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Govt- Politics    H3'ed 2/21/16

How Many Candidates Can You Deal With?

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How Many Candidates Can You Deal With?


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In recent history, through their control of the debates, the networks have pretty much maintained control of the nomination process for the office of President. The lead-up to the primary elections this year have been a bit unusual in that the television networks seem to have lost their accustomed mastery of the process as the voters fail to be as obedient to guidance from pundits as they have been in the past. Maybe this is a temporary aberration and the networks will regain control of the process but perhaps, with the rise of the internet, this small step toward democracy is a permanent change.

But it is still hard to make a case that the way we winnow down the candidates to allow the voters to choose, in effect, between only two in the general election is a thoughtful process. It may work, often it has seemed to be an insult to our ideals of democracy. But so long as we depend on our traditional system of plurality voting, a system that cannot dependably deliver a reasonable decision when faced with more than two candidates, there is a quite rational justification for reducing the field to just two when the general election rolls around.

But why must we stick to our plurality system of voting? Couldn't we find a better way to vote that actually could manage a sane decision with three or more serious candidates? The answer certainly is yes and in this series of articles quite a number of alternatives have been described. The longer tradition in the search for alternatives has been to find a way to vote that did not suffer from the vote-splitting problem (often called the spoiler effect). Instant runoff voting (IRV) is the best-know of these approaches but Approval Voting and its close cousin, Range Voting also serve to eliminate that problem.

But another, and probably more serious, problem with plurality voting is that it puts an extremely high emphasis on a candidate's name recognition. That makes it very difficult for a someone not already quite famous to succeed. IRV, Approval Voting and Range Voting all share that problem with plurality voting. But in this series we have described a notion of balance that a voting system might have and we have shown that the barrier to relatively unknown candidates is, though not eliminated, significantly lowered when a voting system is balanced. In various articles we have described balanced variants for each of plurality voting, IRV, Approval Voting and Range Voting.

But with the exception of plurality voting and its balanced cousins, all of these systems of voting ask the voter to express how they feel about all of the candidates for office. How reasonable a request is that? The objective of these alternative systems is to open the process up to more political parties so what if a voter is faced with thirty-five or perhaps even more than a hundred candidates in an election. This brings us to the question for this poll.

In an election with a very large number of candidates, what is the maximum number of them on whom you believe you could manage to render rational judgment when it comes to voting?

2 to 6 candidates
7 to 15 candidates
16 to 25 candidates
26 or more candidates

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Attended college thanks to the generous state support of education in 1960's America. Earned a Ph.D. in mathematics at the University of Illinois followed by post doctoral research positions at the Institute for Advanced Study in Princeton. (more...)

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