Should the Academy Awards Use Instant Runoff Voting?



Consider the following hypothetical voting preferences for 2010 Best Picture with four options (IRV is too complicated to show an example with all 10 nominees).
 % of judges
their ranking, first to last
 35% Toy Story 3 > Black Swan > Inception > The King’s Speech
 17% The King’s Speech > Black Swan > Inception > Toy Story 3
 32% Black Swan > Inception > The King’s Speech > Toy Story 3
 16% Inception > The King’s Speech > Black Swan> Toy Story 3

Instant Runoff Voting selects The King’s Speech as the winner for this award.

But wait!

A huge 67% majority of judges think Black Swan deserved the award more than The King’s Speech.

And Black Swan received nearly twice as many first-place votes as The King’s Speech, 32% vs. 17%.

And an even larger 83% super-majority of the judges think Inception deserves the award more than The King’s Speech (and Inception got justslightly fewer first-place votes than The King’s Speech).

Unfortunately, we can’t see the actual peculiarities of IRV because the Academy doesn’t release the ballots. But we know from real political elections that IRV behaves very strangely when there are multiple competitive candidates (video). Perhaps the movie industry deserves a superior and simpler alternative.

Attention movie studios! Do you really want Instant Runoff Voting to determine whether your multi-million-dollar project deserves to win an Oscar?

We suggest the system used by the Internet Movie Database, called Score Voting. Just let the judges rate the movies on a scale like 0 to 10, or “1 to 5 stars”. Note that the following data is collected from IMDB, which uses internet users as the voting sample and not Academy judges.

Here’s a Score Voting example including this year’s Best Picture nominees:

 Place  Picture  Rating
1st Inception 8.9
 2nd Toy Story 3 8.7 
 3rd Black Swan 8.5 
 4th  The King’s Speech
 5th The Social Network 8.1 
 6th True Grit 8.1 
 7th The Fighter 8.1 
 8th 127 Hours
 9th Winter’s Bone 7.4
 10th The Kids Are Alright 7.3
And how did IRV do in its debut last year for the 2009 Best Picture award?

 Place  Picture
 1st Inglourious Bastards 8.4
 2nd Up 8.4
 3rd Avatar 8.2
 4th District 9
 5th The Hurt Locker
 6th Up in the Air
 7th The Blind Side 7.7
 8th Precious 7.5
 9th An Education 7.5
 10th A Serious Man

IRV-Selected Winner for Oscar

Advanced economic calculations show Score Voting (a.k.a. Range Voting) to be far more representative of the will of the judges or voters, even given tactical voters.