Ranking Candidates in Local Elections: Neither Panacea nor Catastrophe

21 Pages Posted: 23 Feb 2021

See all articles by Melody Crowder-Meyer

Melody Crowder-Meyer

Davidson College

Shana Kushner Gadarian

Syracuse University

Jessica Trounstine

University of California, Merced

Date Written: January 21, 2021


A diverse array of electoral rules govern American cities. How candidates are chosen for office can affect who wins, who loses, and how voters feel about the process. Most cities select office holders through plurality rule – whoever gets the most votes wins. But an alternative, ranked choice voting (RCV), has become increasingly popular. In recent years, policymakers, non-profit organizations, and even presidential candidates have touted RCV’s potential to reduce partisan rancor, bridge polarized communities, generate less negative campaigns, bring more diverse candidates into the political process, expand participation, and increase representational ties between voters and elected officials. But some observers have noted that RCV may be confusing or tiresome for voters and may not produce the positive outcomes others have proposed. Using a large conjoint survey experiment, we find that candidates of color are significantly penalized in low-information elections whether the winner is determined by plurality rule or RCV, with no significant difference between the rule types. Even participating in multiple RCV elections in our experimental setting does not reduce the penalty faced by candidates of color. However, when we provide candidates’ partisan affiliation, candidates of color are ranked more highly in both RCV and plurality elections. We do find that simply voting in an RCV election in our highly stylized experimental setting increased respondents’ understanding of how RCV works and that voting in multiple RCV elections improves their view of the electoral process.

Suggested Citation

Crowder-Meyer, Melody and Kushner Gadarian, Shana and Trounstine, Jessica, Ranking Candidates in Local Elections: Neither Panacea nor Catastrophe (January 21, 2021). Available at SSRN: https://ssrn.com/abstract=3787548 or http://dx.doi.org/10.2139/ssrn.3787548

Melody Crowder-Meyer (Contact Author)

Davidson College ( email )

United States

Shana Kushner Gadarian

Syracuse University ( email )

900 S. Crouse Avenue
Syracuse, NY 13244-2130
United States

Jessica Trounstine

University of California, Merced ( email )

P.O. Box 2039
Merced, CA 95344
United States

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