A rumination on why I think “democracy” has to mean more than “majority rules” or “the favorite wins”—even when only a single candidate or proposal is being chosen.
The possibility of Condorcet “cycles” infecting the preference-rankings of groups is pretty well known by now—especially since Arrow’s impossibility theorem. The idea is that a group entirely composed of individuals whose preference-rankings are transitive may end up liking (as a group) A more than B, B more than C, and C more than A. This can happen because different sub-groups make up the three aggregate ratings. This (and other voting paradoxes even involving pairwise comparisons and Borda counts) have led some observers to denounce majoritarianism. Such critics consider it either an approach that can’t provide unambiguous winners when there are more than two choices, or worse, something that unambiguously provides the wrong answer.
Now, as I look at these matters, there are at least two essential characteristics of fair democratic choosings. First, they are egalitarian in this way: they must, to use the old Benthamite language, “count each vote as one and none as more than one.” That is, they cannot countenance weightings of most kinds, whether they are considered to follow from any rankings (cardinal or ordinal) of the voters or from any external assessments regarding the value of this or that vote or voter. Second, they are egalitarian in another way: the authority granted winners of elections must, in some rational manner, reflect ratios involving both the number of eligible voters and number of votes received. (I will not take up this latter requirement in this OP.)
While simple majoritarianism seems to share both of those desiderata, I take it that the latter (my own view) can’t rightly be characterized as a majoritarian position itself because it does not accept what is commonly known as “the majority criterion.” What is that? It simply requires that If there exists a majority that ranks a single candidate higher than all other candidates, that highest-rated candidate must win. As will be seen, there are good reasons for those with sound democratic principles not to join with majoritarians on this matter. In any case, the (let’s call it) “Egalitarian Proportional Democracy” I’m pushing for here shares with majoritarians the views that political actions and offices must be taken and distributed on the basis of the number of voters who want or don’t want something, rather than on how much they want them (as well as on the other matter that I’m not planning to discuss here). But surely that doesn’t tell us very much. Can at least the egalitarian portion of my description of Egalitarian Proportional Democracy be fleshed out? Let me try.
Suppose eight people are having a party and are trying to decide what soda to bring. [Based on an FMM comment, I add here the assumption that, for whatever reason, it would be a major hassle for there to be more than one choice of soda at the party.] And let there be four possible choices: Cola, Lemon-Lime, Orange and Root Beer. There’s no unanimity among the revelers, so, being the good (small-d) democrats they are, they think that the majority ought to have its way and plan a vote to decide the matter. Here is the result when they are asked to give their favorite (here designated with ‘X’):
A B C D E F G H
Cola X X X
L-L X X
Orange X X
As can be seen, while Cola receives a plurality of the vote, no flavor gets a majority. One member therefore suggests a run-off with the first and tied-for-second contenders only, leaving off RB all together since it did so poorly. Here are the results of this run-off election (with ‘A’ indicating an abstention):
A B C D E F G H
C X X X A
L-L X X A
O X X A
This vote didn’t help: there has been no movement at all because voter H absolutely loathes all the flavors except RB and refuses to pick any of the others as a passable choice for the party.
The revelers aren’t completely stuck though, because there are other voting possibilities. Let us suppose that, like me, this group has no truck whatever with the inter-personal assessments of preference intensities required for cardinal ordering, and that they are also skeptical of ordinal rankings to the extent that those assume similar “distances” between preferences. They think, that is, that there could be a huge divide between one person’s 1st and 2nd choices, and hardly any at all between another ranker’s 1st and 2nd picks.
Fortunately, two members of this group have been regularly assaulted by emails from voting reform organizations: one, from a group that pushes Approval Voting (“AV”), and another that favors Score Voting (“SC”). Those two discuss the matter with the other six party planners and the SC advocate is able to convince everyone that they can exclude all the questionable preference weights by using the following scale:
GOOD ENOUGH (WOULD DRINK IT IF AVAILABLE)………………….3 PTS
PASSABLE (NEVER HAD BUT WD TRY IT IN A PINCH)……………..2 PTS
NOT OK (NEVER HAD & WON’T TRY EVEN IF THIRSTY)…………..1 PTS
REALLY DISLIKE………………………………………………………….. 0 PTS
The AV supporter is on board with undertaking a new vote that would use this scale, but only if the assignments of 4, 3, or 2 points are counted as “Approvals”—meaning that the voter can “live with” the choice. This is agreed upon as well, and the third vote is taken. For ease of counting, I represent the approvals here with an “(A)”:
A B C D E F G H TOT. Apps
C 4(A) 4(A) 4(A) 2(A) 2(A) 1 0 0 17 5
L-L 2(A) 2(A) 2(A) 4(A) 4(A) 2(A) 2(A) 0 18 7
O 3(A) 2(A) 0 3(A) 3(A) 4(A) 4(A) 0 19 6
RB 3(A) 0 0 0 1 3(A) 2(A) 4(A) 13 4
As can be seen, while the Plurality victor was Cola, the SC winner is Orange and the AV winner is L-L!
Perhaps it will seem that this embarrassment of “winners” is the result of the weirdness of there being so many “never tried it” votes with respect to what seem like common carbonated drinks. But it is important to realize that an attitude of “I really don’t know much about her (or it).…” toward political a political candidate or proposal isn’t unusual at all. Look at the results above again, but this time, think of it as a political election for a representative, with each coming from a different Party. (Perhaps replace “Cola” with “Corporatist”; “L-L” with “Liberal”; “Orange” with “Outsider” and “RB” with “Republican”.) This may make it clearer that there can be a large number of decisions in which the assignment of one or two points (approval or disapproval) will largely be a function of the varying amounts of risk that voters are willing to take. Some people will be OK with this or that relatively unknown candidate or proposal; others will not be willing to take any chances.
Keeping all this in mind, which “winner” will the authentic egalitarian support in this election? The Corporatist, because he is the favorite of the largest number of voters? The Outsider, who got the highest score? Or the Liberal, who most voters found to be minimally acceptable? In my view it is the number of approving voters that the sensible democrat must take to matter most. Just as we ought not to be stuck at parties with nothing we can stand to drink, we ought not to be stuck with ruler/representative A when more people among us can stand candidate B. On this view, if it is to be used to determine what “the people” do or don’t want, majoritarian/egalitarian-style aggregation should be understood as the counting of approvals, where each person’s approval is given the same weight as everyone else’s, regardless of how enthusiastic or tepid it is. That tack definitely seems more conducive to stable regimes than one in which candidates that a ton of the populace don’t approve of get to take office.
That is my current take on the matter. I recognize that I have here avoided all of the complicated issues surrounding strategic voting and how that is likely to affect results (if you’re curious, see the Wikipedia article on “Approval Voting.”) Anyhow, I look forward to comments to get a better handle on this. Thanks.