A Stupid Electoral System for Goofs

(Or, “How to Keep a Republic.”)

Election methods may seem a bit off-topic for this blog, but it couldn’t be more appropriate.

It’s a contemporary American story, and it starts with systems, flows into memetics, and finally has things to say about morality and culture, including the state of American Christianity as popularly portrayed.

Stick with me here. Each step is crucial.

Part I: Anchovy Pizza

Yes, anchovy pizza.

… Hey, I said stick with me! Your rewards will be great: You’ll soon know the 3 Clues of a Wrong Winner.

Imagine there are 5 people at a party, enough money for 1 pizza, and 4 pizza choices — cheese, pepperoni, veggie, and anchovy.

3 of the people despise anchovy pizza.

2 of the people love — absolutely adore  anchovy pizza and spurn anything else when anchovy is in play.

They want the pizza choice to represent the group. Their pizza should be like a strong republic — an expression of the “will of the people” that serves those same people and their preferences.

So what method do they use to gather group preference?

They could use Approval Vote, where each person gives “thumbs up” and “thumbs down” to each option. The pizza with the highest number of “thumbs up” wins.

approval

Here, Cheese pizza is the winner, with 3 thumbs up.

Or, they could use Score/Range Vote, where each person gives a score to each option (here, 0 to 5). This is what we in the game development industry normally rely on for audience tests.

score

Again, Cheese pizza is the winner, with a score of 12. This also gives the clearest picture of where preferences fall, and in this case provides us with a powerful intuitive sense of which pizza certainly shouldn’t win (Anchovy).

Unfortunately, these 5 folks did not use the above methods.

Instead they decided to use Plurality Vote, where you mark only your very favorite option and are robbed of the ability to express anything else.

favorite

And now Anchovy pizza wins. Pretty awful, eh?

So… what happened? Well, when robbed of the ability to express anything except which choice is your very favorite, the anti-Anchovy majority got split up.

This is called, appropriately enough, “splitting the vote.”

And it’s not a joke.

july1932

In the July 1932 German federal election, Anchovy Hitler and the Nazi Party acquired a plurality of seats in the Reichstag for the first time. The use of “mark only your favorite,” combined with the number of choices involved, meant that, for all we know, the results did not express popular will in the least.

Think about it. The percentages above are not measures of popular willthey are measures of sizes of blocs of favorites. The Reichstag was apportioned according to sizes of blocs of favorites. This is stupidA stupid system for goofs. A system simply itching to give power to the next Anchovian pied piper that comes along.

The Nazis didn’t win a majority that July — they never won a majority prior to banning the other parties — but it kicked the snowball down the slope. Emboldened by their victory, they ramped up violent terrorism and increased pressure against their political rivals. A multi-way power-struggle ensued throughout the remainder of 1932, with would-be dictator Franz von Papen grasping to advance his own Machiavellian ambitions, culminating in a final, desperate re-coalition that handed the German government to the Nazis the next January. In March 1933, another election increased their seat dominance — again, leaning on the artificial advantage that Plurality Vote gives to extremists. Soon after, they passed the Enabling Act, eviscerating what separation of powers remained.

The core issue is the following stupid problem: When “mark only your favorite” is used, the sway of ideological groups is effectively divided by the number of choices in that group. Those variables should never affect one another; but here, they do. It’s as if they’re grafted together “upside-down,” since mainstream views tend to have a greater number of candidates representing them.

When this happens, the vote-splitting is given the name “spoiler effect.”

Therefore, one Clue that suggests a Wrong Winner (“Someone who won under Plurality Vote but is a bad representative of the group, i.e., would lose a head-to-head match-up vs. another candidate”) is when there’s a clear “cohort split” across ideological groups or personal loyalties (following “pied pipers”). We can call this the “Pied Piper” Clue.

cohorts

But this data is sometimes hard to come by, since individual preferences can get “averaged out” in reports.

Another Clue that suggests a Wrong Winner is when the winner is uniquely polarizing or controversial, which can be measured using approval ratings.

approve

Even though Demeter and Edna abhor the non-Anchovy options, they are unable to make the non-Anchovy options look controversial because there simply aren’t as many of them influencing the tally.

This Clue, which we’ll call the “Controversial Character” Clue, paints the following picture:

polarized

The final Clue that suggests a Wrong Winner is if, in head-to-head match-ups, or “duels,” the so-called “winner” loses most often, or even every time.

