With election day nearing, the tension is palpable. Political ads all seem to be attacking opponents. Negativity reigns. With recent events that highlight the current climate of division and negativity, President Trump recently spoke out about the need for more civility:
“Those engaged in the political arena must stop treating political opponents as being morally defective. No one should carelessly compare political opponents to historic villains, which is done often.”
Ranking Candidates: More Civility
But how can we change the current division that is affecting our nation?
The answer is not simple. There isn’t one set solution that is going to change our culture and help us find common ground. It is going to take time and a lot of work.
Something that could help encourage a more civil dialogue between the parties is ranked choice voting.
Ranked choice voting allows voters to rank the candidates according to their preference choosing first, second, and third choice votes. When voters rank more choices, candidates are less likely to attack other candidates because doing so will lose them potential second and third choice votes.
Ranked choice voting encourages more civil campaigns because candidates need to appeal to a broader spectrum of voters.
Focusing on the Issues: Not Attacking Your Opponent
In ranked choice voting, candidates risk losing votes when they attack their opponents. The appeal of gaining second and third choice votes would encourage candidates to engage in issue-based conversations with other candidates, as well as potential voters. Candidates will work to find common ground with their opponents and try to engage with the entire voter population more actively and thoughtfully.
Increased Civility in Action
Cities that use ranked choice voting have seen more civil campaigning.
- In 2011 Portland, Oregon used a ranked choice voting method for the city’s Mayoral election. FairVote.org, an organization that researches election processes and outcomes, found that 41% of survey respondents reported less negative campaigning.
- In another study conducted in November 2013 by Western Washington University and the University of Iowa, only 5% of voters felt that there was a “great deal” of criticism in the ranked-choice voting campaign in contrast to regular elections where 25% of voters reported a “great deal” of criticism.
The same study found that 42% of respondents using ranked choice voting perceived elections as less negative; whereas in traditional elections 28% of respondents perceived elections as less negative.
Increased Voter Engagement
Reducing the perception of negativity in elections also improves voter’s attitude toward voting and increases voter turnout. As candidates try to recruit second and third choice voters they will be less likely to engage in negative behavior and attacks on other candidates because the person they are attacking may be a potential voter’s first candidates. Decreasing negative campaigning could create a more positive campaigning process and lead to less distaste with the political process.
Many people don’t vote because they feel like their vote doesn’t count. Ranked choice voting helps voters feel like they have a voice and that their voice counts. With ranked choice voting, if a voter’s first choice gets the least amount of votes that candidate is eliminated but then the voter’s second choice vote is included in the next round. Each voter will have a vote in the final round and have a voice in picking the winner.
The Bigger Solution
Obviously ranked choice voting isn’t going to solve our nation’s problems with division. However, it can help create a more civil campaigning process and discourage the vilification of candidates that we tend to see. We need to be kinder. We need to find common ground. Ranked choice voting can be a small step in restoring civility to our nation. To learn more about ranked choice voting in Utah visit www.utahrcv.com. To learn more about ranked choice voting across the United States, visit www.fairvote.org.
Case Study: Mia Love vs. Ben McAdams
For examples of the treatment of political opponents, you can look at Utah’s race between Mia Love and Ben McAdams. The political ads illustrate how in the current culture of elections candidates criticize opponents in an effort to gain votes.
Ben McAdams created an ad campaign where he rides on a bus picking up supporters. People get on the bus and talk about why they are voting for Ben McAdams.
Mia Love put out a counter ad that comments on Ben McAdam’s bus ad. Her ad shows a bumpy bus ride where people are uncomfortable and want to get off the bus. She talks about things that McAdams has done wrong.
The Shower: Cleaning Up Washington
Ben McAdams created an ad where he goes in the shower in his clothes and talks about how politics make you feel dirty. He keeps going in the shower to try to wash off the dirty feeling.
Love countered the shower ad with an ad about how McAdams is the one that needs to take a shower.
Ads Criticizing Mia Love:
Ben McAdams released an ad that addresses Mia Love’s voting regarding healthcare and insurance on October 24, 2018.
The super PAC, Patriot Majority USA aired a new ad that slams Mia Love for her illegal fundraising. Love’s campaign is threatening to sue tv stations if they continue airing the ad stating the information is incorrect.
This type of campaigning shows how typical election systems can quickly polarize candidates, creating an “us vs. them mentality” that typically leads to campaigns riddled with pettiness and mud-slinging that distracts from discussion of issues most important to Utahns.
Ranked choice voting could help reduce and even eliminate this behavior by encouraging candidates to gain second and third choice votes. Candidates won’t want to turn off voters by attacking a voter’s first choice. They will be more likely to find common ground with their opponents.