"Making Votes Count" Abstract

Early in the 1984 presidential primary season in the United States, it was clear that the sitting President, Ronald Reagan, would easily win the Republican nomination and that former Vice President Walter F. Mondale was the front-runner for the Democratic nod. Democratic voters who knew that they disliked Mondale faced a coordination problem: if all of them could agree on a single alternative to Mondale, from among the half-dozen or so candidates languishing in single digits in the opinion polls, they could conceivably deny Mondale the nomination; but if they failed to agree on a single alternative, then Mondale would almost surely win. Although anti-Mondale Democrats shared a dislike of Mondale, they differed substantially in their preferred alternative. Thus, even putting aside the complexities of the American primary process, it was by no means clear ex ante that anti-Mondale Democrats could coordinate on an alternative. In the event, although Gary Hart emerged as the focal alternative to Mondale and enjoyed a large and rapid run-up in the polls, his candidacy was derailed by scandal and Mondale secured the nomination.

Early in the 1990 presidential campaign in Peru, it was clear that Nobel Prize-winning novelist Mario Vargas Llosa was the front-runner. Peruvian voters who knew that they disliked Vargas Llosa faced a coordination problem: if all of them could agree on a single alternative to Vargas Llosa from among the half-dozen or so candidates trailing in the polls, they could conceivably deny Vargas Llosa the presidency; but if they failed to agree on a single alternative, then Vargas Llosa would almost surely win. Although anti-Vargas Llosa voters shared a dislike of Vargas Llosa, they differed substantially in their preferred alternative. Thus, it was by no means clear ex ante that anti-Vargas Llosa Peruvians could coordinate on an alternative. In the event, Alberto Fujimori rocketed from obscurity late in the campaign to become the focal anti-Vargas Llosa candidate, securing a strong second-place finish in the first round of voting, then defeating Vargas Llosa in the runoff (Schmidt N.d.).

These two examples illustrate several general features of electoral coordination: the mixture of common and opposed interests; the possibility of success or failure; and the rapidity with which vote intentions change when coordination takes off. The examples’ focus on strategic voting in presidential elections is too limited, however. Modern representative democracy presents at its core a series of coordination problems that arise as natural consequences of electoral competition for governmental offices. A group with enough votes to elect some number of candidates in a given (legislative or executive) race will in fact elect that number only if it can make its votes count by concentrating them appropriately. One way to avoid spreading votes too thinly is to limit the number of candidates. But which potential candidates, representing what shades of opinion, will withdraw in favor of which others? If attempts to limit the number of candidates fail, another chance to make votes count arises on polling day, when voters can concentrate their votes on a subset of the available candidates. But which candidates will bear the brunt of strategic voting and which will be its beneficiaries?

This is a book about strategic coordination broadly conceived, covering both legislative and executive elections, both strategic entry and strategic voting. It investigates the consequences of strategic coordination and those structural features that determine the nature of the coordination problems that political actors face in differing polities.

Last modified Mon, 15 Oct, 2012 at 13:29