[EM] The matter of whether people strategize

MIKE OSSIPOFF nkklrp at hotmail.com
Mon Jan 19 00:57:01 PST 2004

David Gamble wrote:

>On the EM list there is much lengthy discussion of voting strategy,
>strategic voting and the like.

I've gathered as much :)

D. Gamble had said:

>To gloss over lots of details it is generally presumed that voters
>behave rationally and vote strategically to maximise the utility of
>their outcome in an election.

Bill Lewis Clark replied:

I think that presumption is almost undoubtedly false, in the general case.
I suspect it's based on some misleading observations:

(1) Under our[*] current plurality system, most voters cast their ballots
for one of the two front-runners, which happens to be the optimal

I reply:

What a coincidence! :-)  That people would vote for their preferred to the 2 
candidates whom they believe will be the greatest votegetters, when that 
just happens to be optimal :-)

Bill continued:

(2) In situations where some alternative system is used (selecting the
Secretary General of the UN, mathematical and engineering professional
societies, the Debian Linux development forum, etc.) members often vote

I reply:

Most will vote strategically in Approval. As for Debian, I wasn't aware that 
they were voting strategically. Have any of their elections resulted in 
circular ties? Circular ties that were believed to have been 
strategically-caused? Truncation frequently takes place in rank ballotings, 
but it isn't necessarily strategic.

Bill continued:

With regards to (1), I think what's really happening is that most people
are choosing a "brand" rather than implementing any actual strategy.
There is significant peer pressure to vote for one of the major parties,
regardless of the strategic merit in doing so.

I reply:

If you talk to someone who is voting for someone who isn't their favorite, 
and if you ask them why they're doing that, they'll tell you it's because 
that's the best way to keep someone worse from winning. That sounds like 
strategy. Of course we don't know whom you've talked with.

Millions of people vote strategically. Not "wasting [one's] vote" means 
casting one's vote in a way that most effectively helps that voter's utility 

Bill continued:

Even in countries where voting systems other than plurality are in general
use, strategic voting is far from universal (and in many cases, when it is
used it is done so at the urging and direction of party spokespeople --
which is hardly what I'd call "rational" behavior.)

I reply:

I've been told by several Australians that it's common for voters there, in 
IRV, to vote someone other than their favorite in 1st place, so as not to 
"waste [their] vote".

Bill continued:

Furthermore, I'd like to point out that even if a sizable majority of the
voting population *were* to vote strategically, their strategy would
necessarily take into consideration the effects of those voters who
*don't* vote strategically.  In particular, the ratio of strategic to
non-strategic voters is itself a major point of consideration, in devising
a voting strategy.

I reply:

You keep saying that, but have never justifed your claims. How would you 
incorporate the ratio of strategic to non-strategic voting in your Approval 
strategy? I assume that you have an Approval strategy like that, because you 
wouldn't just be blowing hot air, would you?

Mike Ossipoff

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