Issues with Median Voter Theory

This is what is stated on Wikipeidia,

Median voter theory, also known as The median voter theorem and the median voter model, is a famous voting model positing that in a majority election, if voter policy preferences can be represented as a points along a single dimension, if all voters vote deterministically for the politician that commits to a policy position closest to their own preference, and if there are only two politicians, then if the politicians want to maximize their number of votes they should both commit to the policy position preferred by the median voter. This strategy is a Nash equilibrium. It results in voters being indifferent between candidates and casting their votes for either candidate with equal probability. Hence in expectation each politician receives half of the votes. If either candidate deviates to commit to a different policy position, the deviating candidate receives less than half the vote.

I have some issues with this theory,

Lets assume, in adherence to the MVT an elections with two candidate with similar positions (one slightly center-right, one sightly center left) will reduce incentive for votes to vote. Why invest energy to vote when it wont make much of a difference anyway. Candidates who position them self to the center in fact drifting away from the mainstream right/left value of the party they originate, thus increase the difference between candidates and their core party constituency, making it more difficult to generate excitement needed to boost voter participation on election day. Knowing this, a candidate who move away from the center towards their core party constituency will reduce their positional difference and allow the candidate to better excite the voters and increase voter turn out.

Why is it important to excite or engage with the emotion of voters? Because in elections with large pool of eligible voters, voting is an economically irrational act. The chance of one vote deciding an election is very impropable. According to a research cited by Freakonomics of the more than 16,000 Congressional elections, in which many people vote, only one election in the past 100 years – a 1910 race in Buffalo – was decided by a single vote. This is precisely the reason I believe to win an election a candidate’s supporter must be engaged not only by rational incentive calculation but also social and moral incentives. To engage in social incentive is to create a social environment where target voters would feel pear pressure to vote for a particular candidate (hey we are all voting for the Republican together why don’t you come along?). To appeal to the moral incentives of voters would be to make voters feel bad about them selves if they don’t vote, this can be done by making them feel unpatriotic or a failing to live up to a moral standard.

Now, is a candidate who’s position is away from the middle and more consist with their core party constituency more able to engages with voter’s social and moral incentives? I believe so. Potential voters of such a candidate may for example ask them self on the election day “If I don’t vote for a candidate who is fighting for my cause make me a hypocrite?” Furthermore, it is also more likely to generate voters in more cohesive social groups with frequent discussion and members reinforcing each others views and encourage each other to vote.

Lastly, one more issue with MVT is that many people who is considered to be median voter not because they have moderate views but because they are just not that interested in politic enough to have a strong view or they just plainly dislike politics. These people are unlikely voters reducing the benefit for candidate to move towards the middle.

Having said all these, do i have any facts to back them up? Only a few.

A glance at New York Times’s election guide will show that these candidate could not be standing further apart on many issues. Although they all properly agree on many more issues, but contentious issues are what is at state in elections.

What does this all mean for Obama’s mission to be a uniter and to appeal to independent and or median voters?

  1. His clearly liberal stance will easily win him the support of the Democratic core constituencies.
  2. He is enlarging the core party constituency by bringing in young voters to the liberal philosophy.
  3. When he engages with independent voters and republicans he emphasis more on issues that appeals to all voters, such as unity, transparent government etc.
  4. He is able to package liberal causes in a way that is acceptable by republicans, such as universal health care without mandate.

Thats all.


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