unconventional or underdog candidate as their first choice, without worrying that their vote will be "thrown away."
There is, of course, criticism of voting choices as well. Simon Waxman has argued that, in practice, the system can be confusing or exhausting – and that the promised majority support does not always arise because voters do not rank enough candidates. (In this YouGov poll, 85 percent of respondents ranked all five candidates – but that also means, 15 percent didn't.)
Others argue for alternative systems designed to find a "Condorcet winner" – that is, say who would win a head-to-head race against all other candidates. (At least it is possible that such a candidate would have some first-aid and be quickly eliminated during ranked elections.)
Whatever you think about which voting system is best, you can go to FairVote's website for a deeper dive into this survey data – the has interactive graphics for both the five candidate results that this article discusses, and a separate result where all 20 candidates were offered as alternatives.