Voters will rank order the ten nominated films. If any film has a majority of voters picking it as top choice, it's elected. If not, the film with the fewest first place votes is eliminated and that film's supporters are counted as voting for their second choice. Repeat until some film has majority support. Writes Cosh:
Even in the old five-nominee Oscar races, a winner in the single round of voting could conceivably win even though 25 or 30 per cent of the voters loved it and everybody else hated it. (This may have enabled some Best Picture wins later considered controversial, like that of Crash in 2005 or Shakespeare in Love in 1998.) In a 10-nominee field, a mere 15 per cent might be more than enough. The board of governors, mindful that preferential voting was used in 10-nominee Best Picture races from 1936 to 1943, decided to re-adopt the old prophylactic measure against unpopular winners.It's possible that the old system was more manipulable: if you could get about a fifth of voters to agree on a common first choice, you could potentially get it through despite a majority hating the film. That doesn't worry me too much: I liked both Crash and Shakespeare in Love. What worries me more in the old system is a plurality of uncoordinated voters with mediocre tastes coordinating around some unimaginative Schelling point (Avatar!). So I'll expect fewer oddball good picks like Crash but also fewer lukewarm picks.
I am rather curious about Colby noting the change in voting system at 1943. It would be really neat to compare current evaluations of Oscar winners for the period before and after the change as a measure of which system did better in picking the films later viewed as being very good. Let's give it a shot. Wikipedia lists all the winners and nominees; IMDB and Rotten Tomatoes score the films. A quick flip through doesn't show a clear winner across the two systems, mostly because both fare horribly. I apologize for the table formatting below.
|Year||Winner||Bested by (IMDB)||Bested by (Rotten Tomatoes)|
|1936||The Great Ziegfeld||Dodsworth, Libeled Lady, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, San Francisco, The Story of Louis Pasteur, A Tale of Two Cities (6 of 9 other nominees)||Dodsworth, Libeled Lady, Mr. Deeds Goes to Town, Romeo and Juliet, San Francisco, A Tale of Two Cities (all rated nominees)|
|1937||The Life of Emile Zola||The Awful Truth, Captains Courageous, Dead End, The Good Earth, Lost Horizon, Stage Door, A Star is Born (7/9 other nominees)||As IMDB, 7/7 rated nominees|
|1938||You Can't Take It With You||The Adventures of Robin Hood (1/9 other nominees)||The Adventures of Robin Hood, Boys Town, Four Daughters, Grand Illusion, Jezebel (5/6 rated nominees)|
|1939||Gone With The Wind||Mr. Smith goes to Washington, The Wizard of Oz (2/9)||Ninotchka, Of Mice and Men, Stagecoach, The Wizard of Oz, Wuthering Heights (5/9)|
|1940||Rebecca||none||none, though many tie|
|1941||How Green Was My Valley||Citizen Kane, The Little Foxes, The Maltese Falcon, Sergeant York (4/9)||Citizen Kane, Here Comes Mr. Jordan, The Little Foxes, The Maltese Falcon, Suspicion (5/6 rated)|
|1942||Mrs. Miniver||Kings Row, The Magnificent Ambersons, Random Harvest, The Talk of the Town, Yankee Doodle Dandy (5/9)||As IMDB, and also 49th Parallel, The Pied Piper, The Pride of the Yankees, Wake Island (9/9: Every other film rates higher on Rotten Tomatoes)|
|1943||Casablanca||none||The More the Merrier (1/6 rated)|
|1944||Going My Way||Double Indemnity, Gaslight, Since You Went Away (3/4)||Double Indemnity, Gaslight (2/3 rated)|
|1945||The Lost Weekend||none||none|
|1946||The Best Years Of Our Lives||It's a Wonderful Life (1/4)||Henry V, The Yearling (2/4)|
|1947||Gentleman's Agreement||The Bishop's Wife, Crossfire, Great Expectations, Miracle on 34th Street (4/4)||Great Expectations, Miracle on 34th Street (2/4)|
|1948||Hamlet||The Red Shoes, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre(2/4)||As IMDB, 2/3 rated|
|1949||All the King's Men||The Heiress, Twelve O'Clock High (2/4)||Battleground, The Heiress, A Letter to Three Wives, Twelve O'Clock High (4/4)|
|1950||All About Eve||Sunset Boulevard (1/4)||none|
|1951||An American in Paris||Decision Before Dawn, A Place in the Sun, A Streetcar Named Desire (3/4)||None, though Streetcar ties|
So it looks like the Academy picked about as many winners and dogs under both systems last time they ran the experiment and tend towards middling-ranked films. I was kinda hoping that there'd be interesting differences in results to report. There could have been a paper in it had there been. File it under dead ends, and post it so that anybody else that takes an interest can save himself the couple hours. Perhaps there's something in just how bad the Academy's choices are in later retrospect... "The invariance of bad Oscar picks to choice of voting system"...