[SEQ RERUN] Stop Voting For Nincompoops

post by MinibearRex · 2011-12-12T02:54:45.042Z · score: 3 (4 votes) · LW · GW · Legacy · 55 comments

Today's post, Stop Voting For Nincompoops was originally published on 02 January 2008. A summary (taken from the LW wiki):

 

Many people try to vote "strategically", by considering which candidate is more "electable". One of the most important factors in whether someone is "electable" is whether they have received attention from the media and the support of one of the two major parties. Naturally, those organizations put considerable thought into who is electable in making their decision. Ultimately, all arguments for "strategic voting" tend to fall apart. The voters themselves get so little say in why the next president is that the best we can do is just to not vote for nincompoops.


Discuss the post here (rather than in the comments to the original post).

This post is part of the Rerunning the Sequences series, where we'll be going through Eliezer Yudkowsky's old posts in order so that people who are interested can (re-)read and discuss them. The previous post was The American System and Misleading Labels, and you can use the sequence_reruns tag or rss feed to follow the rest of the series.

Sequence reruns are a community-driven effort. You can participate by re-reading the sequence post, discussing it here, posting the next day's sequence reruns post, or summarizing forthcoming articles on the wiki. Go here for more details, or to have meta discussions about the Rerunning the Sequences series.

55 comments

Comments sorted by top scores.

comment by kilobug · 2011-12-12T13:59:28.851Z · score: 7 (7 votes) · LW · GW

« Amazingly, the media collectively exerted such tremendous power, in nearly perfect coordination, without deliberate intention (conspiracies are generally much less necessary than believed). » is something very important, but very hard to explain to people, I found out.

Some people will believe in conspiracy, and most people will label you "crazy conspiracy theorist" as soon as you point to something like that. It's very hard to make people understand that a set of people having a generally common mindset (they know each other, they went to the same schools, ...) and the same purpose (attract the highest number possible of viewers/readers) will tend to do the same selection of whom/what to give focus to, without requiring any coordination or conspiracy.

comment by rwallace · 2011-12-13T07:26:28.405Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

There is a wonderfully evocative term, Stand Alone Complex, from the anime series of the same name, which refers to actions taken by people behaving as though they were part of a conspiracy even though no actual conspiracy is present. It's pretty much tailor-made for this case.

Mencius Moldbug calls this instance the Cathedral, in an insightful series of articles indexed here.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-12T06:00:30.816Z · score: 3 (7 votes) · LW · GW

From the original article:

If the voters had ignored the media telling them who the front-runner was, and decided their initial pick of "serious candidates" based on, say, the answers to a questionnaire, then the media would have had no power.
Yes, this is presently [extremely unlikely]. But there's this thing called the Internet now, which humanity is still figuring out how to use, and there may be another change or two on the way.

I've lost count of the number of times that I've read such claims from otherwise reasonable people. Yet to me they've always seemed absurd. What is supposed to be this magical property that differentiates the internet from previous technologies for communication and publishing so radically?

comment by Zack_M_Davis · 2011-12-12T08:17:14.578Z · score: 5 (7 votes) · LW · GW

What is supposed to be this magical property that differentiates the internet from previous technologies for communication and publishing so radically?

The magical property is the zero marginal cost of publishing. In the age of print, most people had very little opportunity to publish their views, but now anyone can start a blog. No doubt an interesting debate could be held on the topic of exactly how radical of an innovation this is (some saying "extremely radical," some saying "hardly radical at all"), but surely you agree that the accessibility of the medium has some effect, or I wouldn't be reading your words.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-12T08:50:04.249Z · score: 7 (9 votes) · LW · GW

Sure, there is some non-zero effect, but I don't think it's relevant overall. The zero marginal cost of internet publishing, in my opinion, doesn't make for a significant difference relative to the moderate cost of vanity press. (Or in more recent pre-internet times, the even smaller cost of xeroxing.)

If your position is marginalized, the problem is not in producing enough copies of your screeds, but in getting people to read them and take them seriously, since they are perceived as low-status relative to the respectable mainstream sources. I don't see any significant advantage that The New York Times enjoyed over some contrarian's xeroxed pamphlets 20 years ago that wouldn't also apply to the nytimes.com website relative to some contrarian blog nowadays. In both cases, the public opinion is shaped by high-status sources, regardless of whether accessing low-status sources has become somewhat less onerous for the weird minority of people who have interest in them.

