VA, Margins, & voter wishes

Mike Ositoff ntk at
Wed Oct 7 14:05:00 PDT 1998

> On Sun, 4 Oct 1998 00:04:31    Mike Ositoff wrote:
> >But you never said why margin of victory is important. We know
> >that majority is important to many, when a result is desired
> >by more than half the voters.
> To explain this I am first going to explain why I like majority
> rule.  I favor majority rule because of the somewhat hopeful belief
> that given two alternatives, people will on average be drawn to
> the better one.  Of course, sometimes everyone will pick the wrong
> one, and almost always some people will, but on average and over time
> people will slightly favor good over bad ideas.

Alright, then your goal is very different from mine. Your goal
is that of Mr. Condorcet, who wanted to find out which
proposition (pairwise result) is most likely to be true.

I don't believe that your goal is attainable, even in principle,
because right & wrong, to some extent are relative. What the
Repub  says is right, the Green says is wrong. The voting system
can't say which is right. If you add up the Repubs & Dems,
they apparently outnumber the Greens by a large factor. Does
that mean the Greens are wrong? No, just outnumbered. As
an advocate of majority rule, I realize that we can't expect
the voting system to know when the majority is wrong, and that
we can't really improve on majority rule. But you certainly
can't interpret voting results as demonstrating what's right'
or wrong.

But especially your goal isn't possible in practice, because
strategic voting invalidates it. Especially in a method like
Margins, which will be forcing people to abandon their favorite
or voting less-liked alternatives equal ato a favorite, a
problem that's avoidable with rank-balloting if a good count
rule is used.

Also, as you demonstrate farther down in this letter, your
goal is in conflict with majority rule. It causes the same
strategy problems that invalidate its conclusions about
which proposition is true.


> For the same reason, the more people who say A is better than B, the
> more I suspect it is true, but the more people say that B is better
> than A, the more I have reason to doubt.
> Now if there are only two choices, A and B, then it doesn't matter
> if A wins 51 to 49 or 100 to 0, because no matter how great or
> little our confidence is that A is the better candidate, A is still
> a better bet than B.
> Likewise, if there are multiple candidates, and for each one, more
> voters prefer A to the other than the other to A, I have to bet on
> A being the best candidate.  In this case, I say that in the
> pair-wise contest between A and any candidate X, a majority of those
> expressing a preference pick A.
> However, as we all know, sometimes these majorities come into
> conflict.  When this happens, I am not horrified, and it does not
> reduce my faith in majority rule.  I always knew that majorities
> could be wrong, this just proves it.  The only question is, which
> of these majorities is more likely wrong?
> For example, I have two statements, and I know one is wrong, one is
> supported 52 to 48, the other 47 to 3.  Which should I guess is right?
> I find I am unable to simply disregard the opinion of those on the
> minority side.  Each of those 48 people is contradictory evidence to
> the 52.  I therefore, suggest that one person saying A > B and one
> saying B > A should be considered to cancel each other out.  This
> is the basis for using margins.  
> Blake
> "Democracy is the recurrent suspicion that more than half of the
> people are right more than half of the time."
>                Elwyn Brook White
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