Notice what dueling does: It corrects for Plurality Vote’s devastating problem (breaking completely with more than 2 options available) by limiting the vote to 2 options only:

matchup

We’ll call that the “Duel Loser” Clue.

To recap, that’s:

  • “Pied Piper” Clue. (An ideological cohort split or fringe personality.)
  • “Controversial Character” Clue. (Remarkably more polarizing than others.)
  • “Duel Loser” Clue. (He’s actually quite the loser, when we correct for Plurality Vote’s stupid nonsense.)

And now let’s apply these to something more contemporary: The 2016 Republican Presidential Nomination.

The Republican Primaries and Caucuses of 2016 were hotly contested between candidates Donald Trump, Ted Cruz, Marco Rubio, and to a lesser extent (but still relevant) John Kasich and Ben Carson.

After March 1st’s “Super Tuesday,” 15 of the contests were over. Trump had won 337 delegates to Cruz’s 235, Rubio’s 112, Kasich’s 27, and Carson’s 8. Trump had also won 10 states vs. Cruz’s 4 and Rubio’s 1.

But every contest was either using pure Purality Vote or using a system that involved Plurality Vote at one or more stages (which is also corrupting).

Like in Germany in July 1932, the results were not necessarily measures of popular will, but of sizes of blocs of favorites.

According to the systems at play, Trump was winning after Super Tuesday. However, at this pointTrump may have been a Wrong Winner. This is a devastating possibility because Wrong Winners do not look like the losers they are. As such they gain the momentum, the loyalty, and the solidarity. (Remember when your NeverTrump uncle morphed into a Trump apologist? I certainly do.)

On March 8, one week after Super Tuesday, Langer Research Associates released a poll of Republicans and Republican-leaning voters. The researchers asked a variety of questions, and was deep enough to go “under”  superficial and corrupt Plurality-style polling.

This study showed that Donald Trump was a “Controversial Character” in the sense defined before:

controversial

But, most horrifyingly, it showed that Donald Trump was a two-fold “Duel Loser”:

duel_loser

What a loser!

So how on Earth was he winning? Smells fishy, right?

Fishy… like an anchovy!

This is exactly the kind of ideological and/or personality-driven cohort split that makes Plurality Vote so screwed up when there are more than 2 choices on deck.

Through the Podesta e-mail leaks, we discovered that a year prior, the Clinton campaign understood that fringe candidates like Donald Trump, if legitimized, could “force all Republican candidates to lock themselves into extreme conservative positions” in order to maintain a coalition between Republican-leaning independents and the Far Right. “The variety of candidates is a positive here… we don’t want to marginalize the more extreme candidates, but make them more ‘Pied Piper’ candidates… we need to be elevating the Pied Piper candidates so that they are leaders of the pack and tell the press to [take] them seriously.”

In other words, the campaign saw that it was to their advantage to use their influence with the media to elevate Donald Trump. And when Trump became the nominee, they were pleased as punch.

But it’s important to note that Donald Trump never had a majority result until June 2016, with his big, expected win in New York. Back in March 2016, the other candidates knew what was happening, but refused to ally into an anti-Trump coalition — even as Trump averaged a 40% vote shortfall vs. the combined vote count of his strongest 2 opponents in each race.

The nonpartisan electoral reform organization FairVote, which advocates Ranked Choice Vote (another fine system), also knew what was happening: “The GOP split vote problem continues,” they wrote on March 8, 2016. “Its use of a plurality voting system may well allow a candidate to win the nomination who would be unlikely to win in a head-to-head contest with his strongest opponent.”

In other words… the Wrong Winner!

After Rubio dropped out after his disappointing result in Florida, the Cruz and Kasich campaigns called one another “spoilers.” It wasn’t until a month later that Cruz and Kasich finally set their differences aside, as their delegate shortfall grew and grew, and as Trump continued to feed off of Plurality Vote‘s toxic sewage and mutate out of control.

Cruz and Kasich came up with a “noncompete” plan so that they could stop spoiling one another, divide a few first-place wins among themselves, and push Trump into a series of second-place finishes.

Ultimately, it was the only math that could lead to a contested convention.

But it was too late.

Part II: Avoiding Anchovies

The only way to stop a Wrong Winner is to:

  • Coalition in order to circumvent Plurality Vote‘s unacceptable, atrocious vote-splitting effect, and
  • do so early enough so that the Wrong Winner hasn’t already captured the support and enthusiasm of the group, enchanted by his pseudo-crown, that is, the powerful — but wrong — signal that this is truly the group’s favorite.

