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Does the preferential ballot matter at all?

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  • Sagand
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    I think this season in particular there has been a lot of assertions been made about how the preferential ballot is going to alter the result, I think it is without much evidence.

    The preferential ballot has been in effect for eight years. The first piece of evidence that it isn’t is a game changer is nobody talked about it in the first six years, nobody even noticed the difference. All those winners made sense as plurality vote winner too.

    Spotlight is the only film that I would say wasn’t leading after the first round (although must have still been close) and won due to the preferences. This is because the dynamics of a three horse is different to a two horse race.

    If the preferential ballot changed the result dramatically you would expect a divergence between PGA (using preferential) and DGA (using plurality), instead they have matched 7/8 over this period. (Compared to only 5/8 in the eight years before that.)

    People also point to the growing split between Picture and Director as another sign of the preferential ballot. It’s difficult to blame the Argo split on the ballot because Ben Affleck wasn’t on the ballot, there would have been no split if the directors had nominated him. The 12 Years a Slave/Gravity split was a consensus split, it happened at the Golden Globes, Critics Choice and Bafta all of whom have the same voting system for both Picture and Director.

    The Spotlight / Moonlight years are more debateable cases. However Bafta has the same nominating system for both Picture and Director and both got Picture but missed Director showing at least they were both measurably stronger in Picture compared to Director. It could also be that having the Life of Pi and Gravity years back to back made them reconsider how they use the Best Director prize and they want to use it as a prize for difficulty of directing rather than a Best Picture companion piece it has been in the past.

    There is also the alternative explanation of why La La Land and The Revenant couldn’t win (unrelated to the ballot); they didn’t have support from the largest branch of the academy as shown by SAG ensemble snubs and didn’t have support from writers with weak scripts. LLL proved it could win preferential ballots at PGA and that it could lose plurality votes at WGA showing who the voter were was more important than how they voted.

    To have the preferential ballot alter the result you need the first preferences not only to be unrepresentative of the overall preferences but negatively correlated enough to overcome the margin in the first round. From an data analysis standpoint this doesn’t make much sense and should be a rare occurrence.

    For example take AwardsDaily’s simulated ballot from last year, of people who choose Moonlight or La La Land in the first round 58.5% choose Moonlight. To overturn this La La Land would have to not only beat Moonlight with the remaining votes but beat them by a margin large enough to overturn the lead. After preferences were redistributed Moonlight won the vote of people who voted for neither LLL nor Moonlight in the first round by 56.3% signalling the first preferences were in fact representative of the whole. You can look at Sasha Stone’s Facebook polls and James Eng’s bubble sort method they showed Moonlight gaining on preferences but also showed it in the lead to start with.

    Last year there were plenty of people trying to second guess which way the ballot would affect the result. I was reminded by this Vox video explaining how voting favours LLL, or FiveThirtyEight “Oscar voting is engineered to favor movies like La La Land, or AwardsWatch “La La Land is almost the dictionary definition of a consensus choice”. I’m reminded Nate Silver’s axiom that if pundits are guessing at which way polls will be wrong the best bet is always to bet in the other direction.

    The preferential ballot is used in other situation other than Oscar voting. I was hoping to find a study on how often election results are changed by the preferential ballot. I did find this tidbit on Australian elections:

    So how did AV perform at this election? Oddly enough, it behaved very much like first past the post. Based on close to complete results, nearly half (43) of the 93 lower house contests saw no candidate achieve a majority on first preferences. Preferences needed to be distributed, but in 42 of these 43 contests, the winning candidate after preferences was also the leading candidate on the tally of first preferences.

    (http://blogs.lse.ac.uk/politicsandpolicy/australia-and-av/)

    So is the preferential ballot a game changer? Or is the increased focus on it now simply an excuse for pundits who called it wrong last year without too much consideration?

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    Riley
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    What do you make of The Shape of Water scoring three acting nominations at the Oscars?  Does this negate its SAG snub?

    What about how in the Awards Daily link, straight men favoured La La Land until the last round when Moonlight inherited the Manchester by the Sea votes?

