Here’s the evidence supporting ranked choice voting 

Published on October 16, 2023

A document by Lawrence Jacobs and Penny Thomas provides an unholistic and misleading review of ranked choice voting (RCV). The document mischaracterizes and understates the body of academic research on RCV.

A FairVote analysis below demonstrates that claims about the benefits of RCV are supported by facts and research. RCV is a tried-and-true voting system that has been embraced by voters and increased the quality of elections in jurisdictions that use it.

Rachel Hutchinson, Senior Policy Analyst at FairVote, October 16, 2023

Claim #1: RCV can help reduce polarization

The evidence indicates that RCV reduces partisan polarization in partisan races, and leads to more positive campaigns in both partisan and nonpartisan races.

  • The first study that Jacobs and Thomas cite is based on a game-like experiment in which the authors acknowledge its “limited external validity.” The paper did not assess a real-life RCV election, nor did it survey participants according to their actual political affiliation.
  • Real-life evidence suggests that RCV can reduce polarization.
    • For example, the Lugar Center for Bipartisanship (2022) recently ranked the congressional delegations from Alaska and Maine – the two states that use RCV for congressional elections – as the two most bipartisan in the nation.
    • Alaska Republican Senator Lisa Murkowski and Democratic Congresswoman Mary Peltola cross-endorsed each other in their respective 2022 races and made public commitments that they would personally vote for the other regardless of party ties.
    • The representatives in Maine’s swing congressional district participated in more bipartisan cosponsorship after RCV was adopted.
    • Evidence from Cambridge, Massachusetts, which uses the proportional version of RCV, indicated that candidates and city councilors there are not highly polarized.
    • Australia has used RCV for 100+ years, and its legislature has long been characterized by its centrist spin and bargaining arenas that create space for inter-party coalition building.


Claim #2: RCV can help increase the diversity of elected government officials

This claim is true. The places that use RCV have increased the diversity of their elected officials, and  the scholarly evidence affirms this.

  • RCV enables candidates of color to run without splitting votes within the same racial or ideological group. Using RCV, Minneapolis and Salt Lake City elected their first majority people of color city councils. Alaska elected its first Native congresswoman, and St. Paul elected its first Black mayor.
  • Jacobs and Thomas cite a 2018 study to demonstrate that racial and ethnic minority candidates are no more likely to win under RCV. In fact, that study found that women candidates and women of color were more likely to win.
  • California cities that adopted RCV saw increases in the probability of female candidates of color winning office, according to the same 2018 study.
  • In the second study cited by Jacobs and Thomas, they attempt to explain away a positive result for women under RCV, suggesting that it may have resulted from increased recruitment or national trends of more women being elected to office. In fact, the paper they cite uses comparative analysis in which Bay Area RCV cities are compared to Bay Area non-RCV cities, helping control for such potentially confounding variables.


Claim #3: RCV can increase voter turnout and engagement of voters of color

This claim is true. Recent evidence shows that voters of color like and understand RCV, and use even more rankings than White voters.

  • Turnout is most strongly driven by competitive campaigns and whether an election takes place in an even-numbered year. However, RCV elections often generate increased turnout. For example, RCV contributed to a 10% increase in turnout in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area when it was implemented (2009 in Minneapolis and 2013 in St. Paul). This research  also found that RCV did not affect inequities in turnout.
    • For example, the last time Minneapolis had a competitive mayoral race before RCV was implemented (2005), turnout was at 30.2%. Minneapolis has experienced three competitive mayoral races post-RCV, with turnout at 33% in 2013, 43% in 2017, and 54% in 2021.
    • Turnout also increased in the first RCV elections in Minnetonka, Bloomington, and St. Louis Park. With the same races on the ballot in each of these before-and-after comparisons, turnout in Minnetonka increased from 20.5% in 2017 to 28% in 2021, in Bloomington from 25% in 2017 to 26% in 2021, and in St. Louis Park from 14.9% in 2015 to 19.9% in 2019.
  • The evidence that Jacobs and Thomas present is all at least seven years old, despite the number of RCV elections growing tenfold since that time and much more recent research being published on this topic. Recent research that examines actual ballot use instead of self-reported number of rankings finds that voters of color tend to use more rankings than White voters and there are no differences in understanding by race and ethnicity.
  • The 2021 NYC RCV primaries demonstrated high levels of turnout, understanding, and engagement across racial and ethnic groups.
    • Turnout for city primary elections was the highest it has been in over 30 years.
    • Nearly all voters (more than 90%) – across every ethnic group – found the ballot “simple to complete” according to a poll by Edison Research. Majorities of Black, Hispanic, and Asian voters ranked three or more candidates in the mayoral primary. 77% of voters wanted to use RCV again.
  • The study Jacobs and Thomas cite (Burnett and Kogan, 2015) for reported “errors, confusion, and lower turnout” due to RCV does not provide original research on, nor report on, such impacts. The paper studies a concept known as “ballot exhaustion” and is not relevant to this section.


