General effects of Final Five Voting

I am reproducing here a Tweet thread from last week:

I expect a two-serious-candidate equilibrium, with ballot exhaustion driven by the supply of hopeless candidates.

The basic logic comes from Cox (1997). Winning-minded elites will be thinking about the IRV round when deciding whom to back in the “final five” round.

That means we need to think about the strategic context of an IRV election, which will ‘contaminate’ the first round.

What does a winning-minded-elite do in an IRV election? They get together with other winning-minded-elites and coordinate on the person most likely to win.

It turns out that humans have routinized such coordination. The general term for this is “political party.”

It follows that ‘resources’ will not flow to hopeless candidates, leading us straight back to two-party equilibrium. Or, in lopsided districts, two-faction equilibrium.

I covered these issues in my Apr. 2021 review of The Politics Industry. That review included discussion of ‘nonpartisan IRV’ in a two-party-competitive city (Cleveland, 1913-19). TLDR: lots of ballot exhaustion, no independents elected.

People (like me) who oppose Final Five are aware of the dynamics above. Our worry, I think, is that all we’ll have done is weakened political parties even more.

You can’t get parties out of politics… but you can confuse voters in the short term

…and we don’t know what the world would have looked like if all these nonpartisan elections had never been adopted. Small changes have big consequences… even if parties adapt to nonpartisan elections.

The hegemony of an empty phrase

I was somewhat surprised to see The Harvard Crimson describe the Cambridge (MA) electoral system as follows:

Cambridge residents will head to the polls Nov. 2 to elect nine city councilors through a ranked choice voting system. Nineteen candidates, including eight incumbents and 11 challengers, are vying for one of the nine at-large seats.

Contrast that with longstanding use of “proportional representation,” such as in this piece from 1993.

Even the City of Cambridge describes the system as “proportional representation.” Consider:

Plan E is a City Manager form of government with nine Councillors and six School Committee members elected at large by Proportional Representation (PR) for a two year term. After members of the Council take the oath of office in January, they elect one of the nine to serve as Mayor.

This confirms my suspicion that reformers have developed a peculiar belief: that they cannot ‘win’ without sowing confusion about the meaning of ‘ranked choice voting.’ And that is why I wrote this article.

The one-vote system

Kevin Kosar of the American Enterprise Institute generously invited me to do a Q&A on the ‘one-vote system’ — and candidate-based forms of list PR in general. The Q&A builds on my recent op-ed in The Philadelphia Inquirer. You can read the Q&A here.

There’s a tendency in reform circles to ask too much of voters. I’m thinking here of elaborate schemes like RCV, STAR (Score Then Automatic Runoff), and approval. Ballot reforms like these basically ask voters to pick a better coalition. One-vote flips that around — give voters representation, then have their representatives form the coalition. It’s a lot more realistic.