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Even after a big win for Donald Trump in the New York primary last night, it is still likely that no candidate will arrive at the convention with a majority of the delegates on the first ballot. A recent Wall Street Journal/NBC poll showed that 62% of republicans feel that the candidate with the most delegates should be the nominee, despite not having a majority.
One of the issues with this poll – that was discussed on a recent episode of the FiveThirtyEight election podcast – is how the question was asked. One wonders the outcome if the question was “should the party nominee be a candidate who the majority of the party did not vote for?”.
This is the trouble with accepting the winner of a plurality, rather than a majority. It becomes more probable that people will reject the winner rather than coalesce around an acceptable alternative.
The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences ran into this issue in 2010 when it expanded the number of nominees in the Best Picture category at its Academy Awards from five to 10.
The Academy decided 10 nominees could lead to a winner that is either too polarizing or simply unacceptable to many members of the voting bloc. Instead, the Academy preferred that the winner be as close to a consensus pick as possible.
To remedy this situation, they instituted a preferential ballot, in conjunction with what is called “instant run-off voting”. Here’s how it works:
The voters list the nominated films on their ballot in order of preference. When the votes are counted, if any film receives over 50% of the first place votes, the competition is over. But that event is unlikely. When there is no clear majority, the film with the fewest first place votes is removed from the running. Any ballots that featured that film first will have their second choices redistributed to the other films as first choices. This process is repeated, throwing away film after film, until one film has a majority of what are now considered first place votes.
So in this year’s contest, even though The Revenant was the odds-on favorite to take the top prize, 3-1 underdog Spotlight won in an upset. This could have (likely did) happened because The Revenant was loved by many, but liked by fewer voters than Spotlight. So when films like Bridge of Spies or Brooklyn had their ballots thrown out early in the process, their second-place votes were more likely to be for Spotlight than for The Revenant.
If this same procedure had been applied during the GOP nominating season, not only could we have avoided this pesky plurality problem, but it is very likely that the candidate landscape would look very different.
For example, when the Iowa Caucus results were counted, Mike Huckabee, John Kasich, Carly Fiorina, Jeb Bush, and Rand Paul would have their first place votes taken out. Then, the second choice on those ballots would be distributed to Ben Carson, Marco Rubio, Donald Trump, and Ted Cruz. This would keep going until likely Cruz, Trump, or Rubio won a majority of the votes.
It’s very possible that in that scenario, Trump would have far fewer delegates than he has now, Cruz could be headed toward the nomination, or someone like Rubio would still be in as a popular second choice among the Fiorina, Kasich, Bush crowd. Rather than squabbling over delegates, bracing for a convention fight, or shaking our fists at John Kasich, the party could be comfortably embracing a consensus pick.
This suggestion will probably not be popular among those constantly fretting over disenfranchisement, but it could be much more fair than our current world of state convention rules and delegate cajoling. The GOP doesn’t usually see eye-to-eye with Hollywood, but the last time the party borrowed something from the movie industry, it carried 44 states in the 1980 general election.Published in