Exit Poll Study of Ranked Choice Voting Reports Positive Results

by Staff Writer on December 14, 2004

The results of an exit poll about voter’s attitudes regarding ranked choice voting has been released. The poll, which was commissioned by the City and County of San Francisco and paid for by the City and County and SFSUCollege of Behavioral and Social Sciences, was prepared by the Public Research Institute at San Francisco State University.

Among various findings, the exit poll found that: 87% of those San Franciscans polled understood ranked choice voting 61% preferred the new system, and only 13% said they preferred the
old runoff system (27% said it made “no difference” to them, meaning 82% of those who had an opinion preferred RCV over the old December runoff system).

The report concludes that “The majority of voters appear to have made the transition to Ranked-Choice Voting with little problem.The overall finding on RCV is positive. Wide majorities of voters knew about Ranked-Choice voting, understood it, and used it to rank their preferences. Further, most prefer it, with only about one in eight saying they prefer the former run-off system.”

Overall, 52 percent of those surveyed said they understood ranked-choice voting “perfectly well”; 35 percent said they understood it “fairly well,” an impressive total of 87 percent who had a decent level of understanding. About 11 percent said they “did not understand it entirely,” and another 3 percent said they “did not understand it at all.”

Results indicate that only 13% of Asians and 15% of Chinese speakers reported a lack of understanding of RCV, compared to 12% of whites and 23% of Spanish speakers. 70% of those who spoke English or Chinese as a first language knew ahead of time they would be using RCV, more than those whose first language was Spanish (22%). Nearly the same percentage of Asians and whites ranked three candidates, 58% to 62%, both higher than Hispanics (53%) and African Americans (49%). Voters with lower levels of education and income also reported less understanding, but even within those categories and demographics the differences were not large.

See more details below from the Executive Summary. The exit-poll survey was conducted to gauge the ease or difficulty with which voters expressed their preferences on the new form of ballot. The survey, which was translated into several different languages, included a sample of 2,847 voters from city supervisor districts 1, 2, 3, 5, 7, 9 and 11. More than 100 SFSU student volunteers interviewed the respondents at polling places.

From the Executive Summary:

Over two-thirds (69%) of voters surveyed knew that they would be asked to rank their choices for the Board of Supervisors, while almost one-third (31%) were unaware prior to coming to the polls.

About one-half (52%) of those surveyed said they understood RCV “perfectly well;” 35% said they understood it “fairly well.” About one-tenth (11%) said they “did not understand it entirely,” and another 3% said they “did not understand it at all.”

African Americans (23%), Latinos (19%), and voters of “Other” racial/ethnic groups (17%) were more likely to report a lack of understanding than were Asian (13%) or White (12%) voters.

Self-reported understanding was lowest among voters with less education, lower income, African Americans, Latinos, and voters whose first language is not English or Chinese.

Prior knowledge appears to have lessened the potential for language-based difficulty in using the RCV ballot.

A majority (59%) of voters surveyed reported ranking three candidates; 14% reported ranking two, and 23% reported ranking only one candidate.

Two-thirds (66%) of those who knew of RCV prior to coming to the polls ranked three candidates versus 47% of those who were unaware of the new development.

Sixty-three percent of those who understood RCV at least “fairly well” ranked three candidates, while only 36% of those who did not understand it entirely or at all ranked three candidates.

A majority of respondents (61%) preferred the new system; 13% said they preferred the runoff system, and 27% said it made “no difference” to them.

Filed under: Bay Area / California