Psephology And the Academy Awards

I have little of substance to say about the Academy Award nominations, but the new voting system does raise a number of psephological issues.

People generally don’t think in detail about this, but the way the awards work is that members of a given branch pick the nominees for any given category, and then the general membership votes on the winner. Consequently, the electorate for the “Best Director” vote and for the “Best Picture” vote is identical. And since in practice nobody ever says “I liked A better than B, but B was ‘better directed'” the Best Director winner almost always wins Best Picture. The reason this doesn’t always happen is that the electorate for the nominations is different, so there’s usually some non-overlap in terms of the nominees. The winners are picked via “first past the post” plurality voting, so the preferences of strong partisans of marginal candidates can impact the outcome. In practice, though, the same movie almost always wins both awards. The new system of 10 best picture nominees changes this by ensuring that at least five non-nominees for Best Director will be nominated for Best Picture.