The Oscar's Best Picture Race Will Never Be The Same Again: A Voting System Experiment

Something I’ve been mulling over since the last award season - when La La Land lost the Academy Award for Best Picture award to Moonlight, in still-shocking fashion - is whether the same version of events would have played out if the Academy’s voting system had not changed a few years prior. 

As it currently stands, the Academy uses a preferential voting system, known as instant-runoff voting, for deciding the recipient(s) of the top prize; this means that voters are required to rank the nominees by choice, one through nine in the case of this and last year. Should no clear majority be found - and it’s very unlikely one film will garner 50% of the vote at this stage - the film with the lowest number of nominations is removed and their ballots are distributed to the voter's second pick. Should this not find a majority, the next lowest-scoring film is removed and, again, their ballot is distributed to the highest-ranked film still in contention. This pattern continues until a winner with 50% of the votes is found. Likely, it will come down to the final two, where it reverts to first-past-the-post voting, the same system used for every other category; it also means the Best Picture leader could feasibly change in every single round.

Let’s take a look at Wikipedia’s explanation for further clarity - 

"Instead of voting only for a single candidate, voters in IRV (instant runoff voting) elections can rank the candidates in order of preference. Ballots are initially counted for each elector's top choice, losing candidates are eliminated, and ballots for losing candidates are redistributed until one candidate is the top remaining choice of a majority of the voters. When the field is reduced to two, it has become an "instant runoff" that allows a comparison of the top two candidates head-to-head.”. 

To give a more detailed, award season-friendly example: 6,687 people make up the Academy but, for ease, let’s say only 6,000 members have submitted their ballot. One film would need to garner 3,001 votes to be named the winner of Best Picture, through the method outlined above. In today’s age - a more liberal time - no film will ever make that threshold in one sweep — I’d bet every penny in my savings on it. It's a changing landscape, meaning that the winner of Best Picture is not the most popular film so to speak, but the more universally-loved film in the line-up. If you’re a visual learner, Steve Pond, TheWrap’s Awards Editor demonstrates - so check this out: 

Why am I telling you this, I hear you cry?

Well, my hypothesis is as follows: the preferential vote and popular vote system offer different winners. I’m not going into which format is right and which format is wrong because there is no answer to that: since 2009, The Academy have chosen the former format for Best Picture and I cannot see it changing any time soon. But I want to put my theory to the test.

Using the nine Best Picture nominations set to go head-to-head on March 4th - Call Me By Your Name, Darkest Hour, Dunkirk, Get Out, Lady Bird, Phantom Thread, The Post, The Shape of Water and Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri - I’d like to call you all to take part in my experiment. Below is a link to a survey that asks you to answer two questions (as well as providing your name and Twitter handle, if you have one); the first question asks you to pick your favourite film from the nine nominated — the feature-length you would choose for Best Picture should you one day be lucky enough to vote at the Academy Awards; the second question asks you to rank the nine films in order of preference (don’t worry if you haven’t seen some, you can select N/A for these - although I’d perhaps encourage you to hold off voting if you plan to see any of the nominations before the survey ends). What this will give me (and will be revealed to you in due course) is whether our winner of Best Picture changes depending on the voting system used.

Would the intially-announced La La Land still hold the trophy over Moonlight if the popular vote was still used? Would The Revenant be boasting a Best Picture accolade instead of Spotlight? Perhaps Boyhood would reign supreme over Birdman or (The Unexpected Virtue of Ignorance)? Maybe Hilary Clinton would be Presid- oh, wait, nevermind. This wee experiment may be the answer to our questions, so spread the survey far and wide and be sure to invite your film-loving friends to take part; the bigger the sample size, the more accurate the results.

I ask you only to vote once and submit your surveys no later than Friday March 2nd, 23:59 GMT, giving you just over a week to vote. Submissions after this time and date won't be counted and you'll be missing out on a every important part in democratic history. Click the link below to take the survey - and check back before Oscar night to see the results!