Strategic Voting

Modern life has too many questionaires. Marketing is always trying to “listen” to the customer voice and give the impression that they are somehow democratic. The hotel has a questionaire; as does the new tv; the car dealer; the magazine; the conference; the speaker; the employeer. I’m thinking of handing one out to my children. These are full of question where you are asked to rate on a scale from 1 to 5 how your feeling about the product or the experiance.

Strategic voting is somewhat disparaging term for votes that serve the long term agenda of the voter but might not reveal his actual feelings. For example if three cantidates are running and you are far to the right you might be tempted vote for the most far right cantidate; but you best strategic vote is to vote for the middle cantidate so as to temper the chance the far left cantidate will win.

So looking at these all these damn questionaires I find myself thinking that I have two choices. I could vote strategically or I could reveal my true feelings. For example the hotel form says “Do you like the minibar.” Now I would prefer that there isn’t a minibar, but it doesn’t particularly bother me. So I could check of 3. But if I actually want anything to happen then my strategic best choice is to vote the maximium.

In a sense each of those votes from 1-5 is a small vector force on actions that might be taken by other people. If I know what action I want them to take why would i ever not vote for either the minimum or the maximum?

Of course one reason would be if I know they have limited resources. For example if I know they will only work on one of the items then I should pick that one set the maximum vote, and then set all the other votes to their minimum.

Sometimes I get the results of surveys like this delivered to me. One thing I notice in that situation is that some people just vote their favorite number. I.e. they will go down the form and check off the #4 in every box. Since what happens with these surveys is that they are immediately fed into statistical analysis a vote like that just sifts the median of the population. Since the decisions about what to work are based on picking out the outliers it’s proably best if you try to get the maximum dynamic range in your votes.

I can’t see why it would be unethical to engage in strategic voting in these situations. I’ve noticed that people always seem to react to the discovery that some voters are doing it with distain. For example I worked on a conference once were the jury for papers had six members. Only one of them clearly understood that he should maximize his dynamic range and individual votes. The result was that the papers he wanted to have presented mostly got onto the agenda.

The world is just never as simple as it looks, but I’m not talking to anybody who votes for Nader in the next election.

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