A Condorcet method is an election system where voters rate their candidates in order of preference. As an example, for candidates A B and C, a valid vote can be [A > B > C], [C > B > A], [B > A > C] etc.

The vote then leads to chained preference problem which can be solved through several methods. In the above example, we have B > A > C (first two votes sums in A = B = C). Some of the votes are impossible to solve "perfectly", as known as Condorcet paradox, simply described as cyclic preferences. Each particular Condorcet method offer a different answer to this problem, but no matter what method chosen, if it respects Condorcet criteria it offers much advantages over classical votes:

  • Since it rates all the candidates in a single turn, a single vote can be cast to elect a winner.
  • This encourages being a good compromise candidate. For example, in a triangular scenario, the middle man can win without majority of first intention votes.
  • This does not harm diversity of proposals. If two candidates A1 and A2 have similar opinion group, their supporter can elect A1 > A2 > B > C and A2 > A1 > B > C. If the opinion group is the majority, A1 or A2 can be elected without majority of first intention votes.
  • It can be used as an exclusion vote, voting "against" some candidate or group
  • It simply is a more powerful expression vote, allowing more analysis and involving more the voter in the outcome

Despite this, I know no large scale implementation of any Condorcet method. Although some of them are complex and require (small) computing for resolution, this really shouldn't be a problem.

What other factors are against the Condorcet method in real world elections?

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    Australia uses preferential voting. They use different systems, but many are quite similar to Condorcet.
    – Philipp
    Jan 9, 2016 at 17:42
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    It isn't clear to me what this question is asking. Some elections are conducted using systems meeting the condorcet criterion; does that answer the question?
    – Publius
    Jan 9, 2016 at 23:34
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    @Avi I am asking about what are barriers against Condorcet method implementation. It is an old discovery, it solves practical problems that are well known in current voting systems, so I am asking myself why it has so little support. It is used in a few projects such as free software organisations but doesn't see daylight in actual politics debates.
    – Diane M
    Jan 10, 2016 at 14:28
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    @ArthurHavlicek I still need a little more specificity. Are you asking why it's politically unpopular, or are you asking if there are any practical barriers to implementation? If your question is the former, what kind of evidence would you accept? People don't generally give specific reasons for not supporting concepts they likely haven't heard of.
    – Publius
    Jan 11, 2016 at 2:44
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    Condorcet isn't even good criteria for a voting system. Why does it make more sense that the winner should be the one who would win in tournament-style voting rounds? Its specific to absurdity. Limiting yourself to the condorcet criterion prevents you from choosing better voting systems like Range voting.
    – B T
    Dec 25, 2016 at 23:55

5 Answers 5


There are lots of arguments which could be made against a voting system, like being too complicated to understand for the average voter or requiring so much work to fill out that many voters will start filling in preferences arbitrary.

But the most likely barrier to changes of voting systems is that in most legislations, those people who could change the systems got into their positions through the existing system. Changing the system would very likely make it less likely that they (or people with similar agendas) get re-elected, so they won't be very motivated to do this.

  • source? link? reference?
    – BCLC
    Dec 16, 2021 at 12:23

Score Voting and Approval Voting are much simpler, and better according to an objective economic measure of expected utility, called Bayesian Regret. http://scorevoting.net/CondorcetExec.html

And these methods may be better Condorcet methods than real Condorcet methods. http://ScoreVoting.net/AppCW.html

Though I suspect that the primary reason Condorcet has seen so little traction is simply its complexity, and the fact that social choice theory is extremely under-appreciated by the general public.

  • 3
    The paper you point out is biased. Score voting boils down to approval voting, and strategic approval voting have numerous cases (en.wikipedia.org/wiki/…) where the vote only goes to favourite candidate. Condorcet method(s) are much more robust to this. You have a point with your last paragraph though.
    – Diane M
    Jan 10, 2016 at 14:17
  • Welcome to StackExchange. FYI, you don't need to sign your posts. Jan 12, 2016 at 16:18
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    @ArthurHavlicek Score/Approval Voting outperform Condorcet with any mixture of strategic or honest voters. ScoreVoting.net/BayRegsFig.html And under plausible models of voter strategy, they may actually be better Condorcet methods than real Condorcet methods. ScoreVoting.net/AppCW.html It is certainly not true that 100% of Score Voting users will tactically vote in an Approval style. E.g. see this contentious straw poll we conducted. scorevoting.net/RLCstrawPoll2015.html And yes, if your favorite candidate is strong, you may want to bullet vote. That's not a "problem". Jan 16, 2016 at 19:09
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    @ArthurHavlicek Failing majority criterion is a good thing. A single-winner voting system should select the candidate who is most representative of the population as a whole, not just of half of it. Majority criterion leads to unbalanced winners, perpetual two-party domination, and political polarization.
    – endolith
    Dec 3, 2016 at 14:13
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I think Ireland has single transferable vote, which probably comes closest to Condorcet method.

Take a look at Arrow's Impossibility Theorem; in group choice you cannot guarantee a Condorcet winner exists given three or more choices while at the same time satisfying certain criteria (unrestricted domain, non-dictatorship, Pareto efficiency, independence of irrelevant alternatives) with the implication that all ranked voting systems have their own benefits and drawbacks.

See http://www.d.umn.edu/math/Technical%20Reports/Technical%20Reports%202007-/TR%202011/TR_2011_4.pdf

To circumvent some of Arrow's criteria you'd have to implement cardinal utility voting (instead of ordinal).

