No, I am not against them, but Joseph Heath, writing at In Due Course, is a skeptic.
Heath’s main concern with “instant runoff” (IRV), also know as the alternative vote (AV), is that it does not guarantee a Condorcet winner.* This is true, and well known. It is one of several methods that will guard against a Condorcet loser, however. Of course, if you want to guarantee a Condorcet winner when there are three or more candidates, you might still use ranked-choice ballots (but a different counting rule), but that’s not what motivates me to write this response.
The motivation is the following passage, which comes after a stylized illustration based on the recent three-way race for Toronto mayor, after which Heath suggests that under his hypothetical distribution of preferences among the voters, Ford supporters would have been better off strategically giving first preferences to a different candidate. He then says:
So it is absolutely and categorically false to say that IRV eliminates the incentive for strategic voting. All it does is invert it. (This is something that everyone should know from history as well – in 2002 too many French voters failed to vote strategically in the Presidential election — which uses a run-off system — leading the Socialist Party candidate Lionel Jospin to be eliminated in the first round, forcing them all to vote for Jacques Chirac to keep the far right out of power.)
That’s some sleight-of-terminology there. Yes, France elects its president with “a runoff system”, but not with an instant runoff. It is a top-two runoff on a later date, and indeed, coordination failure on the left in 2002 prevented Jospin from beating LePen for the second slot. However, can anyone seriously doubt that with IRV/AV, Jospin would have been one of the last two standing when things reached the final count? I don’t think so.
I do not know who the Condorcet winner was in France in 2002. It might have been Jospin, and had approximately the same distribution of first preferences been rendered under an IRV system, then Jospin would have won–if he rather than Chirac was the Condorcet choice.
I agree with what I take to be Heath’s broader point that proponents of IRV oversell it at times. However, if one prefers a system that enhances the electability of a Condorcet winner, it is a pretty good choice. If one wants to guarantee a Condorcet winner, well, that is a different conversation, and one Heath does not enter in to. Most of the rules that would do so have their own pathologies. For single-winner contests, I’m still sticking with AV/IRV as being a good enough solution.
* A Condorcet winner is a candidate who would beat each of the others in a pairwise competition.