On Mr. Obama's legitimacy: a humble proposal (for Friday the 13th)

On Mr. Obama’s legitimacy: a humble proposal

Right after the 2008 elections a guy named John Ziegler had a poll done – and he got so much bad press over it that he commissioned another one a bit later.

The first poll asked people who claimed to have voted for Mr. Obama 12 pretty basic questions about the people and positions they were voting for or against. The second asked McCain/Palin voters the same 12 questions plus a 13th.

Mr. Ziegler’s goal in this was to measure the extent to which the media left the public uninformed, or misinformed, on crucial issues during this campaign – but mine is to use his numbers to support a humble proposal: weighting votes according to the voter’s knowledge of the issues.

The execution on this idea would be “simple”:

  1. electoral officials draw up a list of 100 simple, multiple choice, questions each with five mutually exclusive, but sensible looking, possible answers from which any knowledgeable elector should be able to pick the right one;
  2. each ballot contains five questions randomly chosen from that list;
  3. every valid ballot counts for one vote;
  4. ballots with three right answers count for three votes;
  5. ballots with five right answers count for five votes;

Making this work requires an effective e-voting system but getting electoral fraud under control is an urgent priority anyway.

To see how this might have turned out in 2008, we can use Mr. Ziegler’s percentages:

Obama/Biden McCain/Palin
Nominal total vote 69,456,897 59,934,814
Counted as 1 vote 31,950,172 (46%) 23,374,577 (39%)
Counted as three votes 58,343,793 (28%) 46,749,154 (26%)
Counted as five votes 6,945,689 (2%) 104,885,924 (35%)
Total 97,239,655 (21%) 358,560,024 (78%)
Note: percentages are imputed from published crosstabs

You’ll notice that no one’s disenfranchised by this – but we get a more sensible result and both major parties, along with their media supporters, get strong incentives to educate rather than mislead the public on the real issues in the campaign.

Notice too that Zogby’s results show that Mr.Obama, a man slightly more than two thirds of the eligible voters choose Not to vote for, actually has the knowledgeable support of only about 1,389,137 people.

Now, about that constitutional conference Mr. Obama wants…