Also, note that in past centuries, before the monopolization of high-status public discourse by the mainstream media and academia, pamphleteering was seen as a formidable means of ideological warfare, and often a serious threat to the established order that required constant censoring to keep the peace. It is the same factors that have since then made pamphleteering into a province of irrelevant contrarian weirdos that also make the system immune to the lowered cost of pamphleteering enabled by the internet.

comment by Emile · 2011-12-12T16:39:50.530Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

Since any "mainstream" idea was most likely marginal at some point, changes in the way marginal ideas start and spread should eventually have a significant impact.

I don't see any significant advantage that The New York Times enjoyed over some contrarian's xeroxed pamphlets 20 years ago that wouldn't also apply to the nytimes.com website relative to some contrarian blog nowadays.

Twenty years ago, educated readers would get their news from newspapers, books, and TV, with (some) newspapers being the most intellectually respectable source of news; few educated readers would be getting news from xeroxed pamphlets.

Today, newspapers like the New York Times have a smaller share in the attention of educated readers, who also read blogs and other news sites on the internet. The New York Times may still be the biggest, but it seems much less impressive than it used to be.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-12T18:09:26.225Z · score: 3 (5 votes) · LW · GW

There is also the contrary trend of consolidaton, as smaller local newspapers are dying. I'm not sure what the net trend is.

But more importantly, I simply don't observe any lessening of the mainstream media's control over the limits of respectable public discourse and the set of people and issues that will be in the public spotlight (whether positive or negative). The facts about which the original article complains are as true today as they were four years ago.

Similarly, I don't observe any weakening of the intellectual monopoly of the academia, although its output is now widely scrutinized, and interesting contrarian voices heard, on countless blogs and websites. (And it's not like no naked emperors are being revealed in the process.)

On the whole, it seems to me that a vast chasm of status separates contrarian blogs from mainstream online intellectual outlets just as effectively as it separated xeroxed pamphlets from the latter's paper incarnations in the past. High-status and influential people (as well as all those who imagine themselves as such, or hope to become one day) still get their information from the latter, whether in paper or online form, and instinctively shun the former.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-12T12:04:25.023Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

It is the same factors that have since then made pamphleteering into a province of irrelevant contrarian weirdos that also make the system immune to the lowered cost of pamphleteering enabled by the internet.

I would be interested in hearing more about these factors.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-13T01:43:13.511Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

It is basically an observation about the extraordinarily firm and secure grip on public opinion held by the official intellectual institutions nowadays. I don't have anything like a complete theory of how exactly this state of affairs came into being, or even of what exact mechanisms make their present influence so decisive and secure. (Though I could speculate at length.)

Whatever the mechanisms behind it might be, however, the influence of these institutions does appear to be so decisive and secure that no matter how cheap and convenient contrarian publishing may become, it poses no threat and can be safely laughed off. Whatever your message, the fact that you're not accredited by them -- or, in the unlikely case that you manage to raise a significant fuss with some unusual trick, that you're condemned by them -- automatically makes you so low-status, and the presumption that you're a crackpot or some malevolent extremist so strong, that it's effectively impossible to get a fair hearing outside of a tiny contrarian clique.

Of course, things were different in the past, and only time will tell if someone will eventually figure out a way around this system, in which case all bets are off.

comment by TimS · 2011-12-13T02:27:48.343Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Whatever your message, the fact that you're not accredited by them -- or, in the unlikely case that you manage to raise a significant fuss with some unusual trick, that you're condemned by them -- automatically makes you so low-status, and the presumption that you're a crackpot or some malevolent extremist so strong, that it's effectively impossible to get a fair hearing outside of a tiny contrarian clique.

How then do you explain the social change that has occurred? For example, the Civil Rights Movement in the United States started out very low status, and the elites who opposed it often invoked the rhetoric of crackpot and extremist. Yet it eventually won, in part by being so confrontational that it couldn't be ignore, but not so confrontational that it could be suppressed.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-13T02:41:42.435Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Social change due to activism happens only if this activism has some support from the elites in charge. Otherwise, such activism will be suppressed swiftly and easily. (Or perhaps simply laughed off, if it's clear that it poses no realistic threat.)

