How to stop McCain: The importance of tactical voting

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Before heading off to the symphony, I was on the air once again with Elvis Polo for the first hour of his 6 to 9 pm Saturday night show on 1170 KFAQ, talking about the presidential race and Tsunami Tuesday, which includes Oklahoma's primary.

Elvis asked me if John McCain will have the nomination sewn up when Tuesday's results are counted. I said that there was still a way to stop his momentum and keep open the possibility of Mitt Romney, Mike Huckabee, or even -- if no one has a majority of delegates going into the convention -- someone else being the Republican nominee. But it will require some strategic thinking by the Republicans who vote on Tuesday.

It comes down to this: If you don't want McCain to be the nominee, you need to vote for the non-McCain candidate who has the best poll numbers in your state.

The people who are saying a vote for Huckabee is a vote for McCain are wrong. That's only true in the states where Huckabee is in third place. In Oklahoma, Alabama, Arkansas, Georgia, Missouri and Tennessee, a vote for Romney would effectively be a vote to hand McCain the nomination on Tuesday.

In many of the states that are voting Tuesday, the poll numbers break down like this:

McCain - 35
2nd place candidate - 25
3rd place candidate - 15
Ron Paul - 5
Voters who can't support McCain but can't figure who to vote for - 20

The tricky thing is that Huckabee is that second place candidate in the Southern states and Romney is that second place candidate in the west and northeast.

Here's the problem: If a majority of voters in that undecided anti-McCain category move toward the 3rd place candidate, McCain wins with 35% of the vote. For example, assume that 20% breaks 11% for the 3rd place candidate and 9% for the 2nd place candidate:

McCain - 35
2nd place candidate - 34
3rd place candidate - 26
Ron Paul - 5

If that sort of thing happens in state after state on Tsunami Tuesday, McCain would manage a near sweep despite the fact that there are two Republican voters who don't want him as president for every one that does. The low winning percentage won't fit into a headline or a soundbite, and the TV networks would oversimplify the situation into a won-lost record. Romney and Huckabee would be practically finished, and McCain would be the nominee presumptive.

If instead, that 20% block of anti-McCain voters vote strategically for the second place candidate -- Huckabee in some states, Romney in others -- McCain would win only a state or two, and the rest would be split between the other two candidates. No one would come out of Tsunami Tuesday an overwhelming lead in the delegate count. The campaign would continue, with the possibility of new candidates entering later primaries and no one having a majority of delegates going into the Republican National Convention.

The most recent Oklahoma poll, done about a week ago by Survey USA, had McCain moving into the lead, Huckabee about where he had been two weeks earlier, and Romney moving up from single digits.

McCain 37
Huckabee 28
Romney 19
Giuliani 6
Paul 6
Other/Undecided 5

A look at the details shows that Romney's support is softest -- 48% say they could change their minds -- with McCain next at 42% and Huckabee at 39%. Huckabