Approval Voting: America’s Favorite Voting Reform
A growing body of polling has confirmed that Americans are losing faith in our electoral system and other democratic institutions.
No doubt the alleged controversy surrounding the 2020 election has enhanced the fear of voter fraud. A study released in January found that 31% of Americans are not confident that votes in the 2022 midterm elections will be counted fairly and accurately.
But while fears about voter fraud are growing, it’s not the leading concern among American voters. A CNN poll released in February found that the lack of trust in our elections goes much deeper. According to the poll, 56% of respondents said they have little or no confidence that American elections reflect the will of the people, up from 52% who felt that way in September and 40% in January 2021.
This lack of faith transcends the partisan divide. Almost three-quarters of Republicans were now skeptical that elections are representative (74%), as were 59% of independents, and even a third of Democrats (32%). The results reflected a significant decline in confidence over the past year among both independents (45% lacked confidence in January 2021) and Democrats (9% felt that way a year ago).
But while American attitudes toward our existing electoral system are souring, polling shows that they are ready for reform that brings transparency and equity to the ballot box. Our polling shows that Americans are ready for approval voting.
Last year, The Center for Election Science designed a comprehensive, two-part polling project to measure public opinion about approval voting.
Approval voting is a voting method that lets voters choose all the candidates they wish—not just one. It’s still most votes wins. No ranking or anything complicated. Approval voting tends towards more consensus winners and fundamentally addresses vote splitting between similar candidates. This method is used in Fargo, ND; St. Louis, MO; and is expected to be on the ballot this November 2022 in Seattle, WA.
Given our support for citizen-led advocacy, we polled the 21 states in which ballot initiatives are legal. The results unequivocally show that Americans support approval voting.
A Look at the Toplines
Our sample of 21 states represents a broad cross-section of the American political landscape. We polled “blue”, “red”, and “purple” states as part of this project.
According to the results, at least 66.2% of voters in all 21 states would support a measure that included approval voting. Wyoming represents the “low-end” of support where “only” 66.2% of voters would support an approval voting measure, and Illinois is the high-end where 77.4% of respondents would support a measure that includes approval voting.
On average, 71.9% of all respondents said they would support an approval voting ballot measure in their state. This does not include any undecided voters. There, the number jumps higher.
Support For Approval Voting Crosses The Political Divide
America’s political camps are as divided as they’ve ever been. Few issues or reform ideas enjoy support from all sides of the political divide.
Approval voting bucks this trend, enjoying widespread support among Democrats, Republicans, and Independents alike.
According to the results, 76.4% of self-identified Democrats, 67.4% of self-identified Republicans, and 71.6% of self-identified Independents would support a measure that includes approval voting. This level of cross-partisan support makes approval voting one of the most popular reform movements in America.
Approval Voting Has Broad Support Across Demographic Groups
Every election, political pundits pore over the demographic breakdown of the electoral results to discover the fault lines that defined the outcome. When it comes to approval voting, the analysis is simple—there is support for the concept across the board.
As you can see from the data below, approval voting enjoys support among both genders as well as across ethnic and racial identities.
- 71.9% of all women and 72.2% of men included in our sample indicated that they would vote “Yes” on approval voting in their state
- 62.5% of non-binary respondents
We see reliable support across the four largest racial and ethnic groups:
- 79.3% of all Asian Americans
- 74.2% support from Black Americans
- 72.4% support from Hispanic and Latino Americans
- 71.4% support from White Americans
Not Every State is the Same
Unlike American election laws, the results of our polling are remarkably consistent. The level of support for approval voting even surprised us.
That said, it’s important to note that our polling in each jurisdiction was based on optimal initiative language. In practice, Secretaries of State exercise a great deal of influence on the final ballot language.
It’s also noteworthy that some states are more stringent than others regarding single-subject initiatives versus those where multiple reforms can be combined. For example, California and Colorado are single-subject states, whereas Massachusetts is not. Most states are single-subject rule states. In the states that aren’t, we tested independent approval voting initiatives in each state, but also packages of policies centered on approval voting. Finally, we looked into multiple formats of approval voting, including a top-four runoff and approval voting with a top-two runoff.
- For this research project, we developed an iterative, data-driven polling approach that entailed conducting 4 separate surveys, across 21 states, in 2 separate phases. We use the first phase to directly test variations of approval voting initiatives on likely voters residing in each state—the results of which are then used to inform the ballot initiative language we directly poll in the second phase.
- The polling results from this latter round of surveys are the numbers reported here and reflect the responses from a total of 18,611 unique likely voters we surveyed across all 21 ballot initiative states. In addition to obtaining enough respondents from each state that is proportionate to its respective population size and composition, we also ensure that the sample is representative of each state’s voting electorate in terms of base demographics and partisanship.
- This nuanced approach allows us to factor in institutional differences in election laws across states, thereby maximizing the accuracy of our results.
- Click here to download the crosstabs of the polling results. One spreadsheet includes “single-issue” states, and the other is for “non-single-issue” states.
Overall, this data tells us that America—all of it—is ready for approval voting. And judging by Americans’ views on their own government elections, it can’t get here fast enough.