In elections with three or more candidates, spoiler effects are thought to occur when one candidate, one with supporters who are ideologically similar to those of another candidate, garners enough support that a third, ideologically dissimilar or even opposite, candidate can win without a majority. For example, in the 2014 Maine gubernatorial general election, Democratic nominee Mike Michaud received 43.4% of the vote, while independent candidate Eliot Cutler received 8.4%. Because Cutler's issue positions (e.g., pro-choice, supportive of marriage equality, pro-union) aligned him more closely with Democrats than the Republican opponent, many have suggested that Cutler's participation in the election drew enough support away from Michaud to prevent what otherwise would have been a Democratic victory. As it was, Republican Paul LePage was elected with 48.2% of the vote, less than a true majority.
Vote-count systems that allow a candidate to win with merely a plurality (i.e., the greatest number of votes, but less than a majority) are vulnerable to spoiler effects. In response to apparent spoiler effects such as this one, and (as some have argued) Ralph Nader's impact on the 2000 U.S. presidential election, some reformers have advocated for the use of ranked-choice voting. In this episode, I talk with political scientists Jason McDaniel and Jack Santucci about the potential rewards--but also risks--associated with ranked-choice voting. The risks include ones that could be detrimental to the interests of low-income citizens, and less educated ones.