[EM] Sociological issues of elections

Kristofer Munsterhjelm 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
> subject?
> Alternatively:
> 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 
the people.

 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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