    What do you mean that Spotlight and Moonlight were stronger for picture?  Only directors nominate for Best Director.

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    Stegeo
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    What do you make of The Shape of Water scoring three acting nominations at the Oscars? Does this negate its SAG snub?

    They’re really just filler nominees, especially Spencer.

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    FreemanGriffin
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    I disagree. I believe La La Land would have won if it had not been for the preferential ballot system. The only ones who know for sure are the ones who counted the votes and they aren’t telling us. I also think results would be different if there were still only five nominees.

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    GMonty777
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    I disagree. I believe La La Land would have won if it had not been for the preferential ballot system. The only ones who know for sure are the ones who counted the votes and they aren’t telling us. I also think results would be different if there were still only five nominees.

    I agree with that. Same with The Revenant. But then again, without knowing the voting tallies or how the voters ranked them, we will never know for sure.

    Based on what has been reported by Tom O’Neil’s crew and magazines asking Oscar voters their choices, it does appear that LLL and TR were the more divisive film among Academy members and Moonlight and Spotlight were more likable films overall.

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    Andrew Carden
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    The preferential ballot is basically the only reason Lady Bird is still competitive in Best Picture.

    For the finest in film reviews and awards analysis (and my annual Oscar predictions contest), please visit me at The Awards Connection!

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    Sagand
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    What do you make of The Shape of Water scoring three acting nominations at the Oscars?  Does this negate its SAG snub?

    I don’t know really what to think about that. I have a theory that December releases will over perform on nominations morning due to their impact date being within the voting period. I had Shape of Water getting the thirteen nominations it got. (The bake off process would blunt this effect somewhat which is why I had it missing VX.)

    I also know that you have to appear on a higher percentage of the ballots to get nominated at SAG and Bafta compared to the Oscars. Which begs the question did SoW always have passion but lack depth of support?

    There are signs SAG is unraveling a bit as a predictor in correlation with other awards. Critics Choice hadn’t awarded a non-SAG ensemble film for 19 years then two in a row, PGA hadn’t before Gravity then three in five years. BP isn’t so different to these that the stat is unbeatable.

    If it loses it’ll obviously be because of the SAG stat, and if it wins it’ll be obvious the SAG didn’t matter because it got three acting nominations. You don’t get that certainty until again the announcement though.

    What about how in the Awards Daily link, straight men favoured La La Land until the last round when Moonlight inherited the Manchester by the Sea votes?

    I’m not saying voters from one film or even one demographic can’t disproportionately move to another film. (This is where the dynamics of three way race are different, if the third film disproportionately favours one of the top two that can make the different and that is what I think happened with The Big Short –> Spotlight.)

    But the nominating process should make sure the other nominees have varied types of support. I.E. if there were five war films nominated you would expect when eliminated their vote would go to the strongest war film, but the nominating ballot wouldn’t give you five war films, it would give you one war film, one family drama, one sci-fi, one historical epic, one critics favourite ect. So when the elimination actually happened in the overall picture Manchester’s support of Moonlight was balanced out somewhere else.

    What do you mean that Spotlight and Moonlight were stronger for picture?  Only directors nominate for Best Director.

    That is the flaw in that argument. It could have been due to the different voters or it could have been due to the different category. Although I’d still maintain if you had to give one out of Picture or Director based on merit most people would say they were stronger in Picture. I just don’t have much evidence for that.

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    PJ Edwards
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    Of course the preferential ballot matters. Only during sweep years does it not matter.

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    ZegemaBeach
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    That is probably true.

    Given how strong original screenplay is this year, it’s conceivable that Lady Bird could win Best Picture and nothing else. If it does, there will be calls to ditch the preferential ballot and go back to five BP nominees.

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    Pulp
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    Preferential ballots matter a ton, of course they do. Lady Bird seems like it could do  best on a preferential ballot. TSOW beat LB at PGA, but it may have been close, and I wonder if the Oscars will be as kind to a movie about a romance between a mute woman and a fish man. At the end of the day, I’ll still predict TSOW, but wouldn’t be shocked if Lady Bird won, I’d be more surprised if 3BB won on a preferential ballot than LB and maybe even Get Out.

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