Of course, this contradicts various myths of spontaneous popular rebellion winning against oppressive elites and brave contrarians changing society through sheer moral strength. However, a realistic look at history and the present-day world will show that such things simply don't happen in human societies. The 20th century U.S. is no exception.

comment by TimS · 2011-12-13T02:49:13.186Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Civil Rights (1940-1960 edition) has clear support from some political elites, and that explains a substantial amount of the progress in that time period.

But the change in elite positions from 1900 to 1940 needs explanation. Once, there was relatively little institutional support of civil rights. For example, Strauder v. West Virginia is basically a roadmap of what to say to "justify" Jim Crow. The change in institutional support needs some explanation, which is hard to come up with if the only thing that causes changes is institutional support.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-13T03:14:14.229Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Clearly, the elite opinion changes gradually over time for all sorts of reasons, sometimes unclear and puzzling. Often there are also conflicts within the elite (sometimes further complicated by foreign influences), which may lead to sudden and unexpected developments. My above comments assume that the state of affairs is stable in the short run, and that the contrarians in question face uniform opposition from the elite.

As for the specific changes in the U.S. elite's positions in the first half of the 20th century, I don't have a ready answer, even though I am reasonably familiar with the relevant history. I have seen multiple theories espoused by different people, but none has struck me as clearly correct, and I can only speculate how they might be fit together. However, I don't think any part of these historical developments involved contrarians winning through public activism while faced with a uniformly hostile elite.

comment by TimS · 2011-12-13T03:21:18.033Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

However, I don't think any part of these historical developments involves contrarians winning through public activism while faced with a uniformly hostile elite.

I think that some activism is necessary, but not close to sufficient, to cause certain kinds of social change. At least in a post-Enlightenment society (i.e. a society that pays any attention to the concept of "consent of the governed").

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-13T03:37:01.743Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I think that "consent of the governed" is a concept too incoherent to be salvageable. After all, the very purpose of government is to do things that are arguably necessary but can't be done consensually, and that circle simply cannot be squared.

As for activism in general, I didn't mean to say that activism is necessarily without influence. What happens in reality is some sort of interplay between the activism and the dynamics of the intra-elite conflict, whose exact nature varies greatly between different cases. But some degree of elite support and participation is always involved whenever activism doesn't get routinely suppressed or laughed off.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-03-01T20:54:58.009Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I think that "consent of the governed" is a concept too incoherent to be salvageable. After all, the very purpose of government is to do things that are arguably necessary but can't be done consensually, and that circle simply cannot be squared.

Absurd. The issue of consent versus trust arises in all group dynamics that involve a leader (see e.g. Eliezer's take on rationalist militia). You simply need to taboo "consent" here, and it'll become clear that it's just different levels of willingness to go along with unpopular measures that happen in society: direct approval due to strategic or value-related concerns -> conformity-fuelled acceptance -> acceptance under active propaganda/promises/etc -> drawing upon any residual tolerance but cranking up the pressure indicators for the elites to see -> ... if a point is reached when the "consent" finally breaks down, for any situational definition of consent , that's usually pretty noticeable to an astute observer.

comment by Multiheaded · 2012-03-01T21:05:04.018Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Social change due to activism happens only if this activism has some support from the elites in charge.

A coherent and interesting contrarian movement is almost inevitably going to attract at least a tiny proportion of the "elite in charge", as the folk psychology of generational shifts tells us. Communists, fascists, libertarians, you name it. There's a reason why contrarianism is usually distributed in a quite specific and generally recurring way along society's pyramid. Elite support for unlikely social change not only can be wielded in clever and indirect ways with disproportionately significant leverage - it probably doesn't even need to be fully conscious.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-13T07:04:50.118Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

That's a bad example, if I remember US history right the civil rights movement was mostly supported by academics and the intellectual elite. It also had at the very least the sympathy of non-Southern newspapers. Or in other words, opinions among say professors and influential newspaper editors in the 1960s was probably closer to majority opinion on the subject in 1970s and even 1980s, than the majority opinion of their time. I think that's actually the relevant group to watch, since this is an analysis of the role of opinion makers.

This is actually true for a lot of things. The opinions of those in power and quite often those in public have basically for the last 100 years or so always basically lagged for 20 years or so behind the prevailing opinion on a subject on a random Ivy League university. The charitable way to interpret this is that there exists something like moral progress and universities are a reliable truth finding mechanism and thus tend to get it right first. The alternative interpretation is that universities and the media are much more opinion makers than truth seekers and that the Ivy Leagues class are basically the institutions that determine the parameters of a status competition among the elites (which then both trickles down due to imitation, as well as gets spread by media and legislated by government) every generation.