Claim #4: RCV can help decrease negative campaigning

RCV does lead to more positive campaigns, supported by evidence from studies of campaign behavior and voter surveys. 

  • RCV is not a panacea for intense/combative politics, but research largely suggests RCV can reduce negative campaigning.
  • RCV resulted in a more positive congressional primary in Virginia, according to a survey of Virginia Republican primary voters who used RCV in 2022.
  • In debates in RCV races, candidates referred to their opponents in more positive terms rather than negative or neutral words, according to a 2020 study.
  • Voters in RCV cities were more satisfied with the conduct of campaigns and perceived less candidate criticism and negative campaigning compared to voters in non-RCV cities, according to a 2013 and 2014 survey. Virtually every demographic group studied reported less negativity in RCV cities.
  • According to a 2021 study that Jacobs and Thomas cite, candidates were more likely to engage with each other in RCV cities than in plurality cities. Articles about campaigns in RCV cities had far more positive than negative words. The study does not find that Twitter traffic was more negative in RCV cities, but rather finds a mixed effect, and notes that the Twitter analysis is limited in small cities.


  1. Lugar Center on Bipartisanship. 2022. “Bipartisan Index.” Available at:

  2. Hutchinson, R. and Reilly, B. 2023. “Does Ranked Choice Voting Promote Legislative Bipartisanship? Using Maine as a Policy Laboratory.” Available at:

  3. John, S. and Leinz, B. 2016. “Polarization and Multi-winner Ranked Choice Voting in Cambridge, Massachusetts, City Council Elections.” Available at:

  4. Graham, B.D. 1962. “The Choice of Voting Methods in Federal Politics, 1902-1918”, Australian Journal of Politics and History 8(2): 164-181.

    Bean, C. 1997. “Australia’s Experience with the Alternative Vote”, Representation, 34(2), p. 106.

    Reilly, B. 2001. Democracy in Divided Societies: Electoral Engineering for Conflict Management. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

  5. John, S., Smith, H., and Zack, E. 2018. “The alternative vote: Do changes in single-member voting systems affect descriptive representation of women and minorities?” Electoral Studies, 54, pp. 90-102.

  6. Kimball, D and Anthony, J. 2016. “Voter Participation with Ranked Choice Voting in the United States.” Available at:

  7. Kimball, D and Anthony, J. 2016. “Voter Participation with Ranked Choice Voting in the United States.” Available at:

  8. Otis, D. and Dell, N. 2021. “Ranked Choice Voting Elections Benefit Candidates and Voters of Color.” Available at:

  9. Coll, J. 2021. “Demographic Disparities Using Ranked-Choice Voting? Ranking Difficult, Under-Voting, and the Democratic Primary”, Politics and Governance, 9(2).

  10. Edison Research. 2021. “Rank the Vote Releases Edison Research Exit Poll on the Election.” AAvailable at:

  11. The Center for Campaign Innovation. 2022. “Measuring The Effects Of Ranked Choice Voting In Republican Primaries.” Available at:

  12. McGinn, Eamon. 2020. “Effect of Instant Run-off Voting on Participation and Civility.” Available at:

  13. John, S. and Tolbert, C. 2015. “Socioeconomic and Demographic Perspectives on Ranked Choice Voting in the Bay Area.” Available at:

  14. Kropf, M. 2021. “Using Campaign Communications to Analyze Civility in Ranked Choice Voting Elections”, Politics and Governance, 9(2).

Originally published in the FairVote
Published on October 16, 2023

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