Welcome to the kick-off entry of Least of All Evils! Here, I intend to advocate in favor of preferrential voting in general (and Condocet ranked pairs in particular), with the hope of increasing its use in the United States at large, but especially in my home district and state.
I don't think today I'll get much attention from Democrats or third-party voters; the first is too busy celebrating, the second is perhaps too accustomed to their position at electoral whipping-boy. So we start with the Republicans, as I think they're the ones looking for answers today. So:
My condolences, Republicans; you lost. Now is a time for reflection, a time to look back, a time to analyze, a time to determine what went wrong, and what you can do differently next time to fix it. Please, allow me to offer an possible answer to these questions. Your first mistake, was in selecting John McCain.
Wait, hold on; don't go! I don't mean it like that! Give me the chance to explain. Selecting John McCain was a mistake, but not in the sense of "It was a mistake for you to pick him." It was a mistake because you didn't pick him, and yet he was your nominee anyway. You see, it's not your fault. You didn't do anything wrong. You went to your caucus or your primary (or in some cases, both), and you voted. You voted based on a careful analysis of the candidates positions; you voted what you knew in your heart was right; you voted for who you thought was the best man for the job. The fault was not in how you voted, but in how you voted.
John McCain, by and large, was not the candidate most members of the Republican party had as their first pick for the nomination. And yet, he still got the job. How? There are a lot of details that build up to arrive at the answer, but the short version comes in two parts: you used a bad system, and Mike Huckabee.
Going in to the Iowa caucus, way back on January 3rd, all the talk was about Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee and which of them was going to win the kick-off of the primary season. John McCain didn't even make it into the top three there, losing not only to Huckabee and Romney, but even to Fred "I'll do it if you make me" Thompson. McCain of course turned it around five days later and won New Hampshire. But what do we mean when we say that, "won"? Let's take a closer look.
John McCain "won" New Hampshire with 37% of the vote. Compare that to yesterday's returns in Alabama, where no one is surprised Barack Obama lost by a huge margin, but he still took 39% of the vote. Now, I know what you're saying: You're saying that the New Hampshire primary was different because there were a lot more than two contenders. But that is precisely the point, and in fact, is the point of this entire blog. That point being, the methods we use to choose our elected officials do a surprisingly poor job when we use them to pick between more than two options, but there are ways to fix that short coming.
Let me offer you a hypothetical. Suppose Mitt Romney and Mike Huckabee hadn't run in the primaries, but instead there was another candidate, let's call him Mital Rockabee. Rockabee, had he been running instead of these two, would have gotten all the votes that either of them would have otherwise gotten. How would the primaries have gone differently? Due to the vagaries of election laws, Rockabee would not have gotten only the sum of Huckabee and Romney's delegates, but would have also received a large chunk of McCain's delegates; enough to make all the difference.
I've written a torturous state-by-state analysis (which you'll find in the comments) if you're a detail-oriented type of person, but feel free to skip it if you're comfortable taking my word for it.
Following the results of Super Tuesday, Romney suspended his campaign, at which point he had 270 delegates, and Huckabee had 176, versus McCain's 680. With the 259 (or more) votes that would have shifted away from McCain due to vote-tallying minutia, Rockabee would have had 705 delegates, versus a McCain total of 421. At that point, Rockabee would certainly stay in the race (like Huckabee did). It's hard to do any kind of what-if analysis from this point on. Did more voters figure that, since McCain had it in the bag, they'd vote for their #2 favorite and try to get him a VP slot? Or did more of them decide to jump on the party bandwagon, an show their support by adding it to the presumptive winner? It's difficult to say. But with that kind of lead, it's certainly possible that Rockabee would have gone on to assume the nomination.
But what does that mean, since there obviously is no Mital Rockabee? Rockabee represents a rough estimate of how a prefferential voting system would have adjudicated the election, given the assumption that every Huckabee and Romney voter preffered either of those two options over John McCain. (Is this a fair assumption? Hard to say without data. Hit up the comments with your thoughts!) Had the primaries used such a system, instead of Huckabee spoiling the election for Romney by spliting the vote, Romney likely would have defeated Huckabee and McCain and become the Republican nominee. This is suggesting that, in essence, the Republican party as a body, didn't want John McCain; it wanted Mitt Romney. But due to the use of these poor methods for measuring the will of the voters (which, I should mention, are the same poor methods used for virtually ever election in this country) a candidate you didn't want was put forward as your selection.
Now, I'm not going to guarantee that Romney would have defeated Obama yesterday. But you wanted him, and picking someone you didn't want, that was your first mistake.
Tomorrow, we'll start talking about how to fix it.