Question
Asked 15th May, 2013

Has anyone ever tried Negative Votes?

Proposal: In final popular elections, each voter has one vote as usual but can cast that vote either for a desired candidate/issue (a positive vote) or against the one they despise most (a negative vote).
This should:
1. yield near-100% voter turnouts;
2. put an end to claims of "popular mandates" by least-of-two-evils candidates;
3. discourage extremists.
Naturally, it will be necessary to retain the traditional "positive votes only" procedure for primaries or caucuses, since otherwise we would frequently be led by unknowns. (I charitably assume that this would not be an improvement.)
Has this ever been tried, or even considered?
PS: I have set up a simple little poll at http://www.easypolls.net/poll.html?p=5192e250e4b0df6bcbc78948#.UZLg4ZE3hhk.facebook in case you'd like to register your personal opinion on this.

Most recent answer

13th Dec, 2020
Armin Ferenci
University College London
I am actually writing my undergrad dissertation on this topic! Combined Approval Voting or Evaluative Voting are quite close to what you propose but under those systems, voters are asked to evaluate every candidate on the ballot. As far as I know, there is no current theoretical let alone practical voting procedure that allows for a single positive and a single negative vote.

Popular Answers (1)

16th May, 2013
Marcelo Jenny
University of Innsbruck
The Austrian electoral system in national parliamentary elections between 1945-1970 provided the option to strike out candidates from a part'ys list to enhance another's candidate's chances. Actual usage by voters was very limited.
3 Recommendations

All Answers (21)

