Poll: 56% of voters prefer instant runoff voting

Sample IRV ballot
A sample IRV ballot used during information sessions prior to the election.
MPR Photo/Brandt Williams

A new Minnesota Public Radio News/University of Minnesota poll shows Minneapolis residents are divided over the city's new instant runoff voting system.

Those who turned out to vote in this year's election tend to prefer the new system, but many of those who stayed home wish the city would go back to the old way of voting.

One of the key concerns raised about instant runoff voting prior to Election Day was that the new system would confuse voters. But University of Minnesota political scientist Larry Jacobs said the poll shows that was not the case for the vast majority of voters.

"We find over 90 percent of Minneapolis voters, and even a large percentage of those who didn't vote in Minneapolis, saying that they were familiar, understood, had knowledge of the system, [and] knew what to expect when they went into the voting booth," Jacobs.

The other good news for instant runoff voting supporters is that a majority of the people who voted this year -- 56 percent -- said they liked it better than the old system.

But Jacobs, who directed the poll, sees a much different trend among the Minneapolis residents who chose not to vote this year.

Partisan differences in ranked choice voting
Using information from an MPR News/University of Minnesota poll, this graphic shows partisan preferences for ranked choice voting as well as its use in gubernatorial elections.
MPR Graphic/Steve Mullis

"Non-voters, for the most part, are not that excited about ranked choice voting," he said.

Instant runoff voting is also called ranked choice voting, because it allows voters to rank the candidates in order of preference. Among people who sat out this election, 54 percent say they prefer the old system, where you just vote for one candidate for mayor, city council and so forth.

Both supporters and opponents of instant runoff voting say the poll vindicates their positions.

Opponent Chuck Repke points out there were a lot more non-voters than voters in this year's election. It had the lowest voter turnout of any Minneapolis municipal election in more than a century.

"So those are people who are most dedicated to politics who show up," Repke said. "So they're going to have a high advance knowledge of ranked-choice voting, and even they weren't thrilled with it."

Exercising ranked choice voting
Using information from an MPR News/University of Minnesota poll, this graphic shows how many residents who reported casting a ballot in Minneapolis races actually made use of the ranked choice voting system.
MPR Graphic/Steve Mullis

But instant runoff voting supporters see it differently. FairVote Minnesota Executive Director Jeanne Massey points out that support for instant runoff voting increased after the election. The polls show it went from 46 percent before to 59 percent after.

"The more people know about it and understand it, the more they like it," Massey said. "This just demonstrates that that's the case. So after the experience of using it and voters saw how easy it really was to use, they liked the system."

Minneapolis elections director Pat O'Connor reviewed the poll results at the Minneapolis elections warehouse, where he's been supervising the counting of all 46,000 ballots cast in the election. The counting has to be done by hand because there are no machines certified under state law that can handle instant runoff ballots.

During the counting, O'Connor has noticed many voters did not exercise the option to rank multiple candidates. They just voted for one candidate, and left the second- and third-choice columns blank.

"So what I was interested in your survey is that half the voters indicated that no other candidates were acceptable," O'Connor said. "And nearly another third reported that they did not know enough about the other candidates."

O'Connor said that's good news, because it means most voters weren't confused about how the ballots worked; they just chose not to rank beyond their first choice. O'Connor had no response to the poll's other findings. But he said, personally he feels it's premature to judge the system based on only one election.

"I'd like to see it done a couple more times," he said. "For my opinion as a voter, I'm very interested in a couple more shots at this before I make up my mind."

The city of Minneapolis has commissioned its own poll to see what voters, non-voters, election judges and candidates thought about its administration of the election. Those results will be released in the next couple of months.

The Minnesota Public Radio News/U of M poll interviewed 504 people. The margin of sampling error ranged from 5.7 to 6.9 percentage points.