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Open Access Publications from the University of California

Does More Choice Lead to Reduced Racially Polarized Voting? Assessing the Impact of Ranked-Choice Voting in Mayoral Elections


Politics in American cities is largely driven by racial group cleavages, and voting in urban elections is polarized along racial lines. Several cities have implemented a relatively new reform to urban elections called ranked-choice voting (RCV), which eliminates the plurality run-off election by giving voters the option to rank-order several vote preferences. This article examines whether the expanded preference choices associated with ranked-choice voting reduce the level of racially polarized voting in mayoral elections. In the first stage of analysis, precinct-level election results from Oakland, CA, and San Francisco, CA, are used to explore variation in racially polarized voting before and after the implementation of RCV. The second stage of analysis uses a difference-in-differences design to analyze racially polarized voting in RCV cities compared to non-RCV cities. The results indicate that racially polarized voting did not decrease due to the implementation of RCV. Rather, the results show that RCV contributed to higher levels of racially polarized voting between white and Asian voters.

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