|Poll results on 10/01 before new weighting was applied|
The results are striking, and they illustrate the limitations of just polling first choices. Ranked choice polling reveals how dependent Trump’s candidacy truly is on his core of first-choice support. Between early September and the last week of September, Trump’s first-choice support dropped from around 33% to around 23% in Real Clear Politics’ poll average. In our ranked choice poll, this dip costs Trump the victory. With ranked choice voting, candidates are rewarded for reaching out beyond their base to get second and third choice support instead of picking fights with opponents. Polarizing candidates like Trump, who attract intense popularity among a certain set of voters but fail to appeal to a broader audience, tend to fare poorly.
Before Trump’s appearance in the second Republican presidential debate on September 16, his first choice support was enough to carry him past Carson in the final round, despite Trump’s tendency to garner fewer second and third choices than his rivals in our poll simulation.
Though he still leads the field in the first round, each successive candidate’s elimination adds only a sliver of additional support to Trump. For example, many John Kasich supporters ranked Bush, Rubio and Fiorina second or third, while few ranked Trump second or third. When Kasich is eliminated, Bush, Rubio and Fiorina benefit from an influx of those supporters. With each new round, candidates like Carson and Fiorina receive strong additions of second-choice support, and Trump’s lead erodes.
Leading into the final round, the three remaining candidates are Trump, Carson, and Fiorina, who also relied on second and third choice support to stay ahead of candidates like Bush and Rubio. In addition to winning 12% of first choices, Fiorina has strong second-choice support. Nearly a quarter of all respondents in our poll list Fiorina as their second choice.
Ultimately, Carson easily surpasses Trump in the final head-to-head matchup. Carson gains this win largely due to the influx of Fiorina supporters he receives upon her elimination. The story at the last round is a stark demonstration of just how polarizing Trump is: few voters listed Trump second or even third.
Trump has gained notoriety throughout the summer for his near continuous barrage of disparaging remarks about fellow candidates, most notably aimed at Carly Fiorina. Ranked choice voting promotes civility by discouraging this type of negative campaign tactics. In a ranked choice voting election, if candidates want to earn enough second and third choice support to win, they will refrain from this type of behavior. Trump’s defeat in our poll shows just this. His popularity is dependent on his most loyal first-choice supporters, and such polarizing candidates do not gain the second and third choice support they need to win in a ranked choice contest.