Oscar Votes 123: February 2011

Monday, February 28, 2011

How preferential voting didn't help The King's Speech win

Oscar season 2011 is over. At the Academy Awards ceremony last night, The King’s Speech took home the coveted Best Picture award, besting such prominent contenders as The Social Network and Inception. Just like last year, the winner of the award was chosen using the Academy’s “preferential voting” system, otherwise known as instant runoff voting. And once again, the results refute the notion that the preferential voting system tilts the playing field in favor of any certain kind of film.

In the wake of the ceremony, there has been speculation in some quarters that The King’s Speech might have been helped along to victory by the preferential balloting method. But a quick look at results from this year and last shows that this argument stands on shaky factual ground. Just as The Hurt Locker did last year, The King’s Speech won both the Best Picture award and the prize for Best Director. Unlike the Best Picture category, which was expanded to a ten-candidate preferential ballot contest last year, the Best Director category is decided by a more traditional formula: Five nominees are selected, and the winner is chosen by a simple plurality vote. If there were, as skeptics claim, a built-in advantage for certain candidates in the IRV system, then we would expect the Best Director category to produce results different from the Best Picture outcome. But in each of the first two years of preferential balloting, the results have been the same, with the Best Picture winner also taking home the Oscar for Best Director. This would suggest that, far from radically upsetting the traditional system, the introduction of IRV in the Best Picture Category has simply provided a means to protect fair outcomes while expanding the field to ten candidates.

Rob Richie, Executive Director of FairVote, said:

Many of those who either criticize or praise these best picture outcomes based on use of IRV are missing a key point. It’s upholding fair outcomes, not allowing winners that couldn’t win with the old plurality voting system. IRV and plurality will usually pick the same winner -- indeed, they always would if there were only two choices. When the two systems don’t pick the same candidate, IRV is fairer, as it would suggest that plurality voting would have resulted in a winner who needed a split vote to win. Much of the conjecture of IRV’s impact has been based on a lack of understanding that IRV is a one-person, one-vote system designed to elect the movie that has a lot of first choices, but also beats the other top movies when matched against them one-on-one. A movie is not going to win by being everyone’s second choice, and a movie won't win based on the order of elimination of the weakest movies. It's called an instant runoff for good reason: IRV will elect the movie that more voters prefer to its top competitor.

This year’s Best Picture result was accurately predicted by the OscarVotes123 poll, in which voters were given the chance to rank all ten candidates in order of preference – just as the Academy members did on their ballots. The poll provides a round-by-round breakdown that shows which voters had their ballots counted for which candidates, providing an illustration of an instant runoff in action. OscarVotes123 plans to conduct another poll next year. In the mean time, interested readers can create their own polls at www.DemoChoice.org, a free tool for conducting IRV elections.

Friday, February 18, 2011

When the King and the Queen support IRV

Oscar night is barely a week away, and Academy of Motion Picture voters have had to submit their ballots. Now it’s down to the counting. For Best Picture, that count will be with instant runoff voting, the ranked choice voting method used for a growing number of elections around the world.

What is striking is that the favorite for the Oscar Best Picture’s Award, “The King’s Speech” has a unique connection to IRV.

On May 5, the nation where the movie takes place—the United Kingdom-- will hold its second national referendum in history. The subject matter will be on instant runoff voting – called “the Alternative Vote” in the UK -- for future elections to the House of Commons Furthermore, the movie’s leading star – Colin Firth (George VI) and Helena Bonham Carter (Queen Elizabeth) – have joined the “yes” campaign.

Colin Firth, the overwhelming favorite for Best Actor declared to The Guardian: "The referendum is a once-in-a-generation opportunity to change our clapped-out politics for good. I'll be voting yes."

Bonham Carter, nominated in the Best Actress category, joined him an endorsement. Ironically, she is a close friend of Samantha Cameron, wife of Prime Minister David Cameron, who has announced his opposition to the referendum. (Leaders of the Liberal Democratic and Labor Parties are both backing a Yes vote, however.)

There’s one more connection to flag. The other main actor of the movie, Geoffrey Rush (who plays King George’s speech therapist), is from Australia, where members of the House of Representatives have been elected by Instant Runoff Voting for nearly a century.

Are all these signs a product of coincidence or a real touch of destiny for “The King’s Speech”? Will the voting method that Bonham Carter and Firth support for their country elect their movie as the Best Picture of the year? The answer will be given on the 27th -- and an even bigger question about the future of fair elections and voter choice-friendly electoral rules to be answered in the United Kingdom on May 5th.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

New York Times Plurality Ballot

The New York Times has a spiffy site for their poll / voting on the Best Picture Academy Award. All ten nominees are on the ballot but there's something a little wrong - they're using a plurality ballot! Their ballot will show who has the most votes, and could reveal a majority winner - but as of this posting NYT's poll leader The King's Speech is at a 44 percent plurality.

The Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences uses a preferential ballot like the one offered above. Instead of a single choice, a voter ranks their favorite flicks. On our ballot, as of this posting, The King's Speech is at 33 percent of first choices. If you view the results and click on "FINAL ROUND" the film goes on to be the majority winner. What has happened is the app performed a series of runoff elections until one flick, The King's Speech crossed 50 percent + 1 of the votes.

I like the New York Times and read it often. But please, the "paper of record" should at least have a preferential ballot for their mock election! If you want a more realistic Oscar election - use our app above.