[EM] Moral basis for "Approval"

Rob Lanphier robla at robla.net
Sat Sep 17 23:07:02 PDT 2005

Hi all,

As you've seen, I've been having trouble with the whole concept of
"approval".  I think I've come to the gist of my problem, which
discusses some matters we discussed really early on in the history of
this list.

For voters, "approving" a candidate is cheap, and in the context of an
election, has little to do with any sort of absolute
approval/disapproval of the candidate, and much more to do with
increasing/decreasing the relative strength of that candidate to the
rest of the field.  In other words, Approval asks voters to assign an
absolute property when the question is all relative.

I would have many fewer problems with Approval if there were an absolute
question being asked.  For example, rather than always awarding the
winner of an approval election a full-length, full-power term, we could
make the length and nature of their term depend on their approval score.
For U.S. president, we currently give four year terms to the winner.
Under this proposal, a candidate with an approval score under 50% only
gets an "interim" 12 month term, and cannot fire the current cabinet
without approval from Congress, though would be able to fill any
vacancies.  A candidate with over 50% approval would get a standard four
year term (still eligible for re-election to a second four year term),
and would have the standard privileges of appointing a new cabinet.  A
candidate with over 65% approval would get a six year term, and be
eligible for another four year term after that.

It's only under conditions such as these that approval makes sense as a
standalone question.  "Do you trust this candidate enough to give
him/her as many as six years in office, should he/she win the election?"
That has tangible meaning to voters, and would force them to make hard
decisions as to who they give or don't give approval to.  If there are
two or three years of interim presidents, the voters would hopefully get
tired of having elections, and would be more liberal with approvals.
One or two bad presidents who get six year terms would cause voters to
get more conservative.  In the end, it would equalize pretty quickly.

More importantly, the question of "approval" would have real meaning as
an absolute number, and wouldn't be a purely relative concept.  I'd be
more inclined to treat it as a meaningful measure of something real,
than as a purely abstract number with no moral standing.  As it is,
whenever we talk about favoring a candidate with higher approval or
range score over a candidate preferred by a majority (or even a mere
plurality), I can't see /any/ basis for choosing the former.


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