16th May, 2013
Marcelo Jenny
University of Innsbruck
The Austrian electoral system in national parliamentary elections between 1945-1970 provided the option to strike out candidates from a part'ys list to enhance another's candidate's chances. Actual usage by voters was very limited.
3 Recommendations
16th May, 2013
Panchanarayan Maharjan
Tribhuvan University
In India a section of society had formed to advocate for "negative vote". I had an informal interaction with the members of that group in 2001, but I didn't take seriously on that issue at that time and now I forgot that group, I am very sorry for that. But, I am sure that you can find that in India.
2 Recommendations
16th May, 2013
Jean-Francois Laslier
French National Centre for Scientific Research
It has been tested by academics in France in 2012 for the Presidential Election. See two papers
- "Who is favored by Evaluative voting: An experiment conducted during the 2012 French Presidential Election" http://hal.archives-ouvertes.fr/docs/00/80/30/24/PDF/cahier_2013-05.pdf
- « Vote par approbation, vote par note : une expérimentation lors des élections présidentielles françaises du 22 avril 2012» Revue Economique 64(2) : 345–356 (2013) by Antoinette Baujard, Frédéric Gavrel, Herrade Igersheim, Jean-Francois Laslier et Isabelle Lebon.
2 Recommendations
16th May, 2013
Viktor Orri Valgardsson
University of Southampton
In Iceland we have also had the option of striking out candidates from the list one votes for (a very small minority uses that option), but that is not the same system as you are describing and I think it has not been applied anywhere in reality.
I'm not sure why voter turnout should increase to a near-100% in such a system, perhaps offering voters the chance of casting both a positive and a negative vote (instead of only one of the two) should be considered...
16th May, 2013
Jess H. Brewer
University of British Columbia - Vancouver
Thanks to all for some great answers. I now have sources to research; I'm especially interested in the French experiment!
Why do I anticipate higher voter turnout? Have you ever heard the phrase, "...put a clothespin on your nose and vote"? I suspect at least half the people who do vote are voting for a candidate they dislike in order to "keep out" another whom they truly hate. This forced hypocrisy erodes anyone's dignity; many others avoid voting so that they don't have to lie.
1 Recommendation
19th May, 2013
Md. Zahid Hassan
~In Bangladesh, "No Vote" issue was discussed and used in 2008 national election. However, the idea has not popularized.
15th Jun, 2013
David Stadelmann
University of Bayreuth
I think in many countries and in particular in local election you can often strike out candidates from a list. This is similar to giving a negative vote.
In Switzerland you have the possibility of 'panachages', i.e. to add
candidates from other party lists, which would be the opposite of your suggestions.
I would expect that your proposal makes more sense for proportional systems than for majoritarian systems. The questions would also have to be, if your proposal increases the quality of representation afterwards if applied in a majoritarian system. In fact, In a number of current research we match individual senators’ voting behavior on legislative proposals with real referendum decisions on exactly the same issues with identical wording (see RG site).
21st Jun, 2013
Frank Rusciano
Rider University
In Brazil, they have a law stating that everyone must vote; however, they do have an option of voting "None of the above." That is not quite a negative vote, although enough votes like that could constitute a clear "vote of no confidence" from the electorate.
My perception is that the option of voting for the opposition is generally viewed as sufficient evidence of a negative vote for a candidate.
21st Jun, 2013
Jess H. Brewer
University of British Columbia - Vancouver
David: Striking out a candidate from a list would be even more psychologically satisfying, but how does it get counted? Can you strike out more than one? Can you then vote for the survivor? This seems frivolous. I think you should still have only one vote, so you have to really be committed against a candidate to vote negative. Thus a ballot with just one candidate struck out and none voted for would be as valid as a ballot with one positive vote. Is it done this way anywhere? If so, where? I may move.... :-)
Frank: To whom (other than the individual voter) would a positive vote for B seem equivalent to a negative vote for A?
21st Jun, 2013
Frank Rusciano
Rider University
That is a good question. Actually, all we can tell from a vote of A over B is that the voter preferred A as opposed to B; in fact, the voter may have had positive feelings about both, but had more positive feelings about A. However, it still seems that the best way to voice displeasure with B is to vote for A.
Also, the system you describe could be highly manipulable, as parties could nominate an especially despicable candidate to draw votes away from the opposition. For instance, consider if I had a choice between A (whom I prefer), B (whom I prefer less), and C (whom I would would never want to win under any circumstances. A party that perceives B would lose could also promote C under the assumption that the voter would care more about voting against C than for either of the lesser of three evils.
1 Recommendation
21st Jun, 2013
Jess H. Brewer
University of British Columbia - Vancouver
So each party would run two candidates -- one whom they actually want to win and another whom they know will draw negative votes from the opposition? (1) I don't think parties are allowed to run more than one candidate. (2) Who would bother to cast their one vote against someone who was obviously a hate magnet? I don't think any system is proof against voter stupidity of that magnitude. (Several illustrations spring to mind.... ;-)
As you say, the negative votes system is manipulable, unlike the ones we have now... wait...
1st Aug, 2014
Nitin Reddy Katkam
University of Phoenix
Just a thought... The idea of casting negative votes just might have political parties campaigning for voters to cast negative votes for their opposition. The negative opinions would probably be diffused in the manner described by Leonard and Barton (1985), although their study was on the influence of negative opinion leaders on the adoption of innovation.
1st Aug, 2014
Jess H. Brewer
University of British Columbia - Vancouver
@Nitin:  Of course parties would campaign for negative votes against the opposition.  What's the problem with that?  But they'd have to be careful to leave a few voters to cast positive votes for their own candidate, lest the candidate with the least negative score be declared a winner.  (IMHO, that should be forbidden -- no one should be able to take office with a net-negative score.)  I think that the "one person, one vote -- positive or negative" rule is essential to avoid arbitrarily devious strategies. 
1st Aug, 2014
Frank Rusciano
Rider University
This example is not the same as a negative vote, but in Brazil voters can choose "None of the above."  Also, voting is compulsory.  
2nd Jul, 2018
Jonathan D. Bright
The Evaluative Voting mentioned in another answer is not the same thing as your proposal. Under that system, you vote for or against EVERY candidate. It's a variant of Approval/Score voting, and is a much better idea than just having one vote for or against ONE candidate.
3rd Jul, 2018
Jess H. Brewer
University of British Columbia - Vancouver
In the past several years, the Negative Vote Association at https://www.negativevote.org/pagesen/pid_12/2.html?lang=en has made some progress, both in Taiwan and in the city of Berkeley, CA -- see https://www.facebook.com/search/top/?q=balanced%20ballot%20for%20berkeley and https://www.facebook.com/BalancedBallotInternational/ plus this video: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=b6tauXJgLoM
It seems this idea may be making some headway!
1 Recommendation
21st Jul, 2018
Nenad Stojanović
University of Geneva
The possibility to cast negative preference votes exists in Switzerland, at the national level and in most cantons and municipalities. (i.e. under a free-list PR system voters can strike out as many candidates as they want but only within the party-list they have chosen in the first place). Data on negative votes in local elections in the canton of Zurich allowed Lea Portmann and me to measure the extent of "electoral discrimination" against candidates with "non-Swiss names ( ). In Fn 6 we mention that this possibility exist also in Latvia (European elections) and in certain German Länder in local elections. I wasn't aware about Austria 1940-75.
2 Recommendations
21st Jul, 2018
Jess H. Brewer
University of British Columbia - Vancouver
There are also places that implement the "NOTA" (None Of The Above) option, but neither that nor the "strike out as many as you like" option are really very similar to my proposal, in which each voter has ONE vote to cast, either FOR someone they LIKE or AGAINST someone they HATE. This requires a real choice and serious commitment.
23rd Apr, 2020
Zala Opara
Autonomous University of Barcelona
Hey guys, I hope this will reach you still. It's been a while since the last activity. What do you think about the system with one positive and one negative vote? This way, not only people would be given option to give a negative vote to the most disliked party, they would also be able to give the voice to the party which is not among the strongest. I am thinking of suggesting a voting reform in Slovenia..
23rd Apr, 2020
Jess H. Brewer
University of British Columbia - Vancouver
In a place like the USA, which is basically a 2-party system, a "one positive + one negative" system would be more or less equivalent to NOT VOTING.

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