In my last post, I explained why Condorcet winners often lose presidential elections by getting eliminated in the primaries. In this post, I want to consider the more difficult question of whether we should care.
One possible reason to care is that the electoral defeat of a Condorcet winner violates what many consider to be the core democratic principle of majority rule. If Candidate A wins the election despite the fact that B is the Condorcet winner, that necessarily indicates that A has won even though the majority of the people actually prefer B. In discussing this issue with students and other nonexperts, I have observed two common reactions: some people find this result deeply disturbing while others couldn't care less. Very few seem to fall in the middle. The difference between the two groups seems to be based more on intuition than logic. Since I myself am one of the few people with an equivocal reaction, I'm going to move on to more pragmatic concerns.
Setting aside considerations of democratic theory, there might well be pragmatic consequentialist reasons for deploring an electoral system that often leads to the defeat of the Condorcet winner. Relative to actual electoral winners, Condorcet winners are likely to be more ideologically moderate and more personally charismatic. The reason for the greater moderation is obvious: as discussed in my last post, primary electorates are more ideologically extreme than general election voters, and will sometimes reject the Condorcet winner in favor of a candidate who they believe matches their ideological preferences better.
The charisma point stems from the fact that ideologically extreme voters (who are disproportionately represented in primaries) are more knowledgeable than centrist voters, a result documented by numerous studies of political information. The less you know about issues, the more likely you are to be influenced by personality and charisma. Thus, on average, the Condorcet winner is likely to be more charismatic than the electoral winner in cases where two differ.
Personally, I'm not particularly enamored of the idea that moderate presidents are better than ideologically more extreme ones. I have even less sympathy for claims that we are necessarily better off with more charismatic presidents. Thus, at least from a purely consequentialist point of view, the electoral misfortunes of Condorcet winners don't bother me too much. However, those who value moderation and charisma more than I do have good reason to decry our current presidential primary system. Likewise for those strongly committed to the idea that democratic principles require adherence to majority rule.
Related Posts (on one page):
- Should We Care if Condorcet Winners Lose Presidential Elections?
- Why the Next President Might not be a Condorcet Winner: