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PR 2017-01-13: Study: Smarter Voting Methods Make a Difference


Study: Smarter Voting Methods Make a Difference
Changing our Election System Would Make Alternative Candidates More Viable

SAN FRANCISCO — Jan. 10, 2017 — The 2016 presidential election’s result has put the merits of our country’s Electoral College system squarely in the spotlight. But instead of focusing on how we determine a winner, election experts believe a more fundamental question deserves to be addressed: Is there a better way to conduct American elections?

According to a study by the Center for Election Science, the answer is a resounding “yes.”

“Our presidential voting method failures extend well past the national popular vote,” said Aaron Hamlin, executive director of the Center for Election Science. “Fortunately, we can fix it. And it doesn’t take a constitutional amendment.”

The Center for Election Science, with the support of donors from a crowdfunding campaign, contracted international polling agency GfK to conduct two polls of more than 1,000 eligible voters apiece, and then used the results to project how the use of different voting methods would have affected the outcome of the 2016 presidential election.

The first poll allowed respondents to choose between the candidates of the Republican, Democratic, Green and Libertarian parties, while the other poll allowed voters to choose from nine candidates, including hypothetical candidates like Bernie Sanders and Michael Bloomberg.

The analysis compared four different voting methods: Plurality voting, the system currently used in most United Sates elections today; approval voting, which allows voters to select as many candidates as they like, with each choice receiving equal weight; score voting; and ranked-choice voting, which asks voters to rank candidates in order of preference.

Here are some of the study’s highlights:

  • When asked to respond honestly, voters preferred Bernie Sanders over any other candidate when he was an option
  • Under approval voting, Gary Johnson received 21 percent approval, about seven times more than the percentage of votes he received under plurality voting
  • Under approval voting, Jill Stein received 11 percent approval, about 11 times more than votes she received under plurality voting
  • Everyone in the study who responded under approval voting supported their honest favorite candidate
  • Plurality voting forced more than 5 percent of voters to choose a candidate that wasn’t their actual favorite
  • More than 7 percent of voters who responded under instant runoff voting/ranked-choice voting ranked a candidate first who wasn’t their actual favorite, a phenomenon known as “favorite betrayal”

The election system used in the United States today allows voters to cast a vote for one candidate in a given race, a system known as plurality voting. Plurality voting is problematic for numerous reasons. Plurality voting:

  • Discourages quality candidates from running for fear of being labeled a “spoiler”
  • Distorts support for third-party candidates, keeping them from debates and media
  • Normalizes draconian, partisan laws restricting ballot access
  • Encourages partisan winners

The continued use of the plurality voting system is a major culprit behind the unfairness in our elections.

“Plurality voting changes who wins because of vote splitting between similar candidates,” Hamlin said. “Fewer people vote because they’re afraid of throwing their vote away, or they don’t like the ‘lesser-of-two-evils’ dilemma.”

The Center for Election Science advocates for the use of better voting methods, particularly methods that give voters better options and allow them to be more honest on their ballots. Voters should never have to choose between the lesser of two evils.

Learn more about the Center for Election Science as it releases more of its analysis from the 2016 presidential election, and how the implementation of better voting methods can give voters better options and better results at

Published articles:


Aaron Hamlin
Executive Director
Center for Election Science
Cell: (202) 760-7051