Strategic voting is (usually) socially beneficial

Fewer wasted votes

  1. One candidate is bad, another is okay, and a third is fairly good.
  2. One candidate is bad, another is okay, and a third is outstanding.

When strategic voting is socially harmful

  • 55% of voters assign 10 utility to Right winning, 8 utility to Center, and 0 utility to Left.
  • 25% of voters assign 10 utility to Center winning and 0 utility to Right and Left.
  • 20% of voters assign 10 utility to Left, 8 to Center, and 0 to Right.

Comparing harms and benefits

  • Examining a single election or a small hand-crafted set of elections won’t suffice. Results must be averaged across a large set of realistic elections, and this requires computer simulations.
  • Strategy must be assessed in a manner that quantifies its effects on society. Merely determining whether a certain pattern will yield a different winner or whether some subset of voters could change the outcome by voting strategically isn’t enough.
  • Strategy cannot be assessed in a purely one-sided manner; the effect of strategic voting across the electorate must be analyzed.
  • You have to ensure that the “strategic” voters are actually voting in a manner that does a good job of advancing their interests in the circumstances under consideration.
  • The model must take into account realistic levels of uncertainty; it can’t be based on voters having perfect information.
  • We should expect relatively little harm stemming directly from applications of one-sided strategy; while one faction may have more strategic voters in it than another party, thought experiments in which everyone in one faction behaves strategically but other factions do not are unrealistic.
  • Instances in which strategic voting yields a bad outcome in the eyes of most of the strategic voters must be infrequent; if your “strategic” voting repeatedly yields a bad outcome, it is not strategically optimal to keep voting like that. It can be strategically optimal to risk disaster, but not to accept disaster every time.
  • The social benefits of strategic voting need not be similarly limited. The idea of strategic voters always shooting themselves in the foot is self-contradictory, but the idea of non-strategic voters always getting bad outcomes due to vote splitting is entirely consistent.

How voting methods compare

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I am an advocate of better voting methods which eliminate the spoiler effect, make third parties viable, and yield proportional representation.

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Marcus Ogren

Marcus Ogren

I am an advocate of better voting methods which eliminate the spoiler effect, make third parties viable, and yield proportional representation.

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