  • I already knew about some of the drawbacks. No system is perfect, and this imperfection is fine by me. I disagree about cardinal voting though: many ordinal voting systems satisfy a subset of the criteria, such as Schulze method which is known to have very little weaknesses.
    – Diane M
    Jan 9, 2016 at 19:31
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    STV isn't a Condorcet election system; in fact, it meets the Later No Harm criterion, which is exclusive with the Condorcet criterion.
    – Publius
    Jan 9, 2016 at 23:33
  • You are right. My bad, should have said ranked voting system :)
    – erocoar
    Jan 10, 2016 at 0:19
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    @erocoar A ranked voting system isn't necessarily a condorcet one, nor is it "close" to one in some way.
    – Publius
    Jan 11, 2016 at 10:31
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    There definitely can be a Condorcet winner, for any number of choices; it is even likely that one exists when a group is choosing from a reasonable number of candidates. You just can't guarantee the existence of a Condorcet winner when there are three or more choices.
    – ohspite
    Nov 9, 2016 at 11:11

The argument that it is too complex is bogus. Put the candidates in order of your preference. The results will be reviewed by comparing each candidate against every other candidate individually. The one candidate that beats all other candidates in these head to head contests is the winner.

A major obstacle has been perceived complexity of obtaining the result. If the ballot papers are a conventional list then that is indeed a problem. This can be overcome by a bit of lateral thinking. The voter should be presented with a list of all the available combinations of orders of candidates. So if there are 4 then there will be 4! Combinations, ie 24. The voter then puts the option number on the ballot paper.

A spreadsheet can be pre prepared which will work out the number of votes cast in each of the individual pairings. The number of votes cast for each combination can be input to find the condorcet winner, if there is one. So vote counting takes no longer than at present. If no winner then revert to largest share of vote for runners up.

I have done a version of the spreadsheet for both 4 and 5 choice elections. The 5 choice gives 120 combinations of orders . It could be used to choose out of Labour , Tory, Lib-Dem, UKIP and Green, who governs.

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    What about a seventeen choice election? As actually happened in the 2016 Republican primary in the US. And some people want to have a single election rather than a two stage election. There were upwards of thirty choices overall and that's without the extra encouragement of a ranked system. Even 17! is already trillions. Or 7! is thousands. I don't think that an ordered list is that complex, but it is more complex than making a single choice as plurality voting has people doing.
    – Brythan
    Feb 15, 2017 at 16:43
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    Condorcet method are O(n^2 summable), not O(n!) summable like IRV. You only need to count pairwise preferences, i.e. each ranked ballot with c candidates is a list of c(c-1) votes for the distinct pairs of the form a>=b. So they are much easier to merge than IRV since you can just add the pairwise preference matrix from each polling station, though of course cardinal methods are linearly summable.
    – saolof
    Oct 26, 2020 at 17:15

The reason this voting method is not in effect in the US Political System as well as in most political voting systems, nor communal voting systems is because of a scenario you allude to in your question.

This encourage[s] being a good compromise candidate. For example, in a triangular scenario, the middle man can win without majority of first intention votes.

This does not incorporate the ideals of "voting" translating to the idea of "electing" based on majority. This will cause the majority to not be happy because the minority can actively cause major disrutiptions (far more than single vote systems) in the election process.

Allow me to illustrate by taking this non-political example. 30 dinner guests have to vote for the main dish out of 3 choices using the Condorcet method. The dishes are Burgers, Tacos, and Fish.

20 Dinner guests rank the dishes as 1. Burgers, 2. Tacos, 3. Fish

10 Dinner guests rank the dishes as 1. Fish, 2. Tacos, 3. Burgers

If you weight the votes in a "fair-ish" manner it will appear that the Tacos were the most wanted Dish between the dinner guests, which appears to be the bad trade in this deal because the majority of guests wanted Burgers.

So it's obvious to see in this example how this voting method means that the majority will rarely get what they most wanted. If you think that the majority should not have what they most want, then why have a vote anyways as the candidate most wanted will never win. Your system of voting will nearly always end with a result not wanted by most of the voters.

Taking it a step further into serious matters, this form of voting allows for malicious disruptions. Say that the 10 dinner guests knew what the other 20 dinner guests would be voting for, but did not care what to vote for as long as the 20 dinner guests did not get the dish they most wanted. In this system they can always ensure by voting the 2nd choice of the 20 dinner guests as their 1st choice.

It is for these reasons that the Condercet Method is not used. On paper the Condercet Method is great, but when applied to real life examples as well as seeing the potential consequences used in elections over serious issues it falls short by allowing the minority to disrupt and distort the election.

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    That's not how Condorcet scoring works. Burgers would win in this case, 20-10 over Tacos and Fish.
    – Brythan
    Jan 16, 2016 at 23:54
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    "which appears to be the bad trade in this deal because the majority of guests wanted Burgers." This is called tyranny of the majority, and is a bad thing. 1/3 of the population hates burgers, why should that be the winner? See this for a better food example: leastevil.blogspot.com/2012/03/… "A majority, 2 out of 3, prefer pepperoni to all other options. Therefore, pepperoni must win. It's completely reasonable. And it means you're willing to send your friend home hungry."
    – endolith
    Dec 3, 2016 at 14:17

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