Under that interpretation they hold massive power over society. Reflecting on that I think that would more or less make them the ruling class.

comment by TimS · 2011-12-13T16:35:16.988Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

As I noted in my later reply, the Civil Rights movement is older than the 1940-1960 period. Advocating federal anti-lynching laws predates the 20th Century. Yet Strauder v. WV is reasonably representative of elite opinion of the time. See also Shipp v. United States, where the Supreme Court held a sheriff in contempt and sentenced him to a few months for allowing a lynching.

comment by [deleted] · 2011-12-13T16:45:56.551Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

So you basically interested what drives changes in ruling class opinion? And feel comfortable with more or less equating elite opinion change with social change?

comment by TimS · 2011-12-13T17:00:18.312Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

I'm interested in what attempts to cause social change actually "work."
A theory that activism never works seems no more consistent with the evidence than a theory that activism without elite support is the primary cause of social change.
On the specific example we're discussing, the evidence seems to be that the NAACP was activist, not a "ruling institution" from its founding (1909) until some point in the post-WWII period. Yet the NAACP created conditions that led to enormous social change.

comment by Zack_M_Davis · 2013-02-06T10:17:54.783Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

I'm updating in your direction. When I wrote the grandparent, I was anchoring on my own experience as someone whose life has been profoundly shaped by picking up strange new ideas from the internet and taking them seriously. But now that you mention it, if "I" (scare quotes because personal identity doesn't work that way) had been born earlier, how do I know that "I" wouldn't be the sort or person who whose life was shaped by picking up strange new ideas from xeroxed pamphlets and taking them seriously?

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-12-12T15:42:55.020Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

If your position is marginalized, the problem is not in producing enough copies of your screeds, but in getting people to read them and take them seriously, since they are perceived as low-status relative to the respectable mainstream sources. I don't see any significant advantage that The New York Times enjoyed over some contrarian's xeroxed pamphlets 20 years ago that wouldn't also apply to the nytimes.com website relative to some contrarian blog nowadays.

I think there's an Emporer's-New-Clothes / Common-Knowledge effect that differentiates the two. If a significant minority holds marginalized view X, but all such people think virtually no one else holds the view, then it's easier for a blogger to help the Xers identify each other and come out the woodwork (closet?) than for a lone pamphleteer.

And if I may indulge in some mind-killing speculation, I think that's exactly what happened with libertarianism pre- and post-internet. Before, it was relegated to low-circulation newletters, with most adherents thinking themselves alone in the dark, and afterward it dominates internet discussion, a now mainstream medium.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-12T17:42:49.137Z · score: 6 (6 votes) · LW · GW

I think there's an Emporer's-New-Clothes / Common-Knowledge effect that differentiates the two. If a significant minority holds marginalized view X, but all such people think virtually no one else holds the view, then it's easier for a blogger to help the Xers identify each other and come out the woodwork (closet?) than for a lone pamphleteer.

Sure, but all they will achieve is to form an online echo chamber. To have real-world impact, they will have to establish themselves in the mainstream institutions of public opinion (principally media and academia). And nothing is a surer way to have the doors of these institutions closed to you than to be seen as belonging to some identifiable strongly contrarian cluster.

And if I may indulge in some mind-killing speculation, I think that's exactly what happened with libertarianism pre- and post-internet. Before, it was relegated to low-circulation newletters, with most adherents thinking themselves alone in the dark, and afterward it dominates internet discussion, a now mainstream medium.

Frankly, if you really believe that libertarianism dominates internet discussion, you have likely fallen for the echo chamber illusion.

Libertarian ideas have any impact only insofar as they have gained circulation in the mainstream media and elite academia, and I'm not noticing any increase in such circulation since the internet became widespread. (Notice that there is a vast chasm between these institutions and the internet libertarian circles, and people who manage to cross it almost inevitably do so only at the cost of becoming indistinguishable from the mainstream liberal or conservative positions.)

comment by cousin_it · 2011-12-12T05:17:20.767Z · score: 2 (4 votes) · LW · GW

In the recent Russian parliamentary elections many leaders of small opposition factions gave their supporters the same advice: ignore your own political preferences, but don't ignore the elections. Please come and vote for any big party except the ruling party. Eventually the ruling party got less than 50%.

comment by Vladimir_M · 2011-12-12T09:29:59.487Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

I haven't followed Russian politics much for the last few years, and I'm just asking for curiosity: do you think the result was due to this appeal, rather than just because of popular resentment that would have been demonstrated anyway? Looking at the figures from Wikipedia, the overall voter turnout appears to be smaller than in 2007, which would suggest the latter hypothesis.

comment by cousin_it · 2011-12-12T12:03:14.579Z · score: 3 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Good point. I don't know. Edited my comment.

comment by Bugmaster · 2011-12-12T10:57:49.633Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

As far as I understand, the ruling party got what it wanted: 53% (or something like that) of Parliament seats, which gives it a controlling interest in Russian politics. It got what it wanted by using a proven, time-honored tactic called "voting fraud".

We can probably learn some sort of a lesson from Russian politics, but "your vote counts as long as you cast it wisely" is not it.

comment by DanielLC · 2011-12-12T04:48:40.305Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Your vote has a small chance of deciding the President. This is magnified by voting for a nincompoop. It also has a small effect on the party platforms. This is magnified by voting for a third party. If we know which of these makes a bigger difference, it will be clear whether or not we should vote for a third party. Does anyone know which makes a bigger difference?

comment by Luke_A_Somers · 2011-12-14T17:31:20.795Z · score: 2 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Additional factors to consider, especially for legislative seats rather than presidential:

1) Voting for a third party can increase its recognition and power even without giving it a chance to win

2) If you are in a 'safe district' and would be more aligned with the winning lizard, voting for a 3rd party drags down your lizard's vote margin, making it feel the threat of accountability more credibly.

3) If you are in a 'safe district' and would be more aligned with the losing lizard, voting for a 3rd party may actually be more likely to change the election, as the losing lizard probably has a negative aura effect going on

4) If you are in a 'safe district', whichever side, voting for a 3rd party can limit the effectiveness of Gerrymandering, by limiting the information about true lizard preference (in the event you ever want to pick between the lizards rather than going for a 3rd party)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-12-12T20:50:56.173Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

If we know which of these makes a bigger difference, it will be clear whether or not we should vote for a third party.

Will it? If my vote has X influence on the election if I vote for a nincompoop, and Y influence on party platforms if I vote for a third party, what relationship between X and Y makes it clear that I should vote for a nincompoop?

comment by DanielLC · 2011-12-13T01:36:54.724Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

X > Y

I suppose the problem is defining influence.

I suppose it would be something like the probability of a change times the magnitude of the change times the number of bits of control you have over the direction.

If you vote for a main party candidate, you only have one bit of control over the direction. If you vote for any of eight parties, you have three bits.

If consider influencing the candidates for the next election, you have a high probability of a low magnitude change. If consider deciding the winner for this election, you have a low probability of a high magnitude change.

comment by prase · 2011-12-14T14:20:24.806Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

I suppose it would be something like the probability of a change times the magnitude of the change times the number of bits of control you have over the direction.

Number of bits is a property of the choice, not a property of the chosen option. So it is the same for both candidates. Probability of change is what precisely? Some change is pretty certain. The most charitable and still reasonably literal interpretation is to take the probability distribution for each magnitude of change and integrate over, which means that you suggest to vote for the candidate whose victory causes higher expected change. It may be sensible (if you are actually trying to maximise change), but I don't see what it has to do with your influence.

If, on the other hand, by "probability of change" you mean "probability of victory of that candidate", it makes more sense. But it's still imperfect.

Compare with utilitarian answer: Suppose U(third party candidate X wins) > U(lizard Y wins) > U(lizard Z wins). Then I am deciding between voting for X or Y (there is clearly no sense in voting for Z and let's assume I must vote). We compare

  1. U(X) p(X | I vote for X) + U(Y) p(Y | vote for X) + U(Z) p(Z | vote for X) to
  2. U(X) p(X | vote for Y) + U(Y) p(Y | vote for Y) + U(Z) p(Z | vote for Y)

p(X | vote for X) is equal to p(X | I don't vote) + p(X has exactly as many votes as Y and more votes than Z | I don't vote) + p(X has exactly as many votes as Z and more votes than Y | I don't vote). Similarly, p(X | vote for Y) is equal to p(X | I don't vote) - p(X has one more vote than Y and more votes than Z | I don't vote) - p(X has one more vote than Z and more votes than Y | I don't vote). The p(X | don't vote) cancel out (similarly for Y and Z) and we are left to estimate the probability that my vote is the decisive one.

