Daily Kos
Political analysis and other daily rants on the state of the nation

Tuesday | October 07, 2003

CA Recall: A lesser-of-evils election?

by RonK, Seattle

Democracy is a funny business.

A robust majority of likely voters disapproves of Gray Davis. Still, Davis would probably win a head-to-head contest against Schwarzenegger, Bustamante, McClintock or anybody else on the ballot today.

How can this be?

Most voters have someone they prefer to Davis, but it's not always the same someone. Some McClintock voters would favor Davis over Bustamante. Many Schwarzenegger voters prefer Davis over McClintock. Some McClintock diehards -- fighting for the ideological soul of their party -- would rather stick with Davis (and dog him in 2004) than see Arnold crowned "Mr. Republican" in 2003.

Davis probably prevails in a Condorcet election, or an IRV election, or a "Cajun primary" election, or a traditional party-nominee general election. Davis probably wins any election except today's election. If he loses the Governorship today, he probably out-polls the winner. He probably also wins a "who's your second choice?" contest as well.

And here's where it gets interesting.

The California recall is -- among other things -- a turnout contest. Turnout contests largely defy prediction. With no applicable base of prior experience, this one's more unpredictable than most.

Uncertainty and negativity add impetus to strategic voting, that is, voting on the basis of how the voter thinks other voters intend to vote, and thus voting to promote the voter's most preferred achievable outcome (rather than simply voting for the voter's most preferred outcome).

Davis is the natural beneficiary of high negativity, high uncertainty, and the faction-splitting dynamics inherent in a multiple-choice (non-binary) second question.

A substantial faction favors Bustamante over Davis ... but faced with the possibility of electing Schwarzenegger, or even McClintock, these voters have additional marginal incentive to vote 'No' on Recall.

A substantial faction favors McClintock ... but they know their 'Yes' on Recall probably elects Bustamante or Schwarzenegger, either of which -- for quite different reasons -- threatens irreparable harm to perceived subfactional interests. Davis benefits, if only at the margin.

A substantial faction favors Schwarzenegger, but fractions of this faction fear electing Bustamante ... or even McClintock if the Gropenfuhrer effect exceeds expectations. Again Davis benefits, if only marginally.

If Davis survives, he owes it to uncertainty, negativity and the free-range voter's natural sense of strategery. Commit this to memory, even as you struggle against its surly bonds: "Voting is not about what I want. Voting is about what we're going to get."

Posted October 07, 2003 07:30 PM | Comments (48)


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