[EM] Sociological issues of elections
km_elmet at t-online.de
Mon Sep 2 00:41:50 PDT 2013
On 08/31/2013 02:24 PM, Vidar Wahlberg wrote:
> This may be a bit outside what is usually discussed here, but I'll give
> it a shot and if someone know of some resources I should check up on
> then please let me know.
> I've not followed this list for a long time, but my impression is that
> the main focus is on the technical or mathematical properties, and less
> on the sociological issues.
I focus more on mathematics than on the sociological aspects, and I
suppose at least part of the reason is that anybody can do mathematics.
The old joke goes that a mathematician is a device for turning coffee
into theorems. It may not be entirely true, but there is a point: if you
like solving puzzles, there are plenty to be solved with nothing more
than a computer and your mind.
In contrast, the sociological issues are much more fuzzy, particularly
when you get into the matter of actually participating to change the
system. I have tried to argue social things too here, but there are many
opinions of what's desired and say, how the voters act in different
Lately I've started to lean in a more empirical direction in that
respect. It's possible to argue that voters act in this or that manner,
and it's possible to do so in many different ways that all sound
reasonable on the face of it, so we'd need some kind of tiebreaker. And
that tiebreaker would ultimately be the reality of the matter. But I
don't have the resources to poll people in the real world, design and
run experiments, and so on, so I rely on the reports of others (like
B&L's polling results on comparison to an objective standard vs
comparison to other candidates).
> For instance, when voting for persons then candidates with high
> popularity and charisma are likely to win more votes than less
> charismatic candidates, despite the less charismatic candidates being
> far more suited for the task (more knowledge, experience, talent, etc.).
> In the Norwegian system where we got multiple parties, but two blocks
> (left and right), we also see that some people vote for their second
> preference rather than the first, because the first is in the wrong
> block or intend to cooperate with another party which the voter dislike
> the most.
That's both a mathematical and a sociological thing, I think. I
considered it in a game theoretical/mathematical sense in a previous
post where I asked how one could solve the need for tactics in a
parliamentary system with coalitions.
A voter might face a somewhat close race between a left- and a
right-wing bloc, where the right-wing bloc looks like it's winning. Then
if the voter is left-wing, he might vote strategically for the right
bloc member that's closest to the center. But if everybody did this,
then the right-wing bloc would win even if the strategically voting
left-wingers could have made the left-wing bloc win by voting honestly.
I recall that one of the other list members suggested Asset voting to
solve this problem: to let the negotiations happen among the candidates
since the voting system can't possibly infer, based just on the votes,
which coalitions are realistic.
> If it is within the scope of this list, what are your thoughts on the
> Assuming the perfect election system where voting any different than
> your real preference would only hurt your preference, how would you
> design a form of government that is elected by the people, but is
> resistant to sociological issues that can't be prevented by the election
> method (such as the examples mentioned above)?
It's possible that the best democracy might not have voting at all.
Gohlke's initial idea did not have much voting in it: groups of three
people would meet, agree upon which to represent all three, and then the
"winner" would join two other "winners", and so on up until you had a
council, no voting method needed.
Systems based on policy juries might not need elections either, nor more
direct systems based on sortition. You have Aristotle's argument that
elections are, in themselves, aristocratic because they favor the people
who have the means by which to be well known in the first place; and you
could probably make similar arguments in the vein that elections select
for the wrong things: charisma, being a good salesman, making it appear
as if the people is being heard despite the inner system's inflexibility
and own stasis, and so on.
I once considered a hybrid system that *would* use elections, but in a
quite different way: first you'd select a significant number of people
at random, and then these would elect from among their number. It does
away with continuity both for ill (problem with consistency of plans)
and good (no monolithic party machines).
My point in all of this is that we don't know if the ideal democratic
system would contain no election methods at all, only one throughout, or
very many different ones (e.g. some kind of emergent "competition for
politicians" system, where, like nobody mandates the production
processes companies use, nobody mandates the election methods groups
use). So this might also explain why the mathematical focus is greater
here than the sociological one: if one assumes methods are either needed
or interesting in their own right, then one can investigate their details.
Though there are certainly also systems that would make use of
elections. And if the purpose of a representative democracy is to make
direct democracy scale, then we know what to aim for. The ideal method
(and more broadly speaking, the ideal system) should, through the
preferences of the voters, determine what group would most likely act
like an informed version of the general population, and then pick them.
And if that's what we want, then the problem is, in a manner of
speaking, decomposable: the election method does the best with the
preferences given (whether those are given often or seldomly), and some
other system, or an emergent property of the interaction between the
system's components, makes sure the focus is so that what is being
evaluated by those preferences it the politicians' ability to represent
From that point of view, I think I can see what you're saying about
charisma. That would be a secondary property that arises by using
individual candidate election methods instead of party-list ones. Then
there are two choices: either one can fix it somewhere else (by making a
component that cancels it out, though I'm not sure how you'd do that);
or you could say "okay, I lose more than I gain by using individual
candidate election methods, I'll use something else".
(And I just noticed that I have, in my drafts folder, a response to one
of your latest posts on the Sainte-Lague thread. I'll try to finish it
and post it if it's not too late :-)
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