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Marginal Revolution: Democracy: Theory and Practice

Steven Landsburg makes a very entertaining point about democracy:

…It is worth observing that if you really believe in democracy, and if the election is close, then it doesn’t much matter who wins. The theory of democracy (stripped down to bare essentials, and omitting all sorts of caveats that I could list but won’t) is that the guy who gets more votes is the better guy. Surely, then, it follows that the guy who gets only slightly more votes is only the slightly better guy. And if one guy’s only slightly better than the other, then a miscount is no great tragedy.

… Surely there’s not much difference between a world where Bush gets 3 more votes than Kerry and a world where Kerry gets 3 more votes than Bush. If Bush is the rightful president in one of those worlds, he’s got to be darn close to rightful in the other.

So the natural follow-on question, is, how close does it need to be before this logic breaks?

The process that’s followed is what gives the results legitimacy. Really, the vote counters could declare whatever they want, and most of us wouldn’t be the wiser. Most of us don’t check the vote counts, trusting that the candidates send observers to keep cheaters in check. And we’re willing to accept that whoever we’re told won, did, and give them great power.

The numbers aren’t the point–the President doesn’t get extra (legal) powers if he wins a crushing victory or wins by one vote. But either victory, if clear, gives the candidate the legal and societal support to be the President. So, a known miscount is a tragedy because it reduces our acceptance and the legitimacy of whoever is in office.

(Via Marginal Revolution: Democracy: Theory and Practice.)

One comment on "Marginal Revolution: Democracy: Theory and Practice"

  • Chris says:

    Steven’s point is only valid if the spectrum of voters for and against the candidates is evenly distributed. If, as in the U.S., you have 2 off-centre (or one centre and one right) clumps then splitting things down the middle will make a big difference.

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