Does Preferential voting work?

Does anyone here live under a preferential voting scheme? How is it working out? Any mass confusion?

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I’m not sure what you want to know. The info is accurate (if your number one gets eliminated the vote goes to the number 2) so I agree that a vote can’t be wasted.

You still end up with two major parties (at least in my country), but smaller parties are more represented and may be able to form a government with one of the bigger parties if the big party needs more support. Implementing some of their policies may be a condition of their support.


Basically wondering if it had the effect of tempering the political parties and keeping them from going too far left or right.

I can only answer for my country. The major parties are centre. There are minor left and right parties.

Just to point out we may have different definitions of centre.

Also, possibly unique to my country: the major parties are very similar.

By the way, the name “preferential voting” is a bit ambiguous (

The “unique” name for the method described in the image is “single transferable vote” (

The image describes the case when one candidate is to be elected, but it is possible to use the same system to elect several candidates. In such case the system is meant to achieve proportional representation, but without party lists.

In fact, proportional representation is supposed to have an effect of encouraging having many different (thus being further from center) parties. That is called “Duverger’s law” (’s_law).

By the way, the image also points out that the non-center party benefits under this system, and major party is encouraged to take a position further from the center. :slight_smile:

“Preferential voting” is a bit vague, but your invocation of Australia indicates that we’re talking Ranked Choice Voting, a.k.a. Instant Runoff Voting.

I don’t live in such a country, but I can’t imagine it causes confusion. A voter doesn’t even need to understand anything of the underlying mechanics, all they need to know is how to rank something (in this case candidates) from favorite to least favorite, which a 6-year-old is capable of doing.

I think implementing ranked choice voting across the board would fix a lot of the problems in the political system of the US, and it honestly wouldn’t even be that hard to implement, as it’s just a tweak to the current system (as opposed to the complexities something like proportional representation would create).


The problem with preferential voting and run off elections is that it causes voter fatigue. And the runoff election will see significantly less voters than the first election due to people not realizing there was going to be a second election or people’s first choice candidate getting defeated and not wanting to support another. While the United States doesn’t use preferential voting our Presidential Elections lots of State and Local governments use this system. I just voted in a preferential election for my city’s mayoral and city council elections. Most people I talked to didn’t know about the run off.

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I believe that what this post is talking about is a single transferable vote system where there is only one election and no need for a separate run-off election.

In London we use the supplementary vote system for our mayoral elections. This is not exactly the same as the Australian system, but it’s a similar principle.

It works fine, I think. As it happens, in every London mayoral election so far the winner after the supplementary votes have been added has also been the candidate who would have been the winner under a first-past-the-post system. Personally, I quite like the system because I have tended to cast my first preference vote for a candidate other than one of the two main candidates. So, in the most recent election, for example, I was able to vote Liberal Democrat as my first choice, but, knowing that the election would almost certainly go to a second round contest between the Conservative and Labour candidates, I was also able to cast a vote for the Labour candidate. In a first-past-the-post system I would simply have voted for the Labour candidate as a least worst option rather than as a candidate I really supported.

I don’t think so. Our system is very clear: choose your first and second choice candidates; if neither candidate gets an absolute majority, second preference votes will be added to first preference votes and the winner will be the candidate with the most total votes. Even if people don’t entirely understand the maths, putting crosses in two boxes in order of preference is really not hard to get.

Considering the US government, it seems like its largest impact would be to increase party diversity in the House. You’d probably see more libertarians, constitutionalists, greens, and independents in office, at both state and federal level. It’d probably have a much smaller impact in the Senate, and little impact on the final results of the Presidential election.

It’d make more of a political impact in a parliamentary system.

And this is the problem with “first past the part”. IMO most of us often find ourselves voting against the “bad guy” and unable to even consider other options.

Which might be a good check on the president and Senate’s power.

Aggy-waggy has my vote

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This might be a good solution for primaries in the US, because I don’t like the fact that a candidate can get the party nomination without the majority of the party’s primary vote.

It leads to an increase in minor party votes but not necessarily many seats for them in Australia. But when they can get a supporter base of 10% or so around the country this leads to greater potential for seats in some areas. And it’s pretty simple.

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Speaking as an economist (we’re big on game theory, voting systems, and the like) . . .

Mathematically, in theory, and assuming her perfect information and voter attentiveness, a preferential system is equivalent to a runoff when noone gets a majority of the vote.

In practice, especially with a large field (look at the Democrats this year!), there is a limit to how many preferences a voter will make at a time. Three, sure. Four, maybe. Five? Certainly not seven . . .

If there are only perhaps three to five candidates, I would expect it to work well as an “instant runoff.”

I would also limit the number of preferences to list to that three to five. If none has a majority at that point, start with the top two candidates, and if they have less than 51%, keep adding candidates until you have 51%, and then have a runoff.

Again, as an Economist: having those second to fourth choices on record, cast when they could mean something, is useful information as to the preferences of the electorate.

If you have a couple of third parties getting 10 to 20 per cent before elimination, that means more than the three per cent or so third parties get today.

The catch is that proportional voting guts individuals having their own representative. It replaces representing a district with being responsible solely to the party.

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In Australia most electorates will have 7 to 10 candidates running, this number doesn’t seem to be too difficult to handle.

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I do not think that is unique to any one country.

Yes, but I’m skeptical that serious consideration goes into the order of 8-10 . . .

The issue with preferential voting is that the outcome isn’t that much different than plurality voting. Various “ranked” systems may give small advantage to smaller parties, but because these systems are not proportional they won’t give those parties that much advantage. I also recall that some forms of ranked voting are vulnerable to being games, where a candidate can strike a deal with a small party that can bleed votes from a strong opponent (this can happen in plurality systems as well). These were criticisms of the Alternative Vote system that went to referendum in the UK.

It really comes down to what you expect a voting system to do. If you’re looking to have the makeup of an elected assembly resemble popular vote, then neither IRV or plurality systems will deliver. At that point, if you like ranked voting, you want to go to a Single Transferable Vote system that has instant run offs, but also feature “multi-member districts” of at least two of three elected representatives from much larger districts than you typically find in plurality or instant run off districts.

It’s hard to imagine a worse form of governance, short of tyrannical dictatorship . . .

But, yes, there are gaming problems, which is part of why I want a rather small number of ranked choices.

A difference between the ranked and plurality outcomes would indeed be unusual in most cases (but not all!).

I want to say that it was Kenneth Arrow that proved that there is no universally superior set of voting rules.

And while I"m at it . . . for all the fuss about differences between the Electoral College and popular vote . . . (and the fact that that difference is a feature, not a bug) . . . there are only a couple of elections in the US since the 50s where we have any reason to believe that the winner of the popular vote would have been the same if it had been what counted (basically, the re-elections of Nixon, Reagan, and Obama). Those aside, it’s entirely possible that had the rules been different, the different choices made by the players, err, candidates would have focused. (e.g., in the last election, Hillary was concerned about the likelihood she would win the electoral vote and lose the popular vote, and put effort into running up the popular vote in states she was already certain to win, while Trump had a laser-focus on where he put effort, and could come up with several times the popular vote in other states that he would lose anyway than in the states where he fought from behind).

Well, about as much consideration as you’d give if you had to vote for just one. I think it depends on how conscientious the voter is, and someone who has to chose between eight or ten and is conscientious will likely weigh up those eight or ten as carefully as they would two if they had only two to choose from.

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