[EM] Does IRV elect "majority winners?"

Jonathan Lundell jlundell at pobox.com
Fri Jan 2 10:09:23 PST 2009

On Jan 2, 2009, at 8:32 AM, Markus Schulze wrote:

>> This thread is about the meaning of the
>> expression "a majority of the votes".
>> I presented the simple scenario above to see
>> what views there might be about the meaning of
>> "a majority of the votes" in that specific
>> situation.
> This thread is rather about the meaning of the
> expression "to win a majority of the votes".

We know, by the rules at hand, what it means to win an election. The  
question of majority, though, it seems to me, is vaguely analogous to  
the question of the existence of God, to which the first answer must  
be, "what precisely do you mean by 'God'?".

If I had voted in the 1948 US presidential election, and it had been a  
ranked ballot, I might have voted

	Wallace > Truman > Dewey > Thurmond

(that'd Henry, not George, btw)

Had Wallace won, I'd certainly have been content to be counted toward  
his majority. OTOH, if Dewey had won, not so much, since my relative  
preference for a very bad choice over a real stinker should not have  
been counted as "support" for Dewey in any absolute sense. So in that  
sense, even without truncation (that is, without abstentions), I don't  
want to talk about "majority support" or "majority approval" under IRV  
or any other ranking method. The election rule operates on ballots to  
produce an election winner, not to tell us anything more about what  
voters do or don't support, as a majority or otherwise.

(This directly relates to a recent thread where Abd & I rather  
strongly agreed: that the "meaning" of a vote is limited to its role  
as input to the election rule that produces the winner, and that we  
lead ourselves astray when we start talking about concepts like  

So sure, IRV elects "majority winners" in one particular operation  
sense of the term. Even if there's a first-round absolute majority,  
we're faced with the problem of agenda manipulation. To take another  
US presidential election, in 1992 I might have voted

	Clinton > Perot > Bush

but only because I didn't have a meaningful NOTA option.

In the immortal words of Jim Hightower, "If the gods had meant us to  
vote, they would have given us candidates."

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