Trump’s Win Could Be an Artifact of the Voting System
By John Lawrence
Not many people give much thought to the dynamics of the voting system. We just accept that you vote for one guy or the other and everybody gets one vote and the person who gets the most votes wins.
This system, called plurality voting or first-past-the-post, seems obvious, but there are a myriad of other kinds of voting systems. For instance, each voter could rank order all the candidates with the lowest candidate getting zero points and the next candidate above them in the rank order getting one point, the one above them getting two points etc. Then the one with the most points wins.
This system was first proposed by the French philosopher Jean-Charles de Borda in 1770. As the result of more information per voter being collected by the voting system, a different, and presumably more accurate, outcome could occur.
In the case of the Republican primary the single vote per voter with so many candidates almost guaranteed some sort of anomaly. A total of 17 candidates started off in the primary on March 23, 2015. As each state was ticked off, Trump garnered most of the votes; however, a majority of the voters voted for one of the other candidates.
The result was that Trump was reported as having “won” the state, especially if it was a winner-take-all state. As Trump won, his momentum built up and before too long, his winning the primary seemed inevitable. Even after all but Cruz and Kasich had dropped out, Cruz and Kasich were splitting the anti-Trump vote.
In After Trump, the GOP May Need a Better Voting System, Kathleen Parker writes:
… the better candidates didn’t win because, obviously, so many of [the candidates] siphoned votes from stronger ones, giving Trump the lead and all-important momentum. Thus, the constant refrain from Trump supporters that the “establishment” is ignoring the “will of the people” is true only to a point. Trump is the choice of a plurality of the GOP but not of the majority — a distinction with a crucial difference.
What If There Had Been Two Candidates – Trump and anti-Trump?
If the primary field had coalesced around one or two anti-Trump candidates and Trump earlier in the game, the outcome might have been completely different. Suppose each voter in the Republican primary had not only given his first choice candidate a vote, but had also given his second choice a vote as well. It might have been discovered that there was a solid candidate other than Trump who had a vast majority of second choice votes as well as a goodly number of first choice votes. Adding together first and second choice votes might have selected someone other than Trump as the winner of the election.
If there are more than two candidates running for election in the American way of voting, often times the third candidate acts as a spoiler splitting the vote for one of the two most popular candidates with the result that the least popular ends up the winner. Ross Perot was a third party candidate in 1992 and 1996. History seems to show that he did not siphon off enough votes from Republicans to give Bill Clinton the election. Clinton would have won anyway, Perot or no Perot. However, in the 2000 election Ralph Nader running as a third party candidate did siphon off enough votes from Democrats to give George W Bush the election. If all votes had actually been counted Gore would have won anyway, but if Nader had not been in the race, Gore would have won handily.
French Enlightenment Philosopher Condorcet, Voting Theorist
The Marquis de Condorcet was an Enlightenment philosopher who was way ahead of his time. I visited him in the Pantheon in Paris because he’s one of my heroes.
Eric Maskin and Amartya Sen write in the New York Times:
The Marquis de Condorcet, the great 18th-century political theorist and mathematician, proposed a system for electing candidates who truly command majority support. In this system, a voter has the opportunity to rank candidates. For example, her ballot might rank John Kasich, Ted Cruz and Mr. Trump in that order, meaning that she likes Mr. Kasich best, but if he doesn’t win, she would go for Mr. Cruz. She could, alternatively, choose to vote just for Mr. Kasich, which would amount to ranking Mr. Trump and Mr. Cruz in a tie for second. The winner would then be the candidate who, according to the rankings, would defeat each opponent individually in a head-to-head matchup — a real majority winner.
Approval Voting and Politonomics
In 1977, New York University politics professor Steven J. Brams and decision theorist Peter C. Fishburn devised approval voting, by which, according to their method, voters cast a vote for each candidate of whom they approve, in no particular order. The candidate with the most votes would win. Approval voting has been shown to be superior to the American method of first-past-the-post, but the problem is where do you draw the line between those candidates you approve and those you disapprove?
I devised a method for doing exactly that. I call my method politonomics because it has applications to both politics and economics, in particular to Economic Democracy, and it is capable of producing multiple outcomes instead of just “the winner of the election.” Multiple outcomes could be advantageous, for instance, in electing a city council without resorting to winner-take-all districts or a districtless Congress.
Using another voting system in which voters rank the candidates (A is preferred to B is preferred to C) or rate the candidates (on a scale from minus one to plus one, for example) provides the system with much more information than just casting a vote for the most preferred candidate.
Outcomes can then be determined in which the overall satisfaction of the electorate is more likely to be achieved. Minorities will be better represented than they will be with majority rule. None of the voting systems proposed so far is perfect.
There can be anomalous outcomes produced by all of them (except perhaps politonomics). However, the antiquarian nature of the American voting system whether in Congressional or Presidential elections and especially in gerrymandered districts could very well indeed lead us down the road to the first Fascist President.