Poll Release - Virginia RCV

The Solution To Crowded Primaries?


We’re out with a new poll this morning showing that ranked choice voting (RCV) in a Republican primary leads to a more positive campaign, better-positioned nominees, and benefits the runners up.

As campaigns leverage digital marketing, sophisticated data, and cutting-edge technology, we’re seeing more candidates than ever before in competitive primaries. Between 2000-2018, the number of federal primaries with more than 3 candidates tripled.

Virginia’s 7th and 10th Congressional Districts are neighbors, currently served by incumbent Democrats, and had crowded Republican primary fields. The 7th District nominated their candidate via state-run primary and the 10th District chose a RCV firehouse primary. This offered a unique opportunity to measure the effects of the nomination method.

found three key outcomes:

  1. Hung Cao, the GOP nominee in CD10 selected by RCV, emerged from the contest with a higher net favorable image (+78) than Yesli Vega, nominated in CD7 with a plurality (+51).

  2. 84% of voters in CD10 said the Republican candidates ran a positive campaign compared to 59% in CD7. 17% of moderate primary voters in CD7 rated the campaigns as negative, compared to just 4% in CD10.

  3. In CD10, the two runners-up (Jeanine Lawson & Brandon Michon) had a higher net favorable image than the winner (Yesli Vega) did in CD7.

While the increasing size of primary fields offers voters more choices and may lead to more diversity and a wider issue set, the plurality winner system of most primaries in the country means candidates must take vote share away from their opponents with negative campaigning. Not only do voters disapprove of negative campaigning, it also has the potential to weaken the party’s eventual nominee as well as other candidates within the contest.

Ranked Choice Voting in nomination contests offers one solution for addressing the challenge of crowded, competitive primaries.


Eric Wilson

Center for Campaign Innovation