Article VIII. Elections Foster Political Games

“Like terrorists co-opting a government list of soft targets, today’s political consultants are exploiting the mathematical vulnerabilities of voting itself.” — William Poundstone

With election contests facilitating the division of the citizenry into opposing partisan groups (factions), and yielding only a handful of privileged winners (the oligarchs), it’s not too difficult to imagine why  Americans are so disgusted with politics American-style.  Yet, if this weren’t bad enough, it gets even worse. Election contests are fertile grounds for political operatives to exploit with games that undermine the efficacy of election results.

Vote-splitting is a popular method used to game election contests.  Vote splitting has the effect of producing victory for the least appealing of the major party candidates (Democrat or Republican) competing in any election contest.  It does this by introducing a non-major party candidate (a.k.a. 3rd party) who is closely aligned on many issues with the major party candidate whose defeat is sought.

To understand how vote splitting works just recall Governor George Wallace in 1968.  With the nation in the throes of active and overwhelming public opposition to the war in Vietnam, the candidacy of George Wallace, a southern Democrat, syphoned sufficient votes from Democratic party nominee Hubert Humphrey, to propel certified war hawk Richard Nixon into the White House with just over 43% of the popular vote!  Humphrey received just under 43%, and Wallace received just under 14%.

Or recall Republican businessman Ross Perot in 1992, when he returned the favor to the Democrats by running an independent campaign against incumbent Republican President George H. W. Bush — syphoning enough votes to enable Bill Clinton to clobber Bush with barely 43% of the popular vote (Bush received 37% and Perot 19%).

While it is likely that few 3rd party candidates enter election contests with the explicit intention to subvert the will of the public, it is almost always the case that much of the financial support for 3rd party candidates comes from the major party whose candidate is most likely to benefit from a well-funded 3rd party candidate.  A classic example was outspoken progressive activist and consumer advocate Ralph Nader in 2000, when he mounted a campaign that was heavily funded by conservatives in key battle ground states — thus yielding the stalemate in Florida between Al Gore and George W. Bush that gave conservatives on the U.S. Supreme court the opportunity to appoint Bush-the-Lesser president.

Another popular method to game congressional election contests is gerrymandering — the means by which states draw congressional district boundaries to enhance the likelihood of re-electing incumbents of both major parties.  Gerrymandering entails an incumbent from party A cutting a deal to trade a piece of his/her district rich in voters tending to favor party B with a party B incumbent from a neighboring district for a piece of party B incumbent’s district that is rich in voters tending to favor party A.  In this way incumbents are able to choose their electors, rather than the other way around — thereby avoiding being accountable for their actions to a discerning public.  This insidious evil is practiced so effectively that 90-95% of incumbent congressmen who choose to run for re-election routinely succeed.  That’s to say, that even in times when congress is so out of favor as now, on average fewer than 40 of the 435 incumbent representatives who wish to continue to trade on the privilege afforded by their office, are likely to be shown the revolving door by their constituents.

And finally, at least for this post, another popular and well practiced method to game election contests is the incessant pollution of public air waves with nonsensical political ads.  This often has the effect of so confounding public debate with such convoluted nonsense, that the public becomes confused and disheartened.  The result:  without the ability to discern where a candidate stands on key issues the citizenry either stays with the devil that they know, or takes a flier on a complete unknown.

For further discussion of these and many more means that political operatives use to undermine the credibility of our election contests for their own benefit, have a look at William Poundstone’s Gaming the Vote (2008).

Can it get any worse?  Stay tuned.

— iGregor


[Note:  Comments are invited at the conclusion of Article X.]

Published in: on October 27, 2010 at 09:00  Comments Off on Article VIII. Elections Foster Political Games