[EM] Why I think IRV isn't a serious alternative 2

Aaron Armitage eutychus_slept at yahoo.com
Sat Dec 27 10:55:39 PST 2008

> This not about MY view.  The background to this recent
> discussion was about the "political" acceptability
> of a weak Condorcet winner
> to ordinary electors.  I said I thought a strong
> third-place Condorcet winner would be
> "politically" acceptable.  But I had, and
> still have, real doubts about the "political"
> acceptability to ordinary electors (at least in the UK) of a
> weak Condorcet winner.  I
> am also concerned about the political consequences of a
> weak Condorcet winner being elected to a powerful public
> office.  My fear is
> that the weak winner will be made into a weak and
> ineffectual office-holder by the forces ranged against him
> or her from all sides,
> and because the office-holder was a weak winner, he or she
> will not have real support from the electors, despite being
> a true
> Condorcet winner.

I don't think this is a deliberate evasion, but it seems you're avoiding
the burden of justifying your argument by citing the very people you've
persuaded. Actually, I see IRV promoters in general do this: they'll use
the "weak Condorcet winner" as their primary objection to Condorcet, and
when pressed for justification, will fall back on whatever amount of time
they've spent talking to people, all of whom apparently make the same
objection to Condorcet. But these are people whose only exposure to voting
theory is what you're telling them. The fact that you consider it a
serious problem and the fact that you consider the LNHs important can't
help but color your presentation, whether you're trying to be biased or

The "weak Condorcet winner" argument, or as FairVote puts it the "core
support" argument, seems to derive much of its force from the guess that
upballot rankings (and especially first preferences) are real and serious
preferences, while downballot rankings are not, and that therefore
preference strength can be derived directly from ordinal rankings, so that
if someone only gets only 5% of the first preferences, a majority which
prefers him over the IRV winner must be almost indifferent between the
two. But we have no way of knowing this, and we have no justification for
overruling a majority because we've decided for them (in total ignorance
of who or what they're voting on) that they don't really care, just
because most of them wanted other candidates outside of that pairwise
contest more than either candidate inside it. Should it have mattered how
many Obama voters really wanted Hillery?

In the kind of polarized election you're picturing your nightmare
scenario, a winner with very few real friends and opponents on both sides
who are always taking shots at him, could very easily happen. Only it's
not much of a nightmare, considering that the alternative may be a
countermajoritarian result when the defeated majority is completely
serious about keeping the other side out of power.
> But does the weak Condorcet winner feature in those
> discussions? 

No. It doesn't occur to them and I don't consider it a legitimate problem.
I do bring up cycles and nobody seems troubled by complex completion
methods. After all, some of them are less complicated than the Electoral

 How happy would your electors be with a really
> weak Condorcet
> winner?

Compared to what? (But that's what a Condorcet supporter *would* say.)

  And of course, because there is (at least, as yet)
> no great public campaign for Condorcet or one that looks as
> if it might
> make real progress, you have not had to face the forces
> opposed to reform of your voting systems.  To see who they
> are and how
> effective their dirty tracks will be, just look at how they
> got rid of STV-PR from all the US cities bar one in the
> 1930s and 1940s.

IRV is equally vulnerable. Fear of change and a misunderstanding of
one-person-one-vote work against us both (although I don't know if
one-person-one-vote is treated as a quasi-Constitutional principle in the


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