Stop Top-Two in Florida

I’ve been trying to find time to write about the election, but that seems more impossible by the day. On the other hand, I already have friends and family who are voting in Florida and the top-two primary system is on the ballot there. This one is time-sensitive.

Top-two simply isn’t a good idea. Our country desperately needs voting reform, but top-two isn’t voting reform, it’s doubling down on all the inherent problems of the plurality vote and making them a bit worse. Do you want real voting reform? Look for a group promoting instant run-off voting like they do in Maine, even better IMO, approval voting. The links take you to organizations doing just that.

But first, do no harm. Here’s an opinion piece I wrote ten(!) years ago about the so-called “Jungle Primary.” It ran in the Star-Gazette, our local Elmira paper and the Binghamton paper and possibly one or two others across the state.

Super Tuesday, Live.

It’s like a regular Tuesday except from Krypton. Well, not really. Actually, it’s like a regular Tuesday except with a genuinely life-threatening number of fries.

I published these predictions a few minutes ago on Facebook and it looks fairly even. There’s not a whole lot of analysis there on my part; I mostly just took the 538.com favorite. Thus, this is as much of a benchmark as anything else. We can use this to look for surprises.

The exception is Texas. Sanders had a pretty big lead there before South Carolina, but Biden seems to be getting a boost of his big win last Saturday. He was gaining fast; that one could really go either way.

What’s the status quo? Biden has Momentum, which changes things dramatically. Klobuchar, Buttigieg, and Steyer have dropped out of the race in the last few days which is good news for Biden.

Warren is still in. It’s perplexing that she hasn’t caught on more than she did. I still think that she would have been the Democrats best bet against Trump. She is the Quintessential anti-Trump and that contrast would have been her best argument. Sadly, if the predictions above are correct, this might be her campaign’s last gasp.

7:08 pm. I’ll be switching over to coverage soon.

7:30 pm. It’s a big win for Biden in VA. That sounds good for him. His bounce must be pretty big. NC is called for Biden at the moment the polls closed. Sanders wins in Vermont. No surprise there.

Tom Perez was just talking about the Jones election as a sign of Democratic Party strength, That’s a real misread of the situation.

And Bloomberg wins American Samoa. Did not see that coming. Is the tide turning? No.

7:55 pm. Five Poll closings coming up at 8. Alabama, Maine, Massachusetts, Oklahoma, Tennessee. That’s probably 3 for Biden and 2 for Sanders.

8:00 pm. Alabama is called for Biden. Oklahoma, Maine, Massachusetts are all to early to call. All the early calls for Biden should help him. Arkansas will go his way as well.

8:10 pm. Biden is competitive in Massachusetts. That’s a sign that he could run the table. And yeah, that’s ignoring a lot of voting theory vote-splitting arguments.

8:40 pm. No call in Arkansas yet (did I miss it?). Texas is closing soon. There’s a huge line of college students in Austin still waiting to vote. I hope they’re all able to stick it out.

8:57 pm. Watching how everything else is going tonight, I think Texas is going to go to Biden.

9:00 pm. “To early to call” is not a call. “To close to call” is not a call.

9:21 pm. AL SC NC TN OK. Biden is running up a big delegate lead, mostly in states that Democrats won’t win in November.

9:40 pm. NBC’s finally caught up and called Colorado for Sanders.

9:45 pm. James Clybern is on MSNBC right now. Damn, that guy is good. He might be the MVP of the entire 2020 election for better or for worse.

9:47 pm. If Biden’s “officially leading” in Minnesota, that’s devastating for Sanders if it holds up.

10:14 pm. It looks like Biden wins Massachusetts. This is officially a rout.

10:19 pm. And now Minnesota. Crap.

11:40 pm. California is called for Sanders. Too little too late.

12:13 am. So much for Super Tuesday; it’s now Fatigued Wednesday. There’s got to be a better name for it than that. It looks at this point that Biden will win both Texas and Maine. I thought I saw an official call on Texas, but I can’t verify that. What’s the headline for the evening? Biden Wins Big. Biden won everywhere he was supposed to and a lot of places that Bernie was supposed to.

What’s the Matter with Iowa

This was initially published yesterday as part of Prelude to Iowa. It looks like this scenario is playing out in real time so it deserves to be out on its own.

Beware of Paradoxical Results

You might think that first-past-the-post or the plurality vote is the worst voting system ever. You’d be wrong. In 2017, my student, Brandon Payne studied the Iowa Caucuses. He determined that the caucuses violate all sorts of mathematical “fairness criteria.” One example is the Condorcet criterion which states that if one candidate beats every other candidate in head-to-head match-ups, that candidate should be the overall winner. Such a candidate might not win the Iowa Caucuses.

Turns out, the viability constraint can also lead to seemingly contradictory results, which I’ll call the “viability paradox.” As a quick example, suppose that in some state, the voters have the following preferences.

