Eric Black has an interesting article about a recent poll on the Minnesota gubernatorial race. The whole thing is worth a read, but here are some relevant excerpts.
The poll, taken by St. Cloud State University (SCSU) and partially sponsored by MinnPost, suggests that if the election was conducted (as it will be) by the traditional plurality-vote-wins system, Dayton leads among likely voters as follows:
Dayton: 40 percent
Emmer: 30 percent
Horner: 19 percent
Other, don’t know, refused: 11 percent
The findings are probably good news for Horner. Recent polls have pegged the Independence Party candidate to around 10-15% of the vote. The results get more interesting.
But this poll also included an explanation of Ranked Choice Voting, then asked respondents to say who their first and second choices would be if Minnesota had that system. The first choices broke down (these numbers are rounded, so they don’t add to 100 percent):
Other, don’t know, refused: 13
Another co-sponsor of the poll was FairVote Minnesota, the group that has been pushing for an expansion of Ranked Choice Voting (RVC). Under RCV (also known as Instant Runoff Voting) voters are allowed to indicate their first, second, third preference on the ballot. If no candidate is ranked as the first choice on a majority of ballots, the lower-finishing candidates votes are assigned to the voter’s second (and, if necessary, third, fourth, etc.) choice until someone amasses a majority.
The surprise here, at least to me, is that Horner gets no bump when voters are offered the ranked choice option.
Under RCV, If Dayton and Emmer were the top two candidates, those who gave first preference to Horner or someone else would be assigned to their second choice. This poll corroborates what some other polls have shown, that based on second preferences, Horner appears to be taking more votes from Emmer than from Dayton. But not by a huge margin.
If we reassign the votes to the second choice of those whose first choice was Horner or other, and throw out the votes of those who didn’t give a second choice (which is what would happen under RCV), the horserace looks like this:
The article goes on to point out this poll, like others, shows that a good deal of Horner’s support is ‘soft’- that is, they are still not completely set upon their choice of candidate and may split for either Emmer or Dayton.
Interestingly, the only change when RCV is used is in Dayton’s numbers; there, Dayton loses ~1% support to minor party candidates. I would guess this means Ecology Democracy candidate Ken Pentel, who has run for the post several times as a Green, or Green Party nominee Farheen Hakim.
But to the question at hand- why does Horner’s support not go up with RCV? After all, with the endorsement of 3/5 living governors and every major newspaper in the state, the candidate certainly has some prominent backers. I will offer two potential reasons:
1) The major party candidates have done a good job of attacking Horner. Black makes the case in another article that one part of Ventura’s success was the lack of major party attention to his campaign (and with it, a lack of attacks). Today, the combination of outside money and Ventura’s example have ensured Minnesota politicos do not neglect the variable of Independence Party candidates.
2) Voters have simply become accustomed to thinking of elections in the context of the lesser of two evils. This reminds me of the Georgia gubernatorial race. In theory, the runoff mechanism in that state should allow voters to vote their conscience for whichever party they may support. However, this does not occur in practice, with John Monds consistently polling between 3-8%. Considering the various missteps of the Republican candidate in that race, one would guess the Libertarian would pull stronger support in the first round of voting. However, voters do not seem to value this nuance.
One may encounter a similar problem in Minnesota. After years of an electoral system that inherently produces vote splitting, voters now sub-consciously factor in third party status to candidates regardless of the individual circumstances of the race.
Oh, and as to support for RCV in Minnesota?
A 60 percent majority of respondents said they had never heard of Ranked Choice Voting before the poll. When they were asked (after the system had been explained to them) whether they would like to use the system, the result was:
Don’t Know: 17.5