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An Economist's View of the New Oscar Voting

Sunday’s Oscar night will be different.? First, there are now ten nominees for best picture.? But perhaps more importantly,?the voting system has changed. Interested in figuring out how this changes the Oscar game???Here’s my best attempt at explaining to the folks from Film In Focus just how this new election math will work out:

Wolfers compares for me the benefits of the exhaustive preferential system by comparing it to our U.S. election system, which he calls “the first past the post” system. “In the U.S. system, there is one round, and whoever gets the most votes wins and we all go home.” The problem with this system, he says, is that “you have an incentive to not vote what you believe. Say you support Ralph Nader. Well, you think he is not going to get elected, so you vote a Republican or Democrat instead because that’s how you ‘make your vote count.’ In the ‘first past the post’ system, everyone identifies the two most likely top candidates and votes between them. It encourages strategic rather than sincere voting.”
In the instant runoff system, though, because ballots are constantly being recirculated rather than tossed out, and this knowledge by the voter should influence him or her to vote his real preference. So, just to take an example from the past, say that in 1998 voters concluded that the top Best Picture candidates, the ones most preferred by their fellow voters, would be?Titanic and?As Good As It Gets. A voter preferring another nominee, such as?L.A. Confidential, and who also hated?Titanic was theoretically encouraged not to vote for?L.A. Confidential but for the film most likely to compete against?Titanic -?As Good As It Gets. In this year’s system, however, because a voter can rank preference from top to bottom, he or she should not worry about a wasted vote. “The good thing about the instant runoff is that it provides strong incentives to vote sincerely,” says Wolfers. “It’s the least unfair system. It’s enfranchising. Think of the guy who votes for Ralph Nader. In the instant runoff, it comes down to two candidates and his preference still counts.”

I love the new system.? It’s how we elect politicians “back home” in Australia: it’s not as complicated as American journalists make it sound, and it strikes me as being fairer.? Perhaps once Oscar-watchers get used to the new system, we can use this to start a conversation about the best way to elect the next President.
And my tip?? Follow the prediction markets.? Right now, they suggest that the only close race is Best Picture, and the markets give a slight edge to The Hurt Locker, over Avatar. The other awards are easier picks:?Jeff Bridges will be best actor;?Sandra Bullock will be best actress (as much as I disliked her performance in The Blind Side);?Christoph Waltz is a lock to win best supporting actor;?Mo’Nique will surely win best supporting actress; and?Kathryn Bigelow will beat her?ex-husband to win best director.