Election Day that Decides Nothing

The New York Times publishes an op-ed about voting motives. The authors first say that voters make choices out of self-interest, but the piece basically ends stating that conservatives win “economic policies” and liberals take “social policies,” regardless of what self-interested voters think.

Looking carefully, “economic policies” stand for anything concerning affluent interests: taxes, government spending, social security, and healthcare. These issues are “more conservative.” “Social policies,” on another hand, are those top earners don’t care about, like immigration, gay marriages, and abortions. Policies here are “more liberal.”

Gilens and Page recently studied a natural explanation of this idea (gated article). After going through nearly 1800 policy issues, they find that

[…] economic elites and organized groups representing business interests have substantial independent impacts on U.S. government policy, while average citizens and mass-based interest groups have little or no independent influence.

That is, a policy works when it favors business interests or at least coincides with them.

It doesn’t happen through voting, of course. Elections are the outcome of what happens inside the electoral cycle, not a decisive moment when changes happen. This Election Day promises victory to the Reps. But regular elections shade a more important trend of the Dems becoming more conservative themselves. Regardless of the victors, effective policy becomes conservative.

Conservatives and liberals may agree to disagree with that. For each of the parties, the other is too radical. The difference between the two parties is scrutinized, despite being small. It happens when you don’t see the real radicals. The radicals of the Great Depression type, from both wings.

These radicals never came to power in the United States. However, they made moderates accept more left- or right-leaning policies. If you wanted to avoid expropriation in the 30s, you had to give up a smaller piece, like a social safety net for the poor. Or you could try to maintain the status quo. Say, the Russian Government tried it in 1917 and was replaced by extremist brutal left-wing dictatorship.

Evidences may show that business interests guide policy making. But business interests depend on what other people are doing around. Public opinion has de facto veto power over business lobbying—something you can see in comparison to 20st-century Latin America. And this veto power comes not from elections, but from everyday deeds.

Secret ballot and protest voting on Wikipedia

Ballots happen to be secret, unless the voter represents some constituency. So, US Congress elections are secret, but congresspeople’s voting records are open. One reason is to avoid untruthful voting. Telling everyone about your choice makes the choice dependent on other opinions, and the election results deviate from the optimal ones.

Secrecy sets the voter free to vote how she thinks is best for her. For example, social ratings are biased in favor of the top ratings because the voter prefers to keep her friends happy by not downvoting their content. That not necessarily distorts the ranking of content, which matters, but does change average ratings.

The alternative is the troll theory. Secret voting hurts responsibility because no one will find out what the voter did in the voting booth. Let’s check.

This is Wikipedia’s article feedback voting:

I used a sample of 12 million votes from a one-year dump (thanks to Matthias Mullie from the Wikimedia Foundation for pointing at this file). Here, zero means no vote at all, and anonymous voters tend to leave more gaps behind.

Registered users serve as a control group for anonymous (secret) voting. They are more responsible, because registration is time consuming and indicates deeper involvement in the community. Casted votes:

Compared to YouTube, the scale is more informative in general: voters use a larger fraction of mid-range ratings. Anonymous visitors set the lowest rating more frequently, but the difference is small.

Descriptive stats

In addition, summary statistics for the sample:

Variable Obs Mean Std. Dev. Min Max
trustworthy 2982561 2.956455 2.015107 0 5
objective 2982550 2.762515 2.073398 0 5
complete 2982551 2.591597 1.940069 0 5
well_written 2982552 3.177147 1.895086 0 5

And correlation across rating dimensions:

trustw~y object~e complete well_w~n
trustworthy 1
objective 0.6416 1
complete 0.5856 0.7031 1
well_written 0.3977 0.5515 0.5309 1

The average rating set in a particular day: