Donald Trump created quite the stir a few days ago when he suggested that the forthcoming Presidential election was going to be “rigged.” I’m not sure what exactly he meant by that, or even if it’s worth debating, but I did see my Tweeter feed respond with real furor. This will undercut faith in democracy I read, and thus the media needs to call him out on it. Yet over the last few years or indeed decades I also have seen the following:
1. Numerous arguments insist that money buys elections and campaign finance reform is imperative. That’s not exactly my view, with Trump himself now being Exhibit A on the other side of the issue, but please try to be consistent. A lot of you believe that elections are (were?) rigged! (Hey, psst…when can we go back to them being rigged again? Asking for a friend!)
2. Numerous arguments that Republican-backed voter registration requirements are keeping significant numbers of voters, most of all minority voters, away from the polls. That wouldn’t quite count as “rigging,” because the outcome still is not preordained, but it would be a form of slanting.
3. Not long ago, the conventional wisdom was that the race would be Clinton (Hillary) vs. Bush (Jeb). Fortunately, that is not rigging, rather we call it “spontaneous order.” Besides, it didn’t happen. We ended up with Clinton vs…Tormentor of Bush.
4. Do we not all teach the Gibbard-Sattherthwaite theorem to our Principles classes on week three? In case you forget, the theorem shows that under some fairly general assumptions elections processes are manipulable in a rigorous sense which is defined in social choice theory. You can think of this as a corollary of the Arrow Impossibility Theorem, actually.
People, I am so glad we don’t teach our students that elections are rigged, it is so much more important to teach that they are “manipulable” in the precise sense defined by social choice theory. Sadly, Mr. Trump failed that part of the course, because the silly boy wrote down the word “rigged” instead and botched the whole answer, heal so messed up the distinction between inter- and intra-profile versions of the theorem.
5. A related branch of social choice theory, stemming from Dick McKelvey’s work in 1979, suggests that when the policy space has more than one dimension, the agenda setter in Congress has a great deal of power and typically can shape the final outcome. True, that is Congress rather than a general democratic election. By the way, how many dimensions does the policy space have these days? If you’re not sure, that means the answer is “more than one.” Good thing that only “Congress keystone of the Washington establishment” is rigged!
6. Major political scientists from schools such as Princeton tell us that elites determine policy and ordinary voters have very little say in what happens. Don’t know if he used “the r word” or not! (By the way, I agree with the critique of Dylan Matthews.)
7. The American electoral system is designed to give the two major parties a huge initial advantage. I’m not suggesting that the public is actually itching to elect Jill Stein, but it would shape final outcomes a good deal, for better or worse, if the electoral playing field were more even in this regard.
Personally, I think median voters more or less get what they want on a large number of issues, especially broad-based ones in the public eye. You won’t find the word “rigged” popping up too much in the MR search function, besides I started blogging (and breathing) after Kennedy vs. Nixon. But my goodness, I can in fact understand why Donald Trump thinks the system is rigged. For years, you have been telling him that it is.
p.s. I don’t in fact teach the Gibbard-Sattherthwaite theorem in Principles and you won’t find it in the world’s very best Principles textbook. That we rigged.
Addendum: How many Democrats have alleged that the 2000 Presidential election was rigged? Or that today most Americans want some form of tougher gun control, but that the system is rigged against that outcome happening?