Kenneth Arrow is a well known economist, logician, statistician, and political theorist. While his scholarly contributions are numerous, his best known was his first, published as a part of his dissertation. This is the above titled “paradox of voting,” which is also referred to has his “impossibility theorem.” This latter is evidently the technically correct title. However, I learned about it as the paradox of voting, and that’s the title I’ll stick with here. For one thing, calling it his “paradox of voting” makes it more clear at the outset what the theorem is about, and suggests what is really at stake. Details of the impossibility theorem are readily found for no more effort than looking, so my intention here is to provide a non-technical gloss of the topic. Still, enough of what I say here is about basic logic (and not merely political screed) that I am satisfied that this topic falls within my basic parameters for this blog.
The stakes here could scarcely be any higher, as they effect the very foundation of our nominally democratic system. Because of how our voting and electoral system is set up, we have a “winner take all” format that can (and often enough, does) allow a person to be elected even thought that person did not receive a majority of the votes. Once you have more than two candidates (or more than two parties) involved in any particular election, it is no longer possible to representatively distribute preferences in the election. This is the somewhat fancy way of saying things. The simpler way of saying it is that the more widely detested candidate can win.
Here is the basic idea. We have two candidates, “A” and “B.” In a standard election cycle, “A” garners 53% of the vote, while “B” gets 47% of the vote; easy-peasy, candidate A wins. But suppose we have a non-standard election cycle with a third candidate “J” (“Joker”). J MUST steal votes from A &/or B, but it is unimaginably improbable that those votes will come evenly from A and B. So, as a matter of practical “necessity,” J will harm one of the candidates more than the other. Suppose J garners 7.5% of the vote, taking 7% from A and 0.5% from B. This means A now has 46%, J has 7.5%, and B has 46.5%
B just won the election, even though B was less popular than A, when the two are taken by themselves.
We have seen this happen at least once, and arguably twice, in the last 25 years. George Bush (senior, not Shrub) was a sitting president, and should have been a shoe-in for re-election. His opposition was the Governor from Arkansas, Bill Clinton. But then something unexpected happened: Ross Perot tossed his hat in the ring as an “independent.” I am personally at a total loss as to why Perot thought this was a good idea, but I’ve made no effort to go back and study the details of that time, since living through it once was entirely enough for me. But in any event, Ross Perot bled voters from Bush, enough so that, even though Clinton lacked a majority, he still had the biggest collection of electoral votes, and thus won the election.
The second time, when this might have happened, is with the Nader debacle in the Gore/Bush (Shrub) election cycle. Nader ideologues deny any culpability for this, of course, because such people are not the sorts to ever take responsibility for their choices or their actions. The primary form of denial by Nader ideologues is that Nader stole more votes from Shrub than he did from Gore, a claim so singularly devoid of even the abstract possibility of credibility that only persons incapable of accepting personal responsibility for their own actions would ever be gullible enough to swallow it; which is to say, Nader ideologues. It is also notable that, in their extravagant denials, Nader fans never mentions New Hampshire. Instead, they always focus on Florida, and they shift their focus to surveys taken long after the fact, rather than the actual exit polls, to manufacture their unbelievable claims. But, as I’ve said elsewhere (and I’ll be self-citing in a moment), perhaps the most damning fact about Nader ideologues is not whether or not they actually handed the election to Shrub, but rather the irrefutable fact that they were clearly willing to do so, and to do so in the name of a shallow, self-serving, bald-faced liar (“there’s no difference between Bush and Gore.”)
Fortunately, according to current surveys (I’ve no links immediately to hand) some 90% of Bernie Sanders’ supporters will vote for Clinton in the November election. The numbers for whom ideology always trumps logic, principles, evidence, and facts, are quite small, feckless, and incapable of either shame or cognitive honesty, so no amount of reasoned discussion will penetrate their aegis of ideological purity. Their behavior is best compared to Altemeyer‘s “Right Wing Authoritarians,” a term Altemeyer himself notes is not strictly limited to those on the conservative end of the spectrum.
Still, it is worth reminding ourselves how fascism came to power in post-WWI Europe. In both Italy and Germany, the fascists (the Fasci in Italy and the Nazis in Germany) were minority parties. But liberal to socialist parties were busy eating their own babies (their Jokers attacked inwards) while Conservatives saw an opportunity to permanently exclude the political left by an alliance of convenience with the various fascists.
That worked out well …
My discussion of fascism is, as always, based upon Robert O. Paxton‘s work. Given that he is the leading expert on the subject in the world, I feel largely justified in doing so. More detailed discussions (by me) of how the divisions in and among those on the political left enabled the rise of fascism can be found HERE, HERE, and HERE.
Jill Stein, the Green Party candidate, has absolute no chance of being elected. The Green Party itself is to be publicly condemned for even presenting a candidate on the national stage when they’ve not done a particle of the work on the local level to make themselves viable candidates for city council, or even dog catcher. What they have done is viciously manufacture a situation in which they can prove, once again, the iron-clad, mathematical certainty of Arrow’s Paradox. It is a forgone conclusion that, if they succeed in this project, there is not a one of them who will own responsibility for their actions.