December 13, 2004
By David Grenell
Exit poll study of Ranked Choice Voting reports positive results
Large majorities prefer and understand system; some differences by
racial and ethnic groups
The results of an exit poll about voters 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 SFSU College of Behavioral and Social Sciences, was
prepared by the Public Research Institute at San Francisco State
Among various findings, the exit poll found that:
- 87% of those San Franciscans polled understood ranked choice
- 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%).
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.
Overall Understanding of RCV
- 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%)
- 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
- 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
ranked three candidates, while only 36% of those who did not
understand it entirely or at all ranked three candidates.
Opinion about RCV
- 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.