Candidate A35%
Candidate B30%
Candidate C12%
Candidate D12%
Candidate E11%

In a primary election, this would be a clear victory for candidate A.

Now let’s divide our state into five precincts of 100 voters each and let’s assign each precinct 10 delegates. We’ll conduct a caucus to allocate the delegates.

Suppose that the voters are arranged within the caucuses according to the graphic below.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image.png

Notice that there are non-viable candidate preference groups in each precinct. These voters will have to join a viable group in order to participate. They may reorganize themselves as shown below.

This image has an empty alt attribute; its file name is image-1.png

And so, in this case, Candidate B actually wins pretty decisively, probably 23 delegates to 15 delegates for A. Candidates C, D and E should get 4 delegates each.

There might be good reasons to decide that either candidate A or B is the rightful winner here, but one point is that there is a significant difference. Systems like this can lead to chaotic or paradoxical results. One important take away is that, right or wrong, geography can have a lot of influence on who the victor will be. Even if a candidate seems to be ahead in the polls, they can lose without any shenanigans going on, simply because how their voters are distributed across the state. Surprising results aren’t necessarily nefarious or even necessarily surprising.

You might even want to argue that results like this are a good thing because a lot of voters got to express their second choices. Here’s why you’d be wrong. It’s not systematic. In Instant Run-Off voting, for example, everybody’s second choice is counted unless their first choice is. In the caucus exactly whose second choices are counted is determined by an accident of geography. In deciding a winner between candidates A and B above, should the second choices of voters who picked candidate C in precinct 1 be less important than those in precinct 3? They shouldn’t be but in the current system they are. This is worse than a plurality vote because this could be taking us even farther away from a good collective decision.

In fact, it’s a bit worse than that. Apparently, the state weighs the delegate counts in rural counties a bit more heavily than their urban counties. If the Democrats who think we should dump the Electoral College are to have any intellectual consistency, they should reject these results and work to reform this process.

References

  • Payne, B., The Iowa Democratic Caucuses: A Mathematical Analysis of the “Vote,” Unpublished Manuscript.

Adventures in Punditry

I like trying things I haven’t done before. A few years ago I got my one and only speeding ticket and I attended the court date. I’d never been to court before and it was interesting.

About two weeks ago, Steve Coleman, who was a Vice-President at Elmira College, invited me to be a guest on his local public affairs program. Steve’s been doing this sort of thing for years as a self-styled “Ph. D. of Politics.” Coleman and Company is now a weekly half-hour webcast that appears on Sunday evenings on MyTwinTiers.com, the website for the local WETM-18 news. Steve puts together an interesting show and it’s worth checking out.

And this isn’t just something new, this is something I’ve always wanted to try. I’m a politics junkie and I’ve been watching things like the McLaughlin Group or Face the Nation or The Rachel Maddow Show for years. I’ve done my share of groaning at the teevee and doing arm chair punditry inside my own brain (“Eleanor! Pat’s just trying to wind you up! Don’t take the bait!!”). I always thought it looked like fun.

If you’re at all curious, the process was straightforward. Steve e-mailed his plan for the show to us on Sunday with an update on Tuesday so we’d know what to expect: presidential politics, impeachment, Iran and then our own chance to sound off on something.

Over-Preparation

I probably over prepared. Then Joanne and I showed up at the studio about a half hour before we were set to tape on Thursday. We got to meet Denis Kingsley, the other guest, who is a real gentleman. Seeing the inside of the studio reminded me of my trip to the Johnson Space Center in Houston. The tour took us through Mission Control and standing in these spaces is utterly unlike what you’d expect.

We took our places and started the taping; taped, incidentally, “before a live studio audience” thanks to Joanne.

I probably should have cut Eleanor some slack. A lot of the stuff I’d thought about beforehand got left on the table because it was nowhere in my brain to be found when I needed it. I think my biggest missed opportunity was after Denis asserted that Elizabeth Warren would be unelectable if she got the nomination. I should have pointed out that the person the democrats really wanted to run against in 1980 was Ronald Reagan; they thought he’d be easy to beat. And no one seemed to honestly believe that Donald Trump could get the Republican nomination much less win the presidency in 2016. Some folks remained in denial until the electoral college actually voted. That, too, is why we have elections.

But this was a lovely experience. It was great fun and I really have to thank Steve for the opportunity. Unlike traffic court, I’d happily do this again.

So now I’m a bona fide “political analyst and commentator.” Coleman and Company featuring yours truly in the role of “company” will be available Sunday the 22nd between 4:30 and 5:00 pm here.

The 2020 Democratic Debate Round 3

This isn’t a live reaction to the third debate. Life happened. But I do want to look at the debate and have my own reactions before I really dive into the coverage. Thanks to the magic of TiVo, I can watch this debate today, or any day. Now where’s that damn remote? Here we go!

This debate was sponsored by ABC News and the moderators are George Stephanopoulos, Linsey Davis, David Muir and Jorge Ramos.

Who was in round 3? The contestants… er… candidates on the stage are:

  • Former Vice-President Joe Biden
  • Massachusetts Senator Elizabeth Warren
  • Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders
  • California Senator Kamala Harris
  • South Bend Mayor Pete Buttigeig
  • Entrepreneur Andrew Yang
  • Former Representative Beto O’Rourke
  • New Jersey Senator Cory Booker
  • Former Cabinet Secretary Julián Castro, and
  • Minnesota Senator Amy Klobuchar.

That should be close to ABC’s (or the DNC’s?) perceived ranking of the candidates with the more prominent candidates taking center stage. We know that the “big ticket” tonight is Warren vs. Biden. Biden is the ostensible front runner while Warren seems to be the challenger who is gaining ground the quickest. Those two haven’t been on a stage together yet and folks are curious how the encounter will play out.

Booker came out strong and Yang is going to give $1000/month to 12 families for 12 months. Buttigeig seemed taken aback by that before regaining his footing. I can’t put my finger on why, but I’m not impressed by Harris. Bernie sounds like Jimmy Stewart in Mr. Smith Goes to Washington, at the end of the famous filibuster. He must be working hard; he’s lost his voice. Warren’s opening was excellent and got a good response from the audience. Biden is in good form, but the “we refuse to postpone” riff was a little flat.

Early on, Warren is better on the will-you-raise-taxes question this time. The only relevant question is: taxes + premiums, will the total be more? Will the average family be paying less? Biden is doing well so far, but I don’t know if he will be able to stand up to the tag team of Sanders and Warren. Klobuchar gets the first word aside from the Biden/Sanders/Warren center stage. I don’t feel like she’d playing at the same level. Warren is making the argument that people will keep their current doctors in a more efficient system.

Buttigeig weighs in. “I trust the American People to choose what’s best for them.” He’s got a progressive idea expressed in terms that should ring true for conservatives. He does that alot and it’s pretty good.

And here’s the sort of thing that makes me uncomfortable about Harris. A Medicare-For-All Plan that’s part public and part private fundamentally isn’t Medicare-For-All. She either doesn’t understand that or she wants to have her cake and eat it too.

Biden’s definitely doing better this time around, but he looks like a muppet nodding along with O’Rourke.

Castro’s going after Biden pretty hard. It seems desperate and the crowd doesn’t like it. And Buttigeig is right; Castro’s coming across like a jackass and its going to turn people off.

Yang: “I am asian, so I know a lot of doctors.” Hilarious.

Booker’s pretty good making the “don’t let the best be the enemy of the good” argument and later on racism. He’d clearly thought that through. Buttigeig is strong there as well; I want to know more about his Douglas Plan. Castro, Harris, O’Rourke all pretty good here.

But unlike in his Senate run, Beto always seems to be trying too hard.

This debate seems pretty friendly; there are some squabbles and there are folks promoting themselves, but it’s cordial.

I would have expected these guys to be reflexively anti-tariff but it’s more nuanced than that. Buttigeig is again performing much better than you’d expect based on his office.

Wait! Did Harris just make a dick joke? Backing up… well, no but “that guy in the Wizard of Oz” who turned out to be “a really small dude” was the actual Wizard of Oz. If you’re going to evoke the movie, watch the damn thing. Also, turning the moment into an implied short joke aimed at the moderator is not smart. Also also, that’s kind of a Trump move and he’s much better at that than she is.

OTOH, if you’re going to sneak in a dick joke, trade policy might be the safest spot.

Everybody sounded pretty good on Trade, National Security, Education. Nothing seemed particularly surprising.

Biden got a question on reparations. It sounded pretty tone deaf to me. Using social workers “to confront the problems that come from home.” Might have been meant innocently, but doesn’t come across that way in context. It reminds me of when he called Barack Obama an “African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy .”

Protesters. What are they yelling about? I want to know!

Boy, hearing Biden talk about losing family members was both gut wrenching and compelling.

Analysis:

This was, for the most part another respectful cordial debate. It was palpable from the audience and the other candidates that wanted it that way when Castro tried to go after Biden. That did not go the way Castro thought it would.

So, no real fireworks and I think, again, this debate is unlikely to shake things up much. The “top 5” in the polling, Biden, Warren, Sanders, Harris and Buttigeig, will probably remain the top five. If anyone is likely to drop in the polls based on this debate, I think it would be Harris; this might have been her weakest performance so far. Of the remaining five candidates on the stage, I think Booker is the most likely to break out of the pack.

I might have more to add after I absorb some of the coverage.

Picture Credits:

  • Featured Image: TampaBay.com
  • Biden and Warren: LA Times