Why Iowans want range voting in their caucuses

Congratulations! You are a citizen of the state of Iowa! Undoubtably you are asking "why do those peculiar politicians show up every 4 years and start riding around on hogs?" No wait, you already know that.

Seriously, Iowans have an extraordinary amount of power over the US presidential selection process, and that power should be applied wisely. In 2004, Iowans selected underdog Democrat John Kerry as their first choice with John Edwards second. And sure enough, Kerry went on to become the nationwide Democratic candidate and eventually chose Edwards to be his running mate. But in retrospect, many Iowan Democrats believe that choosing Kerry was a mistake, and wish they could have un-chosen him. Kerry lost the election to G.W.Bush and was unable to effectively attack Bush's main weaknesses (the Iraq war, the massive budget deficit caused by irresponsible fiscal policy) because Kerry himself (and his running mate Edwards) had voted the same way as Bush on those things. Kerry also ended up looking kind of stupid when he secretly tried to get republican John McCain to be his running mate, but was publically refused, then denied he'd really asked – then did the same thing with general Wesley Clark. Also the so-called "wimp factor contrast" did not pan out: Kerry, the "brave Vietnam war veteran" and later anti-war protestor, was supposed to be arrayed in all his splendor versus Bush, the "chickenhawk" Vietnam war supporter who had dodged the draft by getting the speaker of the Texas House of Representatives to get him into the "Champagne squadron" of the Texas air national guard. But in fact, as matters turned out, the impressiveness of this contrast largely went over like a lead balloon. Also, the stark contrast between Kerry the "bright responsible student," at Yale, where he was a co-member of the "skull and bones" secret society with Bush, the "irresponsible frat-boy C student," didn't pan out too well either, when it was shown later that Kerry's grades at Yale were in fact even lower than Bush's!

Many Iowan voters claimed they had voted Kerry not because they thought he was the best choice, but rather, because they thought "strategically" that he'd have the best chance against Bush in the later full election in the rest of the USA.

Oops! In retrospect, Dean probably would have been more effective against Bush. Analysis of Dean performance in Iowa 2004 caucuses.

So quite plausibly Iowan democrats made the wrong choice in 2004, and quite plausibly they'll make the wrong choice again in some future election.

We could also discuss the 2000 caucuses, when Iowa chose Bush (with Forbes and Keyes in 2nd and 3rd places), who sure enough went on to win USA-wide. Right choice? Or, in retrospect, might the fiscal-responsibility-emphasizing war veteran John McCain have made a better president? McCain actually had higher poll numbers USA-wide than either Bush or Gore, so, democratically speaking, "should" have been elected president and for sure would have had better election chances, unlike Bush who lost the (popular vote) election but won thanks to the 9 votes that mattered. (Neither Forbes nor Keyes ever held an elected office – suggesting ranking them ahead of McCain was not really sensible.) But thanks to the Republican primaries, McCain was gone. Analysis of McCain performance in Iowa 2000 caucuses.

But is it really "Iowans" making the wrong choices, or is it the direct or indirect effects of "the poor plurality voting system used by Iowans"?

Which brings us to our point. If Iowa is going to lead the USA when it comes to the primaries, why not have Iowa also lead the USA – and worldwide democracy generally – by adopting range voting in these caucuses? We suggest single digit range voting for maximum simplicity.

That way, you could give a score on an 0-9 scale for each of Kerry, Edwards, Dean, Gephardt, Kucinich, Sharpton, etc and thus express your opinion about all of them, not just one. (At present, your opinions about all the others get dumped into the Des Moines River.) You wouldn't have to worry so much about "strategy" ("even though I favor Kucinich, I cannot afford to vote for him because that might tip it away from Dean and toward Edwards" – "even though I favor McCain, I cannot afford to waste my vote on him because he did not campaign in Iowa and hence has no chance") and could instead just be honest. ("Hey! With range voting I can give a full 9 to Kucinich, and that isn't going to hurt Dean in the slightest!" – "I can give McCain a full 9 and I'm not in any way wasting my vote because I can still give Bush, Forbes, etc any score I want!")

With range voting you get to give more information, and more-honest information less-distorted by strategic worries, and it makes sense that is probably going to result in a better choice for (1) Iowa, (2) the major parties, and (3) the country as a whole.

In fact it seems plain this is going to lead to better results for Iowa, the Democrats, the Republicans, and the USA generally. A similar method of scoring is used in the Olympics to judge figure skaters, gymnasts, etc. (Remember all those little cards on TV that say "8.7"?) As a mental exercise, just suppose instead that every judge at the Olympics were just allowed to name a single figure skater. Period. We don't want your numbers from 0 to 10, we don't want your opinions on any of the other figure skaters, we just want one name. OK, the Olympic judges may not do a perfect job with their scorecards, but if they had to use the "name one skater, no numbers" method of judging, you can bet your bottom dollar against a politician's promise that the judging would be one heck of a lot lamer.

If the pathetically bad plurality voting system wasn't acceptable for those muscle kings and queens at the Olympics – because they couldn't afford to look that bad on TV – you can sure as shooting believe it shouldn't be good enough for Iowans choosing the president of the country.

In case you have trouble believing that, say, Dean might have won Iowa with range voting despite his third-place finish with Plurality voting (Kerry=38%, Edwards=32%, Dean=18%), check the French study. It makes it clear that strategic-voting, vote-splitting, and candidate-cloning distortionary effects can indeed alter the results of these sorts of elections by amounts fully this tremendous! It therefore is entirely possible that, e.g. Dean or McCain "really" should have won Iowa, and would have with range voting. (Mind you, we are not claiming this would really have happened. We are merely pointing out it is not at all implausible.)

Adopt range voting and let the rest of the USA know that, in Iowa, you know what you are doing when it comes to democracy. Lead the planet in democracy in a style a little more classy than just voting earlier – also vote better. Set a historic example for the entire world.

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