How to win votes

The rise of Donald Trump and the Brexit referendum have led to a lot of commentary on democracy itself. Understandably these comments usually come from people who dislike the outcome. But that does not mean they do not have a point.

This article looks at the democratic process up to the casting of the ballot. How the votes are counted, what is done with the result, how votes are translated into representatives and policy, the influence of non-elected lobbyists on legislation… is outside the scope of this post.

If this post comes across as cynical, it’s probably because it describes reality.


The fantasy

A lot of pundits have a cartoonish view of democracy, which can be summarized as follows:

  1. People get informed on issues, programs and candidates
  2. Voters weigh the arguments
  3. A rational evaluation leads to a decision in the form of a vote

Even if commentators do not actually believe this is how it works, their opinions betray that they think it is how democracy should be in the best of worlds.

Let us now scrutinize how elections work in reality. As always on this website, we take a step by step approach to make all assumptions explicit. As a thought experiment1, a number of possible changes to the existing election process are suggested. I pose some fundamental questions that should be answered by those who are not satisfied with the status quo.

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