[EM] IRV Psychology

Anthony Simmons asimmons at krl.org
Fri Apr 20 20:37:49 PDT 2001

>> From: Forest Simmons
>> Subject: Re: [EM] IRV Psychology

>> Thanks, Tony.

>> The part about fortunate and unfortunate is true. There is
>> time, but Greens seem to think that they can cross that
>> bridge when they come to it, like the guy who painted
>> himself into a corner and didn't worry about it until was
>> too late.

I don't know what it is about people.  Yes, I understand
there are people who are not mathematicians, but there are
some things that just aren't rocket science.  Like the effect
of consuming a nonrenewable at >= some constant rate.  It's
amazing how many people think we can do that indefinitely
without running out.  A quantum theorest once responded that
people have been saying that about oil for fifty years, and
it hasn't happened yet, so there.  I know he can figure out
the situation for himself, and yet there's something else
going on in his head.

I didn't mean to run off the track, just to illustrate how
people don't necessarily believe that what they can see for
themselves is obviously true.  It looks like denying the
spoiler problem by calling it hypothetical is one of those
situations.  You can see exactly when IRV will fail, and I
can't believe these people really think that those situations
are merely hypothetical.

>> There is time, but if we get locked into IRV, all that
>> time is wasted.

That's a big problem.  People want to make a change, but they
want to go straight to the decision without spending some
time at the deliberation stage first.  Do this have something
to do with "I'll see it when I believe it?"

>> And thanks for reminding me to separate the symbolic value
>> and the pragmatic value of voting. This separation helps
>> to clarify what price you pay when you sacrifice one for
>> the other.

How many legs does a dog have if you call the tail a leg?
It's amazing how many people will say five.

It's a symbolic society.  In the last major U.S. election,
all of that campaign money went into assigning names -- TV
ads, directed at the putative body politic, that called
someone a liberal or a pawn of special interests or some
such.  If you watched carefully, sometimes you would see ads
that had no actual empirical content at all.  That in no way
diminished their effectiveness.

There's a quote I once heard, supposedly from Oscar Wilde,
though I've never been able to find the source, that says
something like:  In matters of the greatest importance, style
is everything and substance is nothing.

I was kidding when I suggested naming your IRV alternative
"Supervote Plus".  On the other hand, Supervote Plus would
actually draw more support than plain old Supervote.
Seriously, that's what you're up against.

>> Sometimes I think the biggest obstacle is that most people
>> don't have the patience for (or even trust) analysis that
>> involves more than two steps of logic. If the board is set
>> up for checkmate in three moves, they won't believe the
>> analysis until two of the moves have been made.

Well, if the situation is explained properly, sometimes
people will react.  Telling someone "smoking isn't good for
you" is one thing, but "you have emphysema and now it's just
a question of whether you're going to die from it" is
something else.

I really do think that third parties will react more if they
are confronted with the fact the way that IRV shifts the
spoiler effect to situations in which they have a chance to
win.  Basically, they are taking a stance that depends on
losing.  Psychologically, that's a tough way to run a

>> Forest

On Thu, 19 Apr 2001, Anthony Simmons wrote:

> >> 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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