[EM] Approval-based replacement for jungle primary

Rob Lanphier robla at robla.net
Wed Dec 5 13:40:23 PST 2018

Hi Ted,

This has been an incredibly helpful discussion!  More inline...

On Mon, Dec 3, 2018 at 11:11 PM Ted Stern <dodecatheon at gmail.com> wrote:
> What you're describing with your percent satisfaction sounds a lot
> like Proportional Representation, though the context of a primary is
> quite different.
> I come from the school of "challenge makes you stronger", so I would
> welcome more contrasting voices into the general election.

Yeah, I think we may have been educated in the same school. ;-)  I
would welcome contrasting voices too, to a point.  An approval-based
primary should only advance candidates who are trying to ultimately
get a high approval rating in the general election.  The primary
election should select candidates with the desire and ability to earn
the approval of a majority of voters during the general election
cycle, rather than wasting the time and energy of the general election
electorate who may not have the time or patience to evaluate
candidates who aren't serious contenders.

Ted also wrote:
> I think that including the complementary opposition winners against your
> "truly viable candidates" would be a way to do that.
> You're more likely to get engagement and consequent turnout when more
> people feel like their voices are being heard in the debate. A slate of
> blandly similar center seekers would be a recipe for voter apathy.

My hope is that after a few years, primary election voters become
accustomed to the system.  They might then stop approving bland
center-seekers, and start approving exciting center-seekers.  Or maybe
bland but incredibly competent center seekers.  Voters would hopefully
be at liberty to stop being overly-focused on the left-right
continuum, and start looking at other dimensions (e.g.
competence-incompetence, honesty-corruption,
charisma-unpersuasiveness). If elections became a little less
exciting, that might actually be a good thing.

Moreover, voters would hopefully become more generous about approving
candidates in the primary that they're not yet ready to vote for in
the general election, as a way of saying "hey, having Katie
McKrazypants in the general election debates ought to make things
interesting!  Let's vote for her!".   Over time, I suspect that
candidates would get good at positioning themselves as good
safe-to-fail experimental candidates.  Then the general election
becomes the safeguard where many of the same voters might then cast a
more critical vote.  Given that we'll have over seven months(!) to vet
the general election candidates, we should assume that some voters
will change their mind, and/or Katie McCrazypants would get thoroughly
vetted and found to be not-so-crazy after all.

A close candidate who gets 45% approval (e.g Cassie McCloseypants) but
doesn't get quite enough approval to advance to the general election
still sends a pretty strong signal.  It would seem that at least some
of the advancing general election candidates (e.g. Larissa
McLeftypants and Ronald McRightypants) would come to understand that
the 45% candidate (Cassie McCloseypants) was trying to advance some
issues that are worthy of further discussion during the general
election cycle.  Both general election candidates would be well
advised to seek out an endorsement from Cassie McCloseypants, and
would have plenty of time to broker for support from the Cassie
McCloseypants campaign (e.g. recruiting volunteers, getting email
lists, getting contact databases, etc)

Ted also wrote:
> If the viable candidates are A_1 (= Approval Winner), A_2 (Approval
> runner up), etc., with complementary opponents B_1, B_2, etc., then I
> think it would be appropriate to add them in (A_i, B_i) pairs until your
> desired representation level is met.
> Actually, I don't know if I would put the truly viable cutoff at 50%. In
> a true jungle primary, you might end up with only 40% winners at the
> highest.  I might go down to 33. 3% A_i candidates if that's what it
> takes to get at least 66.6% voter representation.

The tradeoff that we're up against: providing genuine choice for a
large part of the electorate vs properly culling the list of primary
contenders so as not to overwhelm voters with options.  Though I
suspect your intuition is correct about almost all candidates scoring
well under 50% in the first few elections, my fear is that you're
being too generous for the long-term.  The benefit of having a 50%
threshold for _automatic_ advancement to the general election is that
it makes the barrier high enough that it becomes difficult for rabid
extremists to game the system.

What I fear: as the system becomes routine, sophisticated candidates
will learn to optimize their primary candidacies to achieve whatever
the minimum percentage required to guarantee them a spot on the
general election ballot.  50% is a respectable target.  33% is
horrifyingly low target.  With FPTP, we live in a world where each
party optimizes for 50.1% inclusion by estranging the other 49.9% that
aren't part of the tribe.  I shudder to think about what tactics would
emerge to optimize political tribes for 33.4% in/66.6% out.

Mind you, I'm still proposing we develop a small loophole for allowing
"marginally viable candidates" to advance, though only in service of
increasing overall ballot satisfaction.  It seems too large of a
loophole to allow *every* complementary candidate to the runners-up to
advance, doesn't it?  Granted, it does at least provide disincentive
for the dominant political party to flood the field with clones, but
it also seems like it would be possible for the complementary
candidates to be fringe, extremist candidates with very low approval
scores.  Perhaps the answer to that is to just set the floor for
"marginally viable" to be 40%, and then only advance marginally viable
candidates who increase the ballot satisfaction score.  We can also
still limit the number of marginally viable candidates who advance
(the "opposition candidate pool") by maintaining the rule that the
opposition candidate pool will be no larger than the majority
candidate pool.

I suspect that it would take a few years of usage before any
second-place candidate gets above 50% approval.  In fact, it may be
common for even the Approval Winner (AW) to get less than 50%.

With all this in mind, it may be worth reading Clay Shentrup's
responses to my blog post:

In short, he's suggesting to just use the top two Approval winners.
That seems likely to motivate candidates of the dominant party to
unite as clones of one another, but maybe I'm missing something.
Still, the KISS principle of his proposal is appealing.

I think I'm pretty close to being able to write up draft 3 of MAF,
which should be simple enough.  What I have in mind now is basically:
"allow all candidates who (usually) get over 50% approval, and allow a
(usually) equal number of opposition candidates who get over 40%
approval".  The first "(usually)" acknowledges the possibility that
there may not be any candidate that gets over 50% approval, and the
second "(usually)" acknowledges that there might not be any candidates
who qualify as opposition candidates, or that the opposition
candidates may be outnumbered.


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