The mainstream Republicans failed to coalition early enough to stop Donald Trump, a Wrong Winner if there ever was one, from securing the nomination. He never should have been the Republican Party candidate, and needless to say, did not represent the GOP’s platform and stated principles.

Because Plurality Vote takes a chaos-chainsaw to candidates when there are 3 or more in play, decisionmakers (whether party insiders, campaign strategists, or voters) — if they are rational decisionmakers — will do what they can to control the chaos:

  • Party insiders will try to elevate somebody early, around which they can rally the masses into a united coalition.
  • Campaign strategists will recommend “take-down” tactics against candidates with the biggest “my favorite!” bloc, and against candidates that share values and may be acting as direct “spoilers.”
  • Voters will desperately try to stop their buddies from voting third party, since voting third party under Plurality Vote is about as helpful as eating your own ballot. Many of us intuitively sense the rational need to coalition under Plurality.

And this is why the United States is a Two Party regime.

It’s not a Two Party system; the system is Plurality Vote, which drives and sustains Two Party dominance precisely because there is no plausible, incremental way to rationally-decide our way out of it.

Put another way, to “avoid anchovies,” there is an overwhelming incentive to coalition tighter and tighter until there are only 2 choices left, because that’s the only circumstance in which Plurality Vote is fine. Failures to do this result in chaos and anti-republic results, and increase the chance of fascist and extremist cult-like personalities coming to power.

Part III: Inflame & Divide

Once there are only two viable parties left, a new overwhelming incentive emerges: Any issue that could be politicized “should” be.

With the right messaging, incoming complicated issues can be framed within a narrative in which your party is the hero and the other party is the villain — or where your party is “like us,” and the other party is “not like us.”

The leaked copy of Frank Luntz’s 2006 “The New American Lexicon” shows how neoconservatives like Luntz had been using such methods since the early 1990s to “hook” these political memeplexes into our deepest fears, hopes, and loyalties.

That messaging is “spin.” And that framing is “shoehorning.” They require dishonesty about the complexities of these issues and they require persuasive hyperbole about the “other side.”

flow

But it’s undeniable, and irresistible. The worse the other guys look, the better you’ll do, because there are only two viable parties. Every complicated issue is “untamed land” to conquer, study, prepare, sow politicization, and reap polarization.

And the result?pol

Pew Research Center

Now, remember how I just used the word “irresistible?” It is mistaken to think that we can solve this problem by collectively changing our minds and deciding to come together as a country. And yet that’s how our American polarization problem is framed again and again.

If we go back one step, we notice similar “it’s our fault” framing whenever we’re stuck deciding between two candidates for President that we’re not satisfied with. “If everyone voted third party,” we hear incessantly, “we wouldn’t have to settle!”

But as we saw, Plurality Vote does not reliably produce correct winners, and the more viable candidates there are (like via third party groundswells), the more random chaos it causes.

That’s why we’re stuck in this Two Party regime.

We’re locked in it.

Part IV: Culture Power

Most of us aren’t aware that Plurality Vote gives us Wrong Winners. We assume that the system in place isn’t abysmal; we assume that the system is “good enough” that our vote “trickles up” with fidelity, and won’t betray us.

As such, we see our vote as a morally-significant expression of support.

Since we’re rationally locked-in to one of the Two Parties, we tend to rationalize those expressions of support that we give. We hitch our wagons, and our reputations, to what these “teams” are doing. It affects how we think, how we talk, how we behave, and how we socialize.

Of course, you don’t have to be a Party loyalist.

Plenty of principled libertarians can barely stomach the GOP.

Avowed leftists vote for Democrats only begrudgingly.

But the less reliable we are as Party supporters, the less the Two Parties care about us. Why grovel to purists when it’s the central terrain that’s actively contested, especially those indecisive, low-information folks who can be won-over by scaremongering and wordplay?

The Two Parties especially can’t afford to waste their energy on high-information ideological purists whose interests straddle the Party platforms. Not only are they unreliable — “disloyal” — but they can’t be won-over through clever marketing.

Who does that sound like?

That sounds to me like moderate Christians: Mainline Protestants, American Catholics, and American Orthodox.

White Evangelicals, by contrast, get lots of attention. For whatever reasons — and those reasons are myriad, really, and go back decades — white Evangelicals are reliable Republican Party loyalists.

