[EM] IRV Psychology

Anthony Simmons asimmons at krl.org
Thu Apr 19 18:45:04 PDT 2001

>> From: Forest Simmons <fsimmons at pcc.edu>
>> Subject: [EM] IRV Psychology

>> When you tell them that there are other situations in
>> which IRV would give them strategic incentives to vote
>> Gore above Nader, and that Approval would never do that,
>> they tend to think of those situations as rare, if not
>> completely hypothetical.
>> So what do we say?  [...]

No problem.  Tell them I said this:

   What they mean is that because they are Greens, they don't
   expect they will ever be in a position to have any effect on
   an election except to ruin the Democrat's chances.  Sorry,
   Greens, but that's the assumption that makes the "IRV doesn't
   cause spoilers" proposition come out true.  (Or that Nader
   will get so many votes that nobody else has a chance.)

   Since they assume they will never have any material effect on
   the outcome, they consider their vote to be a statement only,
   not part of an actual democratic process in which they play
   an active role.  Given that the only purpose of their vote is
   to make a statement, they are correct about IRV.

   And after all, if Nader is never going to win, then it makes
   no difference at all whether they rank Gore below Nader or
   equal.  At least it makes no difference to the outcome.  But
   it does make a psychological difference; it does make a
   difference in the all-important statement.

   For them, given their assumption, IRV does work better.  On
   the other hand, they are not just making a statement about
   who they prefer to elect.  By assuming that they will never
   have any substantial effect on elections, and choosing IRV,
   they are also making a statement about their purpose in the
   nation's political process for all time to come, and it is
   not an enviable one.

   That whole approach is one of self-deception.  I don't
   believe that Greens would really be content to condemn
   themselves to losing every election in order to avoid ruining
   a Democrat's chance of winning.  But that is exactly the
   alternatives IRV offers.  Fortunately for Greens, and equally
   unfortunately, they are not in a position in which they have
   to immediately confront the reality of their choice.  Much
   like people who make all manner of foolish political choices
   and think they can get away with it because the piper won't
   be demanding payment any time soon, they figure a real
   spoiler situation is far enough off that they would rather
   have the satisfaction of pumping up a losing vote today than
   of laying a foundation that will serve them when they are
   waging a campaign they might possibly win.

   I'd say that the most important consideration, for a Green,
   is not trying to get Nader elected instead of Gore.  Yes, I'm
   sure all Greens would prefer that.  No, the absolute most
   important thing for a Green is to make sure they do nothing
   to help elect Bush.  And in order to do that under IRV,
   Greens must always remember that they can never be too
   successful, that Nader can never threaten Gore.  Is that
   really what Greens want?

   I understand it's difficult for a large part of the
   electorate to take the trouble to make sense of the
   alternatives at anything but a superficial and misleading
   level.  But that is the nature of most political
   considerations.  And the reality is that with IRV there are
   two separate possibilities.  The first possibility is that
   your vote is only symbolic, and that it makes no difference
   to the outcome who your favorite is. The second possibility
   is that your vote may have real effect, and in order to make
   sure you don't cause horrible damage, you cannot vote for
   your favorite, so again it makes no difference who your
   favorite is.

   On the other hand, if Greens want to at least allow for the
   possibility that some day they might actually count in a real
   election, they better take a long look at their assumptions,
   and then take a long look at the alternatives.

And if that doesn't work, tell them that if they don't do the
math, the Libertarians will.

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