The Surprising Role Independent Voters Can Play in Changing the Course of American Politics

Independent voters have no say in selecting candidates.  It doesn’t have to be this way!

 In my previous post,” What Really Explains Polarized Elections?” we discussed other voting methods both in practice and in theory including one I called the “bad apple sort.”  You can think of this a going through the apple basket throwing out the worst apple until only the prize apple remains.   

Now if you’re an independent voter, you may feel the two major parties already sorted through their respective baskets, handed you the worst from each basket and asked you to choose. 

 Make no mistake; the choice was yours even if it was a lousy choice because you have the numbers to swing the election.  More and more American voters fed up with the process and the polarization have abandoned the major parties to become independents (44% as of this January).  As a group Independents are now the bigger than either party yet have absolutely no say in the selection of candidates.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  We know what hasn’t worked.  Third parties fail and changing the system is a near impossible scenario.  I have a different proposal. 

If you can’t beat ‘em join ‘em.

As a practical matter the only way to have a voice in selecting candidates is to join a major party.  Nothing could be more obvious.  What is not so obvious is,

 You don’t have to like ‘em to join ‘em.

 In fact you may have a more powerful voice if you don’t like them.  Let me explain.  While independents hold a variety of political viewpoints, the two major parties have become so polarized it’s safe to say most independents fall somewhere in between, in other words moderates.  If just half of independents (that’s 22% of all registered voters) were to register with the two major parties then independents might make up 28% of the primary voters in each party.  A mere 5% is enough to affect the outcome of a primary election so adding this many moderate voters would undoubtedly result in the selection more moderate candidates from both parties.  This would not only be a great service to the county but to the parties themselves because as elected officials they would be more inclined to negotiate and pass legislation.  Politicians would begin to speak with optimism again making us all feel better about ourselves and our country.  As convincing as this argument may seem I doubt we can expect to get 50% of independents to register with major parties.  To assure a major impact with as little 10% participation by independents, we need an organized effort.   

What we need is a voting bloc (a party within a party).

 A “party within a party” is nothing new (think of the Tea Party), although in this case it is a coalition of voters rather than a coalition of politicians.  A unit voting bloc might be made up of between 5 to 15 friends.  Spontaneous organization is feasible only with small groups, while friendships create loyalties to follow the party line. 

“The sort” (the bad apple sort) uses a ranked ballot. 

Many voting systems use a ranked ballot where voters list the preferences in a specific order known as a voting profile.  With 4 candidates the voter can select any of (4x3x2x1) or 24 possible profiles.  More generally with N candidates there N! possible profiles.  So each voter has a specific profile and an algorithm combines all the profiles of the members to not only name a winner but to show a bloc profile.  Blocs with similar profiles may in turn join together to form “super blocs” (perhaps through many tiers} each with their own profile.   

The algorithm is key to this formula. 

Even though as independents, members are generally moderates they will have diverse interests and a competitive spirit.  When humans make decisions trust breaks down and cooperative voting will fail.  People are more likely to stick to a plan set in advance (the algorithm) even as it diverges from individual preferences.  With this in mind we can move to the final phase of the algorithm. 

Party primaries are determined by plurality vote, so at some point we have to consider strategic voting; that is not to wasting our “bloc vote” on a sure loser. The term “Bloc Vote” simply implies that a large percentage of primary voters will both trust and follow our party line.  Using the stats from the public polls and from our own “super bloc” we need to continually reassess the chances that our preferred candidate will win.  If deemed unlikely we should abandon our first choice and move our “bloc vote” to our second or even third choice until we have reasonable chance of avoiding a worse, perhaps even a nightmare candidate.  This can be a difficult and complicated call, too difficult to formulate in advance.  A preset rule could however be used to trigger a vote by the members to remove a unviable candidate from the our ballot with an “up or down” vote. 

There’s an app for that

Now if you think this sounds awkward and clumsy, you would be right.  But this is the 21st century and “there’s an app that.”  Well, there should be.  That’s why my associates and I are working to develop one.  Its purpose will be two-fold.  First it will handle all the voting required or desired by the members.  Unlike the usual final elections or periodic polls, users of the app will be able to update their preferences anytime they want.  As we know opinions can change with each new news story.  Results will be updated on the server daily. 

An in depth analysis shows almost all voting methods to be superior to the one we use. “plurality” voting.

When we decide to make a change, let’s take the time to assure we pick the right one.  Since it is a ranked ballot there is never an incentive for the individual to vote strategically (dishonest voting).  The “Bad apple sort” is one of the most cohesive voting methods, meaning most voters will find the results tolerable even when not their first choice.  Generally “the sort” will find the choice most satisfactory to the group and the least polarizing. 

One of my concerns is that voters having little experience with alternatives to plurality voting will not appreciate the differences.  The fact that plurality voting has become the sacred cow of democracy makes it that much harder.  Each voting method has its own dynamic affecting not only the outcome but also behavior and mood of voters and candidates, a benefit that spills over in the governing that follows.  The proper choice of voting method depends on the goal voters want to achieve.

But none of this is intuitive to the voter. 

So our second purpose is familiarize the public with some of these differences in situations where the stakes are lower.  Casual applications for the app might include questions like “Where to eat?” or “Which brand to buy?” 

 The app will compare results for

  1.  The Provocative Vote – plurality voting
  2. The Competitive Vote – ranked choice voting
  3. The Cooperative Vote – bad apple sort
  4. The Inclusive Vote – a down-weighted form of the “bad apple sort”
  5. The Predictive Vote – the Borda Score method used by sports casters to predict game winners

Hopefully we can introduce this in the next few months.