[EM] Bullet voting in STV-PR

James Gilmour jgilmour at globalnet.co.uk
Wed Apr 9 15:44:02 PDT 2003

Markus quoted:
> > Frederick Shaw ("The History of the New York City Legislature,"
> > Columbia University Press, New York, 1954) writes:
> >
> > > No one seriously believed that 9% of the city's electorate were
> > > extreme radicals. But how did it happen that two Communists were
> > > elected in 1943 and again in 1945? Part of the answer lay in the
> > > technique they developed. Realizing they could scarcely seat more
> > > than one candidate in any borough, they instructed their adherents
> > > to cast a single vote, without secondary preferences. "Bullet"
> > > voting, as it was called, assured such candidates of a solid block
> > > of votes.
> >
James replied:
 > This sounds like a comment from a commentator who did not understand
> > how STV-PR works.  A "solid block" of first preferences with other
> > preferences marked too will have just as much effect as a "solid block"
> > of first preferences alone.
Markus responded:
> I believe that Shaw has understood very well how PR-STV works. In
> the same book, Shaw describes the strategy of the Democratic Party
> as follows:

I agree that the comments you quoted below would suggest that Shaw did have a good
understanding of STV-PR.  How then does one account for his comment you quoted
above?  It makes no sense.  Bullet voting cannot help secure the election of the
candidate whose supporters bullet vote for him or her.  The absence of later
preferences for other candidates may affect the success of some other candidates,
but it cannot affect the chances of the first preference candidate.

> > After watching their candidates compete against each other in
> > borough-wide elections in 1937, they evolved their own technique
> > for obtaining maximum representation. Each borough was divided
> > into the same number of zones as the number of councilmen it
> > seemed likely to select. Within each zone the district leaders
> > agreed upon a candidate. Then the entire slate was reviewed by
> > the County Leader and Executive Committee, who ordered the party's
> > adherents to follow an identical pattern of voting - i.e. the
> > number to be placed beside each candidate's name in each zone
> > was determined in advance. Proportionalists and their opponents
> > agree that under this system in the 1939 election the Democrats
> > massed their strength for optimum effectiveness.

There are likely to be two quite different effects operating here.  One is vote
management, as you describe below.  The other is leading the party's team in a
zone with the candidate who lives in that zone, is best known in that zone or is
most popular in that zone.  The "double identification" of party and locality
certainly can influence voter behaviour in a positive way.

> Today, this strategy is known as "Vote Management." The quotation
> above is very interesting because Vote Management has hardly been
> discussed before the 1970s. The quotation above is the oldest
> quotation that I have found where someone says that Vote Management
> is a useful strategy even under PR-STV with the Droop Quota. In my
> opinion, the quotation above shows that Shaw has understood STV at
> least better than those authors who claimed that it isn't possible
> for a given party to win additional seats by averaging the votes
> over the candidates of this party.
> (It is trivial that Vote Management is a useful strategy under PR-STV
> with the Andrae-Hare Quota, under SNTV and under Limited Voting.)

Vote management of this kind is even more important for factions within parties
when the election is by open or semi-open party list.  I don't know if vote
management is practised in such elections, but the adverse effects of pilling up
all your support on one popular candidate or of spreading your support too thinly
across several candidates are much greater when the votes are not transferable
between candidates.

> (In Ireland, there are usually 3- to 5-seat districts. In the USA,
> there were usually 7- to 9-seat districts. Therefore, in the USA,
> not only the first preferences but also the later preferences had
> to be averaged. Therefore, Vote Management in the USA differs a
> little bit from Vote Management in Ireland.)

I think the principle is the same.  It depends on the number of quotas of votes
the party expects to win and on how those are likely to constructed in terms of
first preferences, transfers from candidates of the same party and transfers from
candidates of other parties.

In interpreting the results of STV-PR elections we must always remember that
STV-PR is not a party system - it is a voter system.  Party managers get very
cross when their supporters do not mark their preferences in exactly the way the
party managers would like (and one group pinned me in a corner of the counting
hall to make their point!).  But issues other than party sometimes matter to
voters more than party and the voter reflect that in the orders of there
preferences.  The result is PR of the voters' wishes.  That may or may not
coincide with PR of the parties.  But that is the voters' decision.


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