[EM] Why I think IRV isn't a serious alternative

Abd ul-Rahman Lomax abd at lomaxdesign.com
Tue Dec 2 16:59:24 PST 2008

At 06:15 PM 12/1/2008, Jonathan Lundell wrote:
>On Dec 1, 2008, at 10:31 AM, Abd ul-Rahman Lomax wrote:
>>That's correct. We can make some reasonable assumptions, though. We
>>can look at Plurality elections and look at how many voters vote for
>>minor candidates with no hope of winning. We can then look at IRV
>>results and convert comparable percentages of these votes to
>>plurality votes for frontrunners. I think we could get pretty close.
>That, it seems to me, requires a leap of faith, or at least making
>assumptions that are hard to find objective verification for.

In other words, don't let reasonable assumptions interfere with my 
unfounded opinions.

By the way, I'm not insisting on *particular* assumptions, only that 
we can do better than tossing our hands up in the air and saying, 
"Hey, we can't tell. Let's go for IRV, then, since there is no proof 
it doesn't work."

>An exception is the second round of a TTR election. San Francisco is a
>case in point, and I'm guessing fairly typical, in having very poor
>turnout for their second round, less than half the first round, IIRC.
>This would be an advantage of any single-round method over TTR, of

I don't consider that a poor turnout. The first round is held with 
the general election, so a lot of voters who don't care about the 
particular election vote, because they are there. Cary, NC, had about 
the same turnout for the primary as for the runoff, where I looked. 
But they schedule the primary in October, the runoff is with the 
general November election, if it's needed. It's an off year, so it 
doesn't get the big Presidential turnout.

However, if you've been reading what I've written, "poor turnout" is 
simply "lower turnout than I think is good." There is no reason to 
believe, actually, that low turnout harms results, if our goal is to 
maximize overall voter satisfaction, and some reason to believe that 
it actually enhances it.

The voters who do not participate are, on average, those with less 
preference strength to express. Many of them are probably indifferent 
between the two candidates on the ballot. They voted in the primary, 
but their favorite lost. Others might think both are good, so, again, 
they don't bother voting.

Why is low turnout A Bad Thing? I didn't see any reason given; and 
when I've read about this, it has simply been assumed that high 
turnout is Good. We should have High Turnout. It means that Democracy 
is Working. Sure. Sometimes. In a runoff election? Not necessarily. 
When voters are exercised about the candidates in a runoff, they turn 
out in high numbers, witness Chirac/Le Pen or Lizard/Wizard. Both 
those elections had higher turnout in the runoff than in the primary.

>>The fact, however, that the sincere preferences expressed by voters
>>for minor candidates don't shift results, in nearly all cases, acts
>>contrary to this effect, in the long run. So you get to vote
>>"sincerely," but with no net effect? You can "vote" more sincerely
>>by giving a campaign donation to a minor candidate!
>My sense is that minor parties are optimistic that a) they'd
>demonstrate a higher first-round vote with IRV than plurality in any
>given election, and b) that the improved showing would have a
>beneficial effect on future elections. That is, the benefit of IRV
>(and again this wouldn't be exclusive to IRV) extends beyond any
>single election.

As Smith has pointed out, this is a far more expressive phenomenon in 
Range than with other voting methods. It not only shows what 
candidates are leading, but also by *how much* they are leading. In 
preference strength.

Sure, there are other values besides winning the immediate election. 
But the hope described is surely a false one. IRV doesn't help third 
parties. STV-PR does, if the districts are large enough.

>Is that true? I don't know, but there's some reason to think so. Green
>Party candidates running "real" campaigns have typically been able to
>obtain about 10% of the vote in California state assembly elections in
>recent years. Suppose they could reach 15-20% of the IRV first choice.
>That would give major-party candidates significantly more incentive to
>appeal to those Green voters for their second choice.

Compare this to Bucklin. If this effect works as you expect, would it 
work with Bucklin? If not, why not? Or with Range or, for that 
matter, Approval. (With Approval, unless it has something like my old 
Plus option, there is no way to know the favorite. With Range, it 
gets easier. Bucklin, of course, makes it obvious, the Bucklin ballot 
looked like an RCV ballot except that you could vote as many 
candidates as you wanted in third place (Duluth Bucklin), thus 
allowing a three-rank ballot to go quite a bit deeper, that would 
have been quite useful in San Francisco, where there can be more than 
twenty candidates on the ballot in a single election.

However, the proof is in the pudding. Third parties don't prosper 
under IRV. They may *think* they will. What helps them is STV-PR, or, 
as well, Fusion Voting, as far an example of what allows third 
parties to be healthy in the U.S. New York minor parties have been 
stable with Fusion.

*Why* don't they prosper? I suspect it may have to do with making 
major parties safer from the spoiler effect. Sure, Democrats, for 
example, might court the Green vote, but really, do they need to? The 
way the party constellations are arranged, implement IRV, and the 
Democrats can quietly ignore the Greens. Not insult them, of course, 
just not pay much attention. The Green Party doesn't control the 
Green Voters, and, with IRV, most of them would choose to support the 
Democrat. I.e., Plurality actually may give minor parties *more* 
power, because they can spoil elections much more easily.

Now, you want to know what helps minor parties? One guess. Hint. IRV 
advocates are successfully, to a small degree, getting rid of it in 
favor of IRV.

The method is known for allowing minor parties to flourish.

I think I know why. Sure, it eliminates the first-order spoiler 
effect like IRV. But it does something else. Which is more difficult, 
to win an election, or to make it to second place? Occasionally, a 
minor candidate makes it up to second place. That, where a majority 
is required, now causes the minor candidate to be featured as a 
possible winner, whereas before, many voters may not have been aware 
of this candidate. It gives a minor candidate a real shot at, not 
just getting some "vote share" for future use -- that tends to 
evaporate rapidly! -- but actually winning. And it happens with real 
runoff voting.

For the minor party candidate to win with IRV, they have to move all 
the way up to first place in one shot. With runoff voting, they only 
need make it up to second place to have a crackerjack opportunity to 
convince the voters that they are best. And their supporters will 
turn out for the runoff in droves. The major party candidate opposing 
them won't have such highly motivated voters, quite possibly; the 
most they get is Just Another of the Same They Usually Get. But, of 
course, they still need to convince the electorate.

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