observations and opinion
The recent Conservative Party of Canada leadership process used a “ranked ballot”, permitting voters to rank the many candidates in order of preference. As each “round” was completed, the candidate with the least support was dropped and his/her votes were re-allocated across the remaining candidates, as indicated by the voter.
The result, as we have seen, is that someone with about 20% initial support got 31% more support, after many, many rounds of counting.
This process asks for “preferences” instead of “choices.” When you are asked for your preferences, you say what you really would like in an ideal (your ideal) universe – independent of the context, and with no knowledge of what other voters are doing or how the votes are stacking up.
So, for example the 30% of CPC voters who feel that social issues and abortion are most important, voted for their prefered candidates, in order. Ultimately their third or fourth favourite choice – Andrew Scheer – picked up their residual ranked ballot so-con support and rode that to victory. It is quite possible (likely) that every single so-con voter ranked Scheer above the very un-so con Maxime Bernier, on the preferential ballot.
But because the vote was already “baked” (decided at the outset by completing the ballots) the non so-con voters had no option to say, “hmmm… looks like Scheer might win, and he’s got baggage and ideas I’m not comfortable with. I had better drop Scheer and vote for a more viable candidate.” There was no way for that kind of deliberation to happen, with the “vote all at once by ranking your preferences on paper” method. They played Fantasy Baseball, and they got some second baseman from the Florida Marlins.
The irony of this is that by asking people what their “preferences” are, almost nobody gets their preference. They got the somewhat unpredictable result of how 140,000 other people marked down their preferences. As my little picture above illustrates, that really does not work to produce the best outcome.
The problem with preferences is, they often don’t really operate in the non-ideal, REAL world. In the real world, we make choices. Choices are often binary (as in the final ballot of a party leadership vote), forcing a voter to decide not amongst 13 preferences, but between 2 real options: A and B. Had the Conservatives had a selection process where people had to vote, after each round, they would have been faced very quickly with the realization that many candidates were “no-hopers” and likely abandoned them fast. There would have been fewer rounds and the matter would have come down to a binary choice fairly quickly – not necessarily between Bernier and Scheer. Bernier almost certainly would have made it to the end, but would Scheer?
A real choice, between two real options, forces a voter to weigh carefully not what they “prefer” but what they actually have to face: who will really be the best, most electable, most effective leader? Had they gone through this and chosen Scheer, he would today be an infinitely more credible new leader than he is. Whoever they had chosen in that manner, would have been more credible.
But now they’ve got Andrew Scheer, with a big question mark hanging over his head, and a lot of people feeling deep regret. Because in their hearts, not many people wanted the salmon – but they didn’t get to choose. Ironic, I suppose, given Mr. Scheer’s feelings about “choice” in general.