Wednesday, November 7, 2012

general equilibrium: campaigns and voting systems

Previously I extolled the virtues of approval voting, in which voters vote for as many candidates as they wish, with the highest vote total determining the winner; as I indicated, it is in many ways a substantial improvement on mandatory bullet voting, in particular in situations with large amounts of information (e.g. pre-election polls) and with rational agents, in which case it is in some sense optimal.

I've been thinking in the past day or two about the idea of allowing up to two votes (for a single winner), but not more than that; just as the single-vote system results in two major candidates, allowing two would by and large result in three or four major candidates, which might be less informationally demanding on voters than if there are a potentially unlimited number.  (An alternative is to have a primary of some sort to fix the number of general election candidates; in one of the environments I've mentioned, where one supposes that it is straightforward for voters to change their votes over a period of time with running totals publicly available, one way of doing this would be similar to a number of TV contests ("Survivor", "American Idol"), in which perhaps only the top 20 vote recipients on January 1 are allowed into the race, with the lowest vote getter eliminated every two weeks until you're down to, say, four.)

What I want to highlight this morning, in the general situation in which there are more than two serious (or reasonably potentially serious) candidates, is how this would affect campaigning; in particular, I would expect less "negative" campaigning.  If I'm candidate A running against candidate B with no other real opposition, it can make sense to devote a lot of resources to searching out the dumbest thing candidate B ever said, or even the thing candidate B ever said that is most amenable to being misconstrued; similarly, any unforced errors by candidate B — generically, anything that makes candidate B look worse — benefits me. To some extent this will still be true when candidates C and D are also reasonably in the mix, but it's not the case to nearly the same extent; even if I get a picture of candidate B paying a prostitute, if I don't have much to say for myself, there's a decent chance candidate C or D picks up his support.

I put "negative" in quotes because some of what is sometimes given that label is quite relevant to voters' decisions; some commentators seem inclined to label and ad that says "candidate B voted for bill X" as negative if run by candidate A and as positive if run by candidate B.  Voters are being asked to choose between options, differences between those options are relevant, whether they guide voters with different preferences in different directions, or whether they guide almost all voters in the same direction.  That said, some of the worst of campaigns — the seemingly deliberate misconstruals, or most brazen attempts to make the other guy seem alien, like "not one of us" — would become less relatively profitable if there were more candidates; indeed, on at least a rough basis, I imagine that having three opponents would make investing resources extolling your own virtues about three times as relatively valuable, compared to making the other candidate look bad, as only having one.

Tuesday, November 6, 2012

graphical representation of the presidential election

I hope that there is displayed below a graphic displaying states that would be anywhere near in play that have been called in tonight's presidential election. It's possible that permissions are wrong and that I'm seeing it but nobody else is. Let me know in the comments if this is even less intelligible than I expect. Note that the spirit is the same as in the earlier post; a simple count of electoral votes at any point in the middle of the evening is indicative more of which states' polls closed early than of an actual clear lead by one candidate or the other. In this display, if you start seeing red incursions in the blue territory or vice versa, that's your signal that one candidate or the other has done something clearly demonstrative of a likely electoral college win.

Monday, November 5, 2012

keeping score with the electoral college

Here's how I would watch the results come in if I were to actually do so:
  • If Obama wins Florida, I don't see him losing; similarly, if Romney wins Pennsylvania, you can go to bed early. (This isn't to say that it's not possible that Romney would win Minnesota or Obama would win Missouri, just that a lot of what we don't know about one state is correlated with what we don't know about others. If Obama wins Florida, he'll win Minnesota.) Both states close their polls at 8:00 Eastern Time, and in the case of a modest landslide (of the order Obama won 4 years ago) they would likely be the first clear indications of such.
  • These are the swing states to watch, with the number of electoral votes for each and the poll closing time, converted to Eastern Time:
    Virginia137:00If it is going to remain in any suspense well into the night, Obama has 236 electoral votes not listed at the left, and Romney has 235. The fact that Romney will be up 64-3 at 7:45 or so will be meaningless; I'd start from 236-235 rather than 0-0, adding points for swing states, and shifting points for upsets. If Romney does win Pennsylvania, add 20 to his total and deduct 20 from Obama's. If the overall race is close, I don't expect any deducting; you'll just, for example, add 13 to whomever wins Virginia. If there's no deducting, then whomever hits 270 wins. If Romney gets 35 from these states, or Obama gets 34, before any upsets are announced, I think upsets are pretty unlikely.
    Maine 2nd district18:00
    New Hampshire48:00
  • For example, if it's getting close to 8:00 and Virginia is called for Romney, your tally is now 248-236 in his favor; if Ohio is then announced for Obama, the total is 254-248 in his favor; if Florida is then called for Obama, adjust it to 283-219, and expect that the binary result is in little remaining doubt.