Civic Caucus is recommending a broadening of political polling
to include depth of support for candidates, a step that might
reduce some negative campaigning, immediately, for the 2008
elections, without waiting for legislation.
attack-your-opponent political campaigning has been intensifying
with each election. As 2008 approaches, the trend is
continuing. The attack approach is frequently defended by
political strategists, who claim it is necessary, if for no
other reason than to fend off the opposition, and, they say, it
works. But the attack strategy is destroying confidence in
government and is turning off the most constructive voters. We
in the Civic Caucus have placed high priority on seeking ways to
stimulate positive campaign commentary that would appeal to as
many voters as possible on the political spectrum.
It is not
necessary for the electorate to simply sit on the sidelines
during the 2008 campaign and bemoan circumstances. A change
can be implemented immediately, without new law, with potential
to help candidates who are more interested in positively
representing their own positions than in attacking their
opponents. The change can apply to any election at any level of
government without approval of lawmakers, candidates, political
parties, special interests, or campaign organizations.
change would require cooperation from the political polling
organizations, although only one pollster willing to experiment
is all that is necessary to get the idea off the ground.
The change lies
in how political polls are conducted. Currently, public polls
report the first choices of voters at any one time For
example, a poll might reveal the following results: 35 percent,
candidate A; 27 percent, candidate B; 21 percent, candidate C;
13 percent, candidate D, and 4 percent, candidate E.
are helpful in identifying depth of support for
candidates, that is, the number of their most committed
followers. The assumption is that the plurality candidate is
ahead, irrespective of whether the candidate has majority
support or not. Consequently, a candidate can continue to
target his or her main base of support and not worry too much
about alienating voters who favor other candidates.
We suggest the
polls make a slight change to illustrate breadth of
support, as well. That is, the change will illustrate which
candidates are attracting interest from the broadest field of
potential voters. Candidates who seek broad support are more
likely to use campaign tactics calculated to alienate fewer
voters. It is likely that such candidates will de-emphasize
negative campaigning. They might take positions on issues
appealing to a broader constituency. They might refrain from
direct attacks on opponents.
A simple polling change is required: pollsters would ask voters to identify their second and third choices, not just their first choices.
select any number of ways to report results. How the results
are displayed may be less important than that the candidates are
aware that second and third choices of voters are being
reflected. Experts in political science, polling, and
elections can be expected to advise which approaches communicate
the best information to the public.
would be to report the percentages for second choice and for
third choice, as is done now for first choices. Another
possibility would be to assign points, say, three points for
first place, two points for second, and one point for third; add
up the points and show the rankings.
possibility would be to use a method of tabulating similar to
that employed with instant runoff voting (IRV), which already is
used in San Francisco and several other cities in the nation,
and in some foreign countries, and which has been approved for
use in city elections in Minneapolis. Such a method produces
what might be called a consensus candidate.
other possibilities exist.
* We recommend
that polling organizations nationally, such as the CBS, ABC, and
Gallup Polls, and in Minnesota, such as the Minnesota Public
Radio/St. Paul Pioneer Press Poll and the Minnesota Poll of the
Star Tribune, add ranking candidates to their regular polling.
should be applied among candidates within a given political
party and among candidates of all parties.
* We recommend
that precinct caucuses in Minnesota next February use ranking
candidates, in addition to their regular straw polls.
* We recommend
that political parties use ranking candidates at their endorsing
* We recommend
that individual organizations try ranking candidates among their
Such steps will
make it possible to learn more about, and experiment with,
ranking candidates by preference without a legal commitment one
way or another about its desirability or constitutionality for
voters will have more information about the candidates.
Currently, voters only know how much support each candidate has,
with limited information on breadth of support. Voters would
like to know that while one candidate might be leading in the
polls, using the current process, another candidate might have
more depth of support, when second and third choices are
acknowledge that no one really knows whether adding a provision
of ranking candidates to the political polling process will
reduce negative campaigning. But why not try the idea out?
continuing to evaluate IRV and might make recommendations to the
2008 Legislature on whether the process should be implemented in
more official elections.