CVD homepage
What's new?
Online library
Order materials
Get involved!
About CVD

Ranked-Choice Surveys in Presidential Race, More

An increasing number of pollsters are publicly asking for voters' second choices in the multi-candidate race for the Democratic nomination and analyzing their impact. We have long touted this polling method as providing more insight into voters' intentions and the likely trajectory of a race. It also helps people think about what instant runoff voting might look like in such elections and provides data for analyzing the potential use of instant runoff voting.

In the Democratic presidential race, second-choices have been sought in December 2003 and January 2004 polls by Gallup, the Los Angeles Times/Chicago Tribune, MSNBC/Zogby and Pew Research Center for the People and the Press. Second choices were also recently solicited in a recent survey about who Americans admire most and in last fall's gubernatorial recall election in California.

Below are examples, with key phrases in bold:

Los Angeles Times/Chicago Tribune

The Los Angeles Times' January 11, 2004 news story on its survey of Democrats in Iowa, written by leading political reporter Ronald Brownstein, included this analysis:

The best news for those chasing Dean is that many voters are open to reassessing the candidates.

Just 9% said they were undecided. But 39% of Dean's supporters, 42% for Edwards and 49% for Kerry say they still could change their minds. Gephardt's support seems more solid; just 31% said they could switch. When asked to name their second choice, voters split almost evenly among the top four contenders.

The Times provided the following chart.

Q: Iowans likely to attend a Democratic caucus Jan. 19 were asked which of the following candidates they would prefer for their party's presidential nomination. Those who named a candidate were also asked their second choice.

1st Choice 2nd Choice
Howard Dean 30% 20%
Dick Gephardt 23% 18%
John F. Kerry 18% 21%
John Edwards 11% 22%
Wesley K. Clark 4% 3%
Dennis J. Kucinich 3% 2%
Joe Lieberman 2% 2%
Carol Moseley Braun -% 3%
Al Sharpton - -
Someone else (volunteered) -% 1%
Didn't know 9% 8%

A more complete chart in pdf form -- one that shows the breakdown of the second choices of supporters of each candidate -- is available. 



Reporting on the same poll, the Chicago Tribune wrote the following:

While Dean may have an edge overall, Gephardt's supporters are more loyal, with more than two-thirds saying they are certain of their support for him. Among Dean supporters, 61 percent say they are absolutely committed to him, while 58 percent of Edwards backers say their support is firm. Kerry's followers, though, are almost equally divided over whether they will stick with him or choose someone else in the final days of the campaign.

"It's a close race between the two top-tier candidates," said Susan Pinkus, the director of the Los Angeles Times polling department, who conducted the survey. "There is real momentum for both of these candidates to pick up more voters."

Considering that 39 percent of those surveyed said they were willing to switch loyalties, a voter's second choice also could be telling. Among Dean supporters, 27 percent name Edwards, followed closely by Kerry. For Gephardt backers, 38 percent say Kerry. Among Kerry supporters, 32 percent name Dean. And among Edwards followers, 30 percent say Gephardt.



Pew Research Center for the People and Press

In a December 8, 2003 release, the Pew Research Center for the People and the Press, led by long-time pollster Andrew Kohut, released a report on polling in several of the early primary states. (See

Information about second choices is provided and analyzed repeatedly. For example, when discussing Iowa, authors write:

Howard Dean holds a slight 29% to 21% edge over Richard Gephardt among probable Iowa caucus voters and John Kerry garners the support of another 18%. John Edwards is currently running a distant fourth, receiving the support of 5% of likely caucus participants.

One effect of the caucus process is to concentrate candidate support, as supporters of candidates receiving relatively little support have the opportunity to shift their support to their second choice candidate as the caucus progresses. Based on the current survey, there is little evidence that this reallocation will fundamentally change the dynamics of the race. Dean, Gephardt and Kerry each receive about equal support as a second choice among people who prefer one of the other six candidates.



From the January 13, 2004 Gallup National Poll

The analysis by David W. Moore includes discussion of voters' top two choices. Moore writes: " The gap between the two front-runners [Howard Dean and Wesley Clark] and the rest of the pack is made even more clear by the rank order of the candidates as either the first or second choice of Democratic voters ," followed by a chart comparing how many Democratic voters ranked the candidates in their top two in on January 9-11, 2004 compared to November 10-12, 2003 and September 19-21, 2003. To achieve this information, all Gallup callers needed to do was ask "Who would be your second choice"?



From MSNBC/Zogby Poll

The MSNBC/Zogby poll is available by subscription only, but following is a UPI article about its most recent poll in the Iowa caucus. Note the discussion of second choice is toward the end of the article:

Poll: Dean leads Gephardt in Iowa

WASHINGTON, Jan. 12 (UPI) -- Former Vt. Gov. Howard Dean and ex-House Minority Leader Dick Gephardt are locked in a battle for first place in MSNBC/Zogby's Monday Iowa tracking poll.

The survey has Dean atop the ranking at 26 percent with Gephardt at 23 percent, a three-point lead inside the 4.5 percent margin of error. In third place at 16 percent is Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry followed by North Carolina Sen. John Edwards.