Their strong alignment with one of the Two Parties means there’s a network of strong incentives to “boost” them, both from the Republican Party itself and from entertainment/news media profiting off of the sports-like “Civil War” narrative. So you hear from their leaders, you see them being interviewed, and when the media wants “The Christian Perspective” from “The Christian Worldview,” a white Evangelical appears on screen.

But what if they’re the “Wrong Winner” when it comes to representing Christians in the United States? They’re only 25% of Americans; Mainline Protestants, Catholics, and Orthodox combine for 35%. Notice a “Plurality Problem”?

Remember that the pseudo-crown of Wrong Winner sends a powerful — but wrong — signal that this is truly the best representative.

And, of course, this is to say nothing for the liberals and concerned conservatives whose voices within the white Evangelical cohort are tougher to hear.

For 4 years we’ve heard folks baffled that “American Christians” so openly abdicated even a pretense of moral authority in their thralldom to such a clownish, depraved political leader. The solution to the puzzle is those quotation marks at the beginning of the paragraph. The real sample of American Christians is as split as anyone else, grumbling every election cycle about the need for a third way along with the inability to muster one.

Part V: The Meaning of a Vote

Deja vu warning. (And thank you for bearing with me; you’re almost done.)

Most of us aren’t aware that Plurality Vote gives us Wrong Winners. We assume that the system in place isn’t abysmal; we assume that the system is “good enough” that our vote “trickles up” with fidelity, and won’t betray us.

As such, we see our vote as a morally-significant expression of support.

But Plurality Vote does give us Wrong Winners. The system in place is abysmal; the system is not “good enough” that our vote “trickles up” with fidelity. It can definitely betray us.

As such, we should not see our vote as a morally-significant expression of support.

Instead, it is only a helpful exertion of power, contributing to the primary mission of making sure the worst viable candidate loses.

The breakdown:

  • Under fine systems, like Score/Range Vote or Ranked Choice Vote, our vote is a morally-significant expression of support.
  • Under Plurality Vote, our vote is only a helpful exertion of power against the biggest threat.

Yes, the meaning of your vote just got trashed. That’s a lame meaning. It’s certainly not what we were taught.

But don’t kill the messenger.

Kill Plurality Vote.

And don’t vote like it’s gone until it’s gone.

Addendum

The politicization of ecological science is threatening the future quality of life of our children and grandchildren. This isn’t alarmism. It’s just an alarm.

We are the stewards of our families, our homes, the land we live on, the air we breathe, the water we drink, and the systems we maintain for the good of our neighbors around the planet. It’s “on us.”

And yet, there may be no plausible way to take rational action with Plurality Vote standing in the way. This is already inexplicably part of the “Culture War.” There’s only one way forward. Use your time, money, and voice to fight for electoral reform, at a local level and nationwide.

Sharing this is a good first step. Please take more steps, too.

Resources:

Plurality Vote won’t go away until we end it. Notice the “red” hidden within our elections. Tell others. Fight the good fight.

shared

About stanrock

Husband, father. Professional game developer, software engineer, & social product analyst. Theology debugger. Fun theology experiments at http://StanRock.net

3 responses to “A Stupid Electoral System for Goofs”

  1. Arcturus says :

    I’m disappointed in you, Stan. I thought you were a conservative Christian and I was surprised to read your anti-Trump (essentially anti-American) post. It shows a lack of discernment by believing media lies or thinking that our country is not in danger from Postmodernist-Marxist thought in our schools and government, that our cities are not being torn apart by leftists and Democrat politicians… President Trump is the best thing to happen to this country since Reagan and I thank God everyday he was elected. For the first time in years I have hope for the future of this country. I recommend listening to Dave Rubin (a former liberal), Dr. Thomas Sowell, Dr. Milton Freidman (his old lectures are still relevant), Dr. Jordan Peterson, and Dennis Prager for a better understanding of the threat our country is under. Then look at the positive policy outcomes of the Republicans vs. Democrats. The Democrats are already leading us into a modern day Sodom and Gomorrah, with their sexual depravity, the cities they have ruled for 50+ years are crime ridden cesspools, and they will do the same to the rest of America given the opportunity. This is not simply a political battle on policy, we are engaged in a spiritual war for the future of our country.

  2. Ben Kohns says :

    Oh my gosh, Stan. This is brilliantly laid out, and I am sharing it with everyone I can. Thank you.

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