Sad story of 3, why moderates are losers in America

Here is a mental exercise for you: It’s something I came up with in a debate about the two party system and my line was that such a system is the logical outcome of our system of government and that to change the party system you must change the political structure.

We have a group of 5 people deciding the proper fee for land use. To enact a law they must get at least 3 to agree to the price.

Person a insists it must be $1
Person b insists $2
Person c says $3
Person d says $4
Person e says $5

Each is unaligned or affiliated with the others. How do you set the policy?

—— Think on it… and here is the answer. —–

Three parties need to reach compromise in order to hold sway. The parties at the extremes $1 and $5 know they cannot hold sway because only one other member is closer or as close to their desired price as any other. They must compromise their price and their closest preferred price is $2 and $4 respectively so they quickly align themselves with that person.

Now we have two nearly aligned camps, a $2 camp with two players and a $4 camp with two players. Leaving the lone $3 member. This is then resolved one of two ways. If $3 sort of prefers a high or low price he will naturally fall into a given camp, otherwise the two camps will woo mr $3 by adjusting their price a little up or down, just a tad more than the other team is willing, or they will trade him some unrelated future favor for this vote.

And then you have two coalitions, one holding a slight majority, and one holding a slight minority. And this example applies pretty well to nearly any political question you care to name and even more so to the aggregate of American politics. Because our system is one of majority vote rules, we have a system that evenly divides the electorate into two broad camps who’s consensus position is somewhere in the middle of the overall camp and decidedly not in the exact middle compromise position.

—– But wait there’s more —–

Suppose that Mr $3 saw the writing on the wall and is a “moderate” wanting above all to have the most moderate position possible. He knows how this game plays out and he quickly grabs $4 and $5 and makes a pitch to them. “Don’t let those extremists get their way, come join me in the bipartisan middle!”

There are two problems for captain moderation.

Firstly: Under the High low split 4 and 2 have a shot at getting exactly what they want, as where in the middle neither of them has any chance of that. This means unless mr Mod is willing to state openly he favors high or low, they have no reason to believe they can’t win out and so it makes sense that they hold out.

Secondly: 1 and 5 are crafty and know they both can loose to the middle so they play on 4 and 2’s general bias for high and low respectively. “You can either side with us High minded folk, or form a coalition with one of those low minded types, who would you rather be on board with? Follow your feelings 4, choose the High minded path!  We could lose if 3 is a dirty lowbie at heart, but we will remain true to our convictions!”

3 remains rational, reasonable and a big loser in the majority game.


4 Responses to “Sad story of 3, why moderates are losers in America

  • Brett
    14 years ago

    I think your assessment is accurate, and exactly why we need something like range voting ( or another voting mechanism that provides more information about the voters’ true desires.

  • Alas that is how it is in America today. However, notice how moderates with in a party that do “reach across the isle” are told they are traders and are quickly treaded as such by each party.

    Damn shame.

    I don’t know if a 3rd or 4th party would make a difference but it wouldn’t hurt.

    Or a firmer division of party lines. So there would be a clear winner and loser. At least then we would know who to hold accountable.

  • Ruphskunk
    14 years ago

    Perhaps over time, as the two party’s grow, the extremists become emboldened. “Look at all the people that think like me…wheee” and eventually become more extreme, taking the group in a direction that is unpalatable to the compromising moderate. The High party wants a $100 fee. The Low party wants to pay the land owner to own property. I think at some point the majority of either party decides this party no longer represents anything that resembles my beliefs. I think re-evaluation of party affiliation may happen if this occurs. But what can they do?

  • The problem isn’t just in the votes you collect for election but also in the people sitting in the senate and house. If they don’t form blocks they can’t pass legislation.

    There is some good logic to the Canadian and British systems where if they fail to be able to create legislation, its time for new officials. Lead or get off the pot as it were.

    I like the voting system Brett linked to, that would be good for shaking up the election process and changing the incentives in campaigning to something more meaningful.

    Strangely, one of the only ways to break that game I outline above is for people to stop acting rationally. If the folks in the winning positions (the center of the two polls) simply decide they are willing to not get their way and compromise so they both can partly win, then you can get a middle outcome. Its a bit like prisoners dilemma at that point, more utility for the group by giving up your personal shot at max utility. But would the voters they represent like that?