Wednesday, October 29, 2008

An Electoral Day at the Beach

Part I: The Set Up

Imagine the voting populace as people out sunning themselves (or swimming, watching whales, searching for buried treasure, building sand castles, etc.) at a beach. Along the beach there runs a long boardwalk. On the boardwalk are two ice cream vendors, one "Republican" and one "Democrat." Both have the same ice cream for sale (exercise of political power), but the selling point of the two vendors is convenience.

Initially, the vendors try to position themselves in the way that best suits the average beachgoer. The Republican cart is about one third of the way from the right end of the beach and the Democrate cart is about one third of the way from the left hand side of the beach.

This works fine for a while, as both of the vendors get about the same number of customers, and everyone is happy to have a convenient source of ice cream.

One day, however, the Republican vendor realized something: if he moves a little to the left, he'll be more convenient for some of the folks in the "middle third" of the beach, who would otherwise go to the "Democrat" cart. The "Democrat" vendor realizes the opposite thing (he needs to move to the right) after sales start to drop off. Eventually, we wind up with two carts essentially in the very middle of the boardwalk. In reality, there are some aspects of tradition, inertia, marketing, and so forth that keep each of the two vendors from being right in the very middle.

Part II: The Movement

There is no reason that Republican vendor is going to move much to the right. If he does, the Democrat will follow, and now more than half the beach will find the Democrat more convenient. The same principle holds true for the Democrat - if he moves to the left, the Republican will follow and more than half the beach will find the Republican more convenient.

Frankly, the people at the middle of the beach are pleased as can be about the arrangement. They have easy access to the ice cream, regardless of which vendor is slightly closer to them. On the other hand, those at the ends of the beach (the "extremists" we will call them) are pretty unhappy about the "compromised" position of the vendors. It's surely not convenient for the far left to go to the Republican cart, but it is only slightly more convenient for the far left to go to the Democrat cart.

Thus, both ends of the spectrum would like to see either a different system (a three-vendor system) or at least a change in the position of the vendors carts. The former approach turns out to be untenable in practice on this particular boardwalk. Although it sounds good on paper, for some reason it just doesn't work in practice.

With respect to the latter approach: there are two main ways the extremists can change things:

1) By attracting more beachgoers to their cause. This, in effect, rebalances the beach. It gives the two vendors a reason to move slightly in their direction.

2) By leaving the beach. If they leave the beach, the vendors will move slightly away from the direction that they were.

Choosing not to vote in a given election is leaving the beach. The result when "Conservatives" refuse to vote for the more "right" candidate is that the vendors both move to the left. Likewise the result when "Liberals" refuse to vote for the more "left" candidate is that the vendors both move to the right.

Just a little ice cream for thought.

-TurretinFan

7 comments:

natamllc said...

Ok, ok TF. I propose a compromise?

Lets say all the left handed beachgoers buy ice cream on the right side and all the right handed beachgoers buy ice cream on the left side and those who are not willing to work with either hand don't get any money to buy ice cream at all no matter how hot it is that day at the beach? :)

Kyle said...

On the other hand, what incentive has the Republican vendor to move back to the right if all of his clients are now willing to walk across the beach to him?

Turretinfan said...

Kyle,

There's a very good clear answer for that. If the Republican vendor goes to far to the left, the Democrat vendor will go to (or simply be at) his right, thereby maximizing his own votes.

Imagine a situation in which both vendors parked themselves at the left end of the boardwalk. Generally speaking, the guy to the right is going to have the bigger "share" of the beach. So the other vendor will have an incentive to go park a litter closer to the center to gain that huge right side majority. And then the guy who was originally to the right has incentive to do the same, until there is no more incentive to shift in order to gain a majority.

In short, any time either party strays from roughly the median of the voting population, the other party prevails. The only way to have "pull" as a voter is to vote for the candidate who is closer to your position. If you don't vote for the candidate whose position is closer to yours, he has no reason to accommodate your position, and consequently your non-vote doesn't pull him in your direction, with the net result that he ends up farther from you.

-TurretinFan

Kyle said...

The problem still seems to be that you've got clients walking across the beach to buy the Republican's ice cream. That's rather a disincentive for the Republican vendor to move back toward the right, when if he stays where he is he can still maintain more clients on the left. Especially since the beachgoers to the left naturally prefer the ice cream of the Democratic vendor, it would seem that if the Republican moves back to the right he loses many more clients than he'll gain so long as the clients to the right of him continue to walk to his stand.

Turretinfan said...

Kyle,

Keep in mind that at any given time, the two vendors are basically at the centrum of the voting public.

That's just the way that a two-party system of politics works.

So, the people walking all the way across the beach from the very right are an incentive to keep the Republican vendor from going further to the left to pick up more left votes.

If they disappear (whether by not voting at all, or voting outside the two-party system) they no longer provide incentive to him to stay where he is. The result: he moves to the left a bit more, since the centrum of voters has swung left.

There's an interesting aspect to consider. Suppose that the number of non-voting people were greater than half of the voting people. If that were the case, now there would be incentive to move, if moving would turn non-voting people into voting people.

-TurretinFan

Kyle said...

TurretinFan,

They're only an incentive to keep from moving further left if the Republican vendor notices fewer of them walking across the beach each time he moves to the left. As long as they continue to walk across the beach with each leftward step he takes, there is no incentive for him to go back, not especially when the central concentration of beachgoers has moved leftward as well.

And that, after all, is the real crux of the problem: the center has moved leftward. The Republican vendor is, pragmatically, responding to that shift. And as long as he can still convince the people out on the right to walk across the beach to him because the Democratic vendor is much further left (although in reality he is not THAT much further left), then the Republican vendor will have no incentive to move back.

Turretinfan said...

Kyle, you wrote: And that, after all, is the real crux of the problem: the center has moved leftward. The Republican vendor is, pragmatically, responding to that shift. And as long as he can still convince the people out on the right to walk across the beach to him because the Democratic vendor is much further left (although in reality he is not THAT much further left), then the Republican vendor will have no incentive to move back.

They both (both the Dem and Repub) have incentive to move back, if the centrum shifts back. On the other hand, if people from the right end just don't vote, that just means there are fewer total votes, and forces the Repub candidate to move a bit further left, if he wants to still get about 50% of the total votes.

If the right edge people stop voting, that just enhances the weight of everyone else's vote (same on the left edge, as well).

It's an interesting phenomenon.

Another way to look at it is this: if moving a particular amount will net the candidate votes compared to his competition, he'll move.

With that in mind, you can see that a movement where the candidate steals one vote from his opponent is worth exactly losing two voters who disenfranchise themselves. Likewise, if the candidate can pick up 2 voters from his opponents, he'll gladly let 3 of his own supporters stop voting, since he has a net gain of one vote, even though actually one fewer person votes for him.

It always suprises me to hear about "Conservatives" who are refusing to vote Republican, and then complaining that the Republican party is not pandering to them. If you want to be pandered to, you have to vote. If you don't vote, they will stop pandering to you and start pandering to people whose vote is up for pandering-to.

-TurretinFan