[EM] ignoring "strength of opinion"

Jan Kok jan.kok.5y at gmail.com
Wed Nov 30 23:05:52 PST 2005

On 11/30/05, rob brown <rob at karmatics.com> wrote:
> On 11/30/05, James Gilmour <jgilmour at globalnet.co.uk> wrote:
> > > rob brown Sent: Wednesday, November 30, 2005 11:17 PM
> > > >From a purely utilitarian point of view (i.e. "greatest
> > > happiness"), it makes a lot of sense to give more weight to
> > > the opinions of those who feel more strongly.  But common
> > > sense tells us why this is a bad idea.
> >
> > By "common sense" I presume you mean, in the context of elections, that it
> is fundamentally undemocratic.
>  Not sure that's really what I meant, because it all depends on the
> definition of "democratic" and don't think I want to go there.  :) I suppose
> its unfair, but even that is debatable.  More importantly it's not
> practical, because any rational person with an IQ over 50 would vote
> insincerely, so the system would quickly break down.

Well, I have voted with less than maximum strength in some situations.
 (And I think my IQ is >50 :-).  For example:

- When discussing where to go for lunch (a very informal sort of
election) I sometimes refrain from influencing the decision, if the
nominated alternatives are all acceptable, instead of voting or
attempting to sway the decistion in favor of whatever place I would
most prefer at the moment.

- If I don't know enough about the alternatives or questions being
decided (for example choosing among candidates I don't know anything
about, voting on whether to retain judges, voting on referendums that
I don't know enough about to make a competent decision) then I just
leave that ballot item blank, leaving the decision to other, hopefully
better informed voters.

- If I know about the alternatives but just don't care one way or
another, then I leave the ballot item blank, leaving the decision to
other voters who DO care.

- I usually vote for my favorite alternative party candidate under
plurality voting when I have the opportunity.  I know that there is
almost no chance that my favorite could win, so it could be said that
I am wasting my vote or failing to maximize the strength of my vote. 
(Actually, I don't see it as wasting my vote.  Typically, I don't have
a strong preference for either of the frontrunners, and I expect that
it is very unlikely that my vote could change the outcome of the
election between the frontrunners.  So, I figure it is a better use of
my vote to support my favorite party's candidates, helping to get a
little more attention for that party in future elections, helping
maintain ballot access for the party, etc.)

Anyway, I think that PRIMARY ELECTIONS are a situation where voters
would often be willing to vote with less than maximum strength,
because they are not familiar with some candidates, or they just don't
see much difference in value between some candidates, so they may be
willing to let other voters have a stronger say in choosing among the
candidates.  I also think it is possible that there could be a spirit
of trust and cooperation among voters in a primary election (much more
so than in general elections where people are more likely to maximize
the strength of their votes in order to gain the greatest advantage
for themselves).  That spirit of trust and cooperation would make
people more willing to reduce the strength of their own votes.

Thus, primary elections should be considered an important target for
voting reform efforts.  Better voting methods used in primaries can
lead to selection of better candidates for those parties that use the
better methods, leading to better chances for winning in the general

I recommend Range Voting or Approval Voting for primary elections,
because of their extreme simplicity/ease of understanding/ease of
manually tallying the votes if necessary, and their tendency to pick a
winner who has broad support.  (Contrast that with plurality or
plurality-with-runoff, which can elect fanatical or special-interest
candidates who have strong core support, but who are strongly disliked
by most of the rest of the voters.  See
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/French_presidential_election%2C_2002 for
an example of this.)  Range Voting has an advantage over Approval
Voting in that there are a couple ways that voters can reduce the
strength of their votes _if_they_wish_ (it's entirely voluntary).

- Jan

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