News Release

Why Not Rate Candidates Like in the Olympics?

WILLIAM POUNDSTONE
A best-selling author, Poundstone has written the new book Gaming the Vote: Why Elections Aren’t Fair (and What We Can Do About It). He said today: “In the Olympics, we recognize that it’s possible for two competitors to both be ‘perfect 10s.’ A judge who feels that way can give both athletes the top score. Americans don’t have that option in the voting booth — even if you like two candidates, you can vote for only one. This is the root of the ‘spoiler’ effect. Whenever two candidates’ base of support overlaps (like Al Gore and Ralph Nader in 2000), voters who like both have to choose one, and sometimes that prevents the most popular candidate from winning. (It’s happened at least five times in U.S. presidential elections.) One possible reform is to use a rating system much like that used in the Olympics. Some have criticized scoring systems as complicated, but people use them online all the time now, rating videos and books on YouTube and Amazon. Both computer simulations and some real-world trials have made a strong case that rating systems do the best job of reflecting voter sentiment.”
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SAM HUSSEINI
Communications director for the Institute for Public Accuracy, Husseini wrote the piece “Why Public Opinion Polls Aren’t.” Online polls that use rating and ranking systems for the presidential race are at CandidateChooser.org.

He said today: “No matter when such election reforms are more widely enacted, there’s no good reason why pollsters shouldn’t conduct some polls giving people greater choices right now. As it is, pollster after pollster is asking the same question: ‘If the election were held today, which of the following would you vote for…?’ — a false hypothetical, presumably offering a ‘snapshot’ in the proverbial horse race.

“But this question is very limiting in terms of finding out what the public actually wants — it duplicates the constraints of the current voting system. Pollsters can and should also be asking people to rate and rank candidates; they should be asking people which of the candidates they actually want — as distinct from who they would vote for, a strategic decision. As it is, ‘public opinion’ polls are molding public opinion as much as they are discovering it.”
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For more information, contact at the Institute for Public Accuracy:
Sam Husseini, (202) 347-0020; or David Zupan, (541) 484-9167