To find out this probability we must have a distribution over exact vote counts, not only over winning candidates. It is not clear that p(draw between X and some other candidate) is proportional to p(X wins).

comment by DanielLC · 2011-12-15T02:44:50.557Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The most charitable and still reasonably literal interpretation is to take the probability distribution for each magnitude of change and integrate over

Basically.

which means that you suggest to vote for the candidate whose victory causes higher expected change.

No. It's which vote has the highest expected change. Some of the expected change comes from the candidate winning. Some comes from secondary effects, such as changing the party platform.

comment by Oscar_Cunningham · 2011-12-12T20:44:19.666Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Here seems a good place to start. Essentially, if you live in a large country, and the split of support is not extremely close to 50/50 then your vote has an exponentially small chance of determining the winner. Thus the signalling effect of voting third party is probably much bigger.

comment by Gust · 2011-12-13T04:02:02.049Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Bringing some empirical input from a little different presidential electoral system.

Here in Brazil the system for presidential elections has two turns. All candidates run for the first turn. If someone has >50% votes, that candidate wins. If none has it, the two with most votes run for the second turn, when the most voted wins.

In the last three elections (2002, 2006, 2010), there were 6, 8 and 9 presidential candidates. There was a second turn in all of them, with candidates from the same parties (Worker's Party and Social-Democratic - the labels don't mean much, though) at all three. The third-place candidates, though, were from different parties in each election, with 17,9%, 6,85% and 19,3% of the votes. The 2006 election was Lula's reelection, and the votes for the first and second place in the first turn were the closest of all three years (48,6%/41,6%).

I'm not sure about what the data means and how Eliezer's line of thought would have to change to apply here. I think it changes the picture a little because even getting to the second turn is seen as some kind of victory. So people can vote in the candidate they really prefer because, hey, maybe they can get to the second turn and have a chance! And the chance that there will be no second turn is small, so the part about "keeping the wrong lizard out" is postponed.

comment by prase · 2011-12-14T12:16:08.073Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

And the chance that there will be no second turn is small, so the part about "keeping the wrong lizard out" is postponed.

And more, voting for the right lizard doesn't change the probability of the wrong lizard's first round victory.

comment by Emile · 2011-12-13T09:50:22.516Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

In France we have a run-off system too, and I think some complaints about American politics I hear would disappear if they adopted that - though others might appear, for example regional parties like there are in Canada.

Unlike what you describe in Brazil, it's not that rare for candidates that are not part of the two "main" parties to get to the second turn (Le Pen did in 2002), or even to get elected (The centrist Giscard in 1974). The "main" parties are also more likely to split up / reorganize themselves than the US ones.

comment by prase · 2011-12-14T12:43:31.823Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

The Czech Senate (upper chamber of the parliament) uses top-two runoff too and a lizard-lizard competition in the second round happened in 14 out of 27 districts, which is only slightly more than half (lizard defined as a candidate of one of the two strongest parties). Remarkably, there was no lizard-free second round, at least one lizard succeeded everywhere. In the second round, 20 lizards won. It means that out of 13 lizard vs. non-lizard competitions, 6 were won by lizards. It seems to indicate that lizard victories aren't largely due to "strategic" voting: if it were so, non-lizards would massively outcompete lizards in a direct confrontation.

though others might appear, for example regional parties like there are in Canada

What reason for appearance of regional parties is present in a top-two runoff system and absent in the plurality system?

comment by Gust · 2011-12-13T11:23:08.912Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

Actually the current polarization is recent, I think. In 1989 some guy from an obscure party got elected. But brazilian democracy itself is young: we've only had 6 direct presidential elections since the demilitarization in 1985, and in the last 5 the second turn, when it happened, was between the Worker's and Social Democratic parties. So the polarization is recent, but there's not much data before it.

comment by machrider · 2011-12-12T03:30:00.099Z · score: -4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

It might just be that I disagree with him, but I find this post out of character for Eliezer. He argues against being strategic or using game theoretical approaches, which is surprising to me. How can that possibly make sense? Shouldn't I try to maximize the value of my vote given my expectations of the game I'm playing and the people I'm playing with/against? Essentially, I think he's arguing for an idealistic solution instead of a pragmatic one.

I guess I should admit that, in a perfect world, voting for whom you actually want, regardless of perceived popularity, might work well. However, it seems more important to me, having identified that the electoral system seems to consistently produce these kinds of results, to try to identify the problem. Is the problem really with the voters, or is it inherent in the structure of the rules?

What should democracy produce, ideally? It should produce election results that closely mirror what people actually want. It turns out that the plurality voting system, which we use in most places in the US, is well known to support a two-party stranglehold as a failure mode. It is very likely to produce an outcome which leaves most people unsatisfied. Why not work on fixing the system that produces this result instead of just hoping for everyone in the country to suddenly agree to play the game by different rules? (In San Francisco, we use "instant runoff" voting rules that produce an outcome more in line with what people actually want. Of course, it's not perfect.)

Essentially my question is, why would you insist that people shouldn't vote strategically, when it is clearly in their best interests to do so? If you strongly believe (for example) Rick Perry would be a threat to your well being, why would you go vote for a third party instead of doing your best to ensure Perry doesn't win?

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-12T04:27:30.411Z · score: 2 (8 votes) · LW · GW

It might just be that I disagree with him, but I find this post out of character for Eliezer.

My prediction: You did not read the post. Your reply only makes sense if I assume it is based off the one paragraph quoted - and then only if I pretend the quotes around "strategic" are not present.

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-12-12T15:44:12.477Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Then the summary isn't very representative.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-12T15:58:07.515Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW
  • and then only if I pretend the quotes around "strategic" are not present.
comment by SilasBarta · 2011-12-12T16:02:43.117Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Eh, scare quotes by themselves are a lot less informative than you might think./

comment by thomblake · 2011-12-16T21:14:26.160Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

The scare quotes were not "by themselves" - they were directly followed by a definition.

comment by SilasBarta · 2011-12-17T04:16:39.520Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

True, but wedrifid was not invoking that following definition as evidence; he was invoking the presence of scare quotes, and as an independent data point; and he in fact agreed that the summary paragraph was insufficient to learn the point of the post -- hence why I criticized the summary (conditional on wedrifid's claim) for failing to do its job (of either summarizing or making clear what you have to read the article to know).

Edit: Wow that's a big tangle. Here's a recap:

machrider: *reads summary*; *makes (possibly) bad point in response*
wedrifid: "What a stupid point, you obviously just read the summary and not the whole post."
me: "Then it's a bad summary."
wedrifid: "Even so, it had scare quotes."
me: "Whoa, let's not overestimate what they can do."

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-12T16:06:24.750Z · score: 1 (3 votes) · LW · GW

Eh, scare quotes by themselves are a lot less informative than you might think./

They are sufficient to remove the meaning machrider used as a straw man from the summary entirely. I think you are being silly.

comment by machrider · 2011-12-12T05:09:30.816Z · score: 0 (4 votes) · LW · GW

i read it, and I disagree. I think it's irrational to expect everyone to do what he suggests, and it only works if everyone does it.

Edit: Using the word "strategic" is probably misleading. Eliezer proposes a particular strategy - vote for someone you actually like, regardless of popularity or perceived likelihood of winning. It's still a strategy, and voting is still a game. So the argument isn't really about whether or not to vote "strategically", it's about which strategy one should use.

In my original comment I argue for the meta-strategy of changing the electoral system to one that isn't as broken as plurality systems are. As well, I argue that it still makes sense given the current system to continue to vote for the least evil candidate who has a shot at winning.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-12T06:20:30.623Z · score: 0 (2 votes) · LW · GW

Edit: Using the word "strategic" is probably misleading. Eliezer proposes a particular strategy - vote for someone you actually like, regardless of popularity or perceived likelihood of winning.

More to the point he rejects using "strategic voting" that is based off strategies for survival when votes are all public and retaliation is expected - where the consequences of the guy you didn't vote for getting in are far more serious than whether it is the guy you prefer. This is rejected in favor of pulling the rope sideways.

comment by machrider · 2011-12-12T06:31:41.310Z · score: 4 (4 votes) · LW · GW

Are there any good examples of the long strategy working? Ron Paul seemed like a potential case of exactly that, and in 2008 he was rallying support on the internet and raking in serious political campaign contributions. He got a small chunk of the popular vote and raised the profile of libertarianism a little. However, a few years later the media have still apparently decided that he is unelectable and give him far less coverage than the "mainstream" candidates. (I'm not a Ron Paul fan myself, but he should appeal to the fiscal conservative base and he seems to be a man of integrity.)

comment by TheOtherDave · 2011-12-12T20:48:33.111Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Is there a good template for what the "long strategy" working would look like?

There have certainly been candidates elected in the U.S. who at some earlier time would have been considered completely unelectable, but of course in each case it's possible to point to a variety of other causes for why they became electable besides the decision of voters to vote for them. Which is also what I would expect to see if the long strategy worked, since there are always lots of things going on.

comment by hairyfigment · 2011-12-14T03:45:09.245Z · score: -1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

What does "man of integrity" mean? I'm willing to tentatively accept that Ron Paul didn't write material like this:

I've been told not to talk, but these stooges don't scare me. Threats or no threats, I've laid bare the coming race war in our big cities. The federal-homosexual cover-up on AIDS (my training as a physician helps me see through this one.) The Bohemian Grove--perverted, pagan playground of the powerful. Skull & Bones: the demonic fraternity...

I'll even grant for the sake of argument that he has some more-or-less good reason for not revealing the name of the staffer(s) who published this in his name. But if I were John Stewart, hearing Paul say it's enough for him to have a smaller base who "gets the message", I'd have to ask about it and give him a chance to say that he'd never hire anyone like that for his hypothetical administration. Assuming that he does want to lose the white supremacist vote.

comment by wedrifid · 2011-12-12T05:42:22.975Z · score: 0 (0 votes) · LW · GW

i read it, and I disagree. I think it's irrational to expect everyone to do what he suggests, and it only works if everyone does it.

If you have, in fact, read it then I no longer have an explanation as to why you are engaging with the straw man.

comment by prase · 2011-12-12T19:00:06.946Z · score: 1 (1 votes) · LW · GW

Shouldn't I try to maximize the value of my vote given my expectations of the game I'm playing and the people I'm playing with/against? Essentially, I think he's arguing for an idealistic solution instead of a pragmatic one.

He is arguing for a pragmatic solution. He thinks that voting for whom you like has greater chance to help you achieve your political goals than voting for the less disliked major candidate. You can argue that it doesn't work that way (which you didn't), but not that EY didn't use pragmatic reasoning. If his strategy coincides with the idealist strategy, that's, well, only a coincidence.

Essentially my question is, why would you insist that people shouldn't vote strategically, when it is clearly in their best interests to do so? If you strongly believe (for example) Rick Perry would be a threat to your well being, why would you go vote for a third party instead of doing your best to ensure Perry doesn't win?

If you are really convinced that Rick Perry is such a danger that his election should be prevented "at all costs", vote for the strongest of the other candidates. But in most situations, you are not justified in believing such a thing. Your vote has other consequences than only decreasing probability of RP's victory. It also sends a signal to both candidates and influences their behaviour and influences other voters. In most normal conditions the secondary effects have greater value than the primary choice of the election winner because the major candidates are unlikely to implement drastically different policies. (I don't necessarily agree with that, but it is what the original post says.)

I guess I should admit that, in a perfect world, voting for whom you actually want, regardless of perceived popularity, might work well.

Supposing there exists (even as a concept) a perfect world is one of the frequent errors of political thinking.

What should democracy produce, ideally? It should produce election results that closely mirror what people actually want.

This is, in my opinion, a particular example of the problems of perfect-world thinking. You are trying to reform the system to approach some ideal state, where elections reflect what people want. But is this even a coherent ideal? For one thing, different people want different things (and a compromise is usually something nobody is content with). Even one person can have conflicting preferences and be unaware of what they are. I can assure you that voters in proportional voting systems are approximately as dissatisfied with the election results as voters in the plurality systems. I am not saying that all voting systems are equal, but the practical difference is not that big and there is almost certainly no ideal system.

But more importantly, to reform the voting system you first have to grab some political power, either by getting elected yourself or electing a candidate who would support the reform. Do you think that voting "strategically", that is for the less disliked of the two main candidates, would work, when this very candidate would have been elected just because the present voting system is in place (and he probably knows that)?