Thursday, September 30, 2010

Clowns to the Left of Me, Jokers to the Right

I have a game for you. Get one hundred things--pennies, toothpicks, whatever--and set them up in a line, from left to right. This is our voting populace in simplified, one-dimensional form. Each "voter" has just one simple rule to decide how to vote: vote for whichever one candidate stands closest to them (yes, we're using plurality voting; and if there's a tie for closest, each gets a half vote). Now, grab another thing--a pencil, a button, it doesn't matter--and place it on the line, between two voters, so that 17 voters are to the left of it. This new thing is one of our "candidates", Libram McLeftyson. Nearly five out of six voters think he's too liberal. Grab another candidate, and place it, mirror-like, so that 17 voters are to the right of it, and in equal measure to her competitor, nearly five out of six voters think Constance O'Righterly is too conservative.

Now, here's how you win the game: place a third candidate between any two voters (except right on top of one of the existing candidates) such that they win the election. Go on, try it; I'll wait while you count your things.

Give up yet? You should, because the challenge is impossible. No matter where you put your third candidate, it is impossible to make it so they win; even putting them right in the center won't do it. As an added bonus, you'll find that whichever of the other two candidates you put them closer to, also loses. And if I move them from inside the 17 marks to precisely the 25 marks, you can't even come in second. I can even put them at the 49 marks, practically next to each other, and there's still nowhere you can go where you can win.

More and more Americans are agitating for a "third party", most without even realizing that there are already dozens of active third parties to choose from. But they don't win. They can't win. And this is without even acknowledging the effects of tactical voting, this is with honest voters! In this simulation, the only ones voting for the big-two are the ones who honestly believe them to be the uniquely best option available.

The existence of a multitude of third parties hasn't change this. Screaming that we need even more third parties won't change this. You cannot win this game. The only way you can win, is if you change the rules.

And the rules that would give third parties a chance to win are approval voting and score voting.


  1. I wonder if it would be possible to set up a NO party system?

  2. If you think about it, we didn't "set up" the two party system; the two party system is an unintentional side effect of using a voting system that is highly susceptible to spoilers whenever there are more than two candidates.

    I think people, like-minded people, will always find it advantageous to collaborate; to "party up". But right now, our system inflates that effect to its maximum, and makes it very difficult to move away from whatever rut the big two cut, even as they become increasingly out of sync with voters.

    A better system makes it easier for new parties (and their idea(l)s) to grow and supplant the two majors; but I don't think you can create a system where no voters see an advantage to partying. I'm sure that even direct democracies had party-like collaboration.

  3. I'm sure there was, and you're right, the current system is made of fail for allowing new parties to prosper, even if their platform is sound.

  4. good post.

    If you take into account the manipulations of the MSM, it gets even harder for a "centrist" party to gain ground.

    This is why I've been trying to get Solomon to switch tactics to support the use of more multi-seated elections... If we lowered the bar so third parties could win some seats then it would pull both major parties back to the de facto center by virtue of the increased exit threat of their moderates.



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  6. This is a good illustration for most elections. But what if you add another candidate, McGreen Party, five places left of Libram McLeftyson. An a fourth candidate, Mr. Tea Bags, five places to the right of Constance O'Righterly. And instead of Libram and Constance being 17 places inside, they were only 15 places from the right and to the left. This experiment depends a lot on the number of candidates and their placement on the 100 markers.

    Rauðbjorn, if by no party system you mean a party with no ideology, I think that's a great idea.