New study shows how voting methods affect group decision-making

When groups of people need to reach a decision, they will often take a straw poll to test opinions before the official vote. New research from the University of Washington shows that one specific voting method proved more effective than others in identifying the best choice.

In a study published Sept. 28 in Academy of Management Discoveries, researchers found that groups that used “multivoting” in unofficial votes were 50% more likely to identify the correct option than those that used plurality or ranked-choice voting.

Multivoting gives people several votes to allocate across all options. The reality show “American Idol” uses multivoting, giving fans 10 votes each. They can use all 10 for their favorite contestant or split their votes among two or more. For this study, students were given 10 votes to distribute among three choices.

Plurality voting, where voters must select one option, is most often used in political elections. Ranked-choice voting, which is growing in popularity in some local and state political elections, allows people to list their preferences from first to last. It’s also used to determine Academy Award winners.

Michael Johnson, co-author and professor of management in the UW Foster School of Business, said multivoting most benefits groups that want to be sure they’re making the best decision. The researchers don’t believe it would work for political elections, mostly because of how taxing it would be to allocate votes across a variety of options.

“We see multivoting as primarily useful for decision-making groups in workplaces,” Johnson said. “Wherever groups feel like it’s going to be critical to get a decision right, use multivoting as an unofficial vote, look at the distribution and discuss after that. It works where people are motivated to vote consistent with what they really think rather than trying to strategically vote to counter another person.”

The UW study was based on the “pursuit teams” developed by the Department of Homeland Security after 9/11. The purpose was to connect the findings of multiple intelligence agencies to track potential terrorist threats.

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