The rest of the field was in single digits.

Edwards, whom the tracking poll shows losing two points between the Jan. 8-10 poll and the Jan. 9-11 poll, received a boost over the weekend when he was endorsed by the influential Des Moines Register newspaper.

Kerry tops the "second choice" list at 22 percent followed by Dean at 20 percent and Gephardt at 17 percent. Overall, 14 percent of those surveyed said they were still undecided.

The tracking poll, conducted nightly, surveys 500 Iowa Democrats likely to vote in the Jan. 19 presidential caucuses.



Earlier in the year, the California Field Poll made effective use of second-choice polling in the recall election. On September 10, 2003, Mark DeCamillo and Mervin Field released this second choice data in Release #2090, which they entitled "Impact of Ueberroth's withdrawal on voter preferences in the replacement election."

In its survey, the Field Poll had asked California voters to indicate their second choice. This made particular sense given the election's volatility. In the Field Poll's previous recall survey in August, the top candidate had been Cruz Bustamente, with only 25%. Since that period, the number of major candidates had changed, with 2002 Republican gubernatorial nominee Bill Simon dropping out of the race and former Los Angeles Olympic Games organizer Peter Ueberroth just making a decision to drop out. The impact of Ueberroth's decision was on many observers' minds, and the Field Poll had the data to discuss it intelligently even though Ueberroth had dropped out after the survey was conducted.

DeCamillo and Field's lead in their release was: "Republican businessman Peter Ueberroth's withdrawal as a candidate in the gubernatorial replacement election does not alter the preference stands of the candidates remaining in the race. The results of the latest Field Poll conducted September 3-7 had showed Ueberroth to be the choice of 5% of likely voters in the October 7 replacement election. These 5% divide as follows in terms of their second choice preferences in that poll: 2% Schwarzenegger, 2% Bustamente and 1% McClintock. Thus, the updated standings in the replacement contest from the latest Field Poll continues to show Bustamente with a five-point advantage over SchwarzenggerĂ‚  (32% to 27%) and 14% now favoring McClintock."

To generate this information, all the Field Poll had done was to add a short second question to its regular question about voter preference. Here is the exact question:

"If the election to replace Governor Davis were being held today, for who would you vote -- Peter Ueberroth, Republican, Arnold Schwarzenegger, Republican, Peter Miguel Camejo, Green Party. Tom McClintock, Republican, Cruz Bustamente, Democrat, Arianna Huffington, independent, or someone else? (NAMES AND PARTIES OF CANDIDATES READ IN RANDOM ORDER) (IF SOMEONE ELSE, ASK:) Who? (IF PREFERENCE GIVEN, ASK:) Who would be your second choice?)

Ueberroth had dropped out since the survey was finished, but that didn't stop the Field Poll from having data about the new state of the race.. They note that "in this report, the second choice preferences of voters preferring Ueberroth were allocated to the other candidates."



Finally, a year-end survey about "most admired Americans" asked people for their first and second choices -- even more sensible, given the large number of people mentioned by respondents. Here is a n excerpt of a USA Today article about one such survey.

USA Today
'Most-admire' list is fun, but little more
By Richard Bennetto
January 2, 2004

WASHINGTON — Every year, at year's end, the Gallup Poll asks America
The 2003 edition of the poll, asked on behalf of USA TODAY and CNN, found that President Bush is the most admired man and New York Sen. Hillary Rodham Clinton is the most admired woman.

Talk about odd couples.

Now before you run off and rip the newspaper you are reading this in to shreds or click off if you are viewing it online, consider this further explanation:

Neither Bush nor Clinton was the choice of a majority of Americans. Just 29% listed the president as their first or second choice as most admired man. And only 16% named Clinton their first or second choice as most admired woman.

Hardly anything to start marching in the streets about.

But it is a poll that is taken every year and is the kind of thing the public likes to read as the old year rings out. Lists of everything from the Top 10 movies to the 10 worst books abound to take the edge off the hard news that is our standard fare throughout the rest of the year.

Also ranking high on this year's edition of the most-admired-man list was Pope John Paul II and Secretary of State Colin Powell. Each was listed as the first or second choice by 4% of the 1,004 adults polled in early December.

Former president Bill Clinton came next at 3%.

All coming in at 2% were former President Ronald Reagan, former South African President Nelson Mandela, the Rev. Billy Graham and British Prime Minister Tony Blair.

Making the list at 1%: former President Jimmy Carter, California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger, computer tycoon Bill Gates, United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan and the Dalai Lama.

What makes Sen. Clinton's emergence as the most admired woman unusual is that the nation's first lady often tops the list. But this year, first lady Laura Bush placed third, not only behind Clinton but also TV talk show host Oprah Winfrey, who came in second.

Bush was the first or second choice of 6% of the poll's respondents. She finished first once in her three years as first lady, in 2001, shortly after the Sept.11 attacks. She also ranked third in 2002, again behind Clinton and Winfrey. ...

top of page

     The Center for Voting and Democracy
6930 Carroll Ave,  Suite 610, Takoma Park, MD 20912
(301) 270-4616        [email protected]