Monday, November 26, 2007


Democracy: Elections and Referenda. At my workshop today at the business school, the issue came up of whether people's votes express their preferences or whether they are too easily misled. Can we decide the intensity of feeling over abortion by seeing which candidate wins an election? A referendum would not work as well, since it is a vote on a single issue, so there is no opportunity for tradeoff. Everyone who voted would vote their preference, intense or mild, and the only opportunities for intense preferences to count for more would be in turnout and in spending on advertising to convince those with mild preferences. Interestingly enough, in such a case the presence of many almost indifferent voters could be very helpful in making the vote display intensity too. Someone who is almost indifferent is up for grabs, and so the intensity of other voters can obtain a double vote where it could not if the voter had somewhat stronger views. The danger from a tyranny of the majority is greatest not when there is a large number of voters with weak views, but where there are few such people, but many whose views are just strong to induce them to vote on their own initiative and to be immune to persuasion by the efforts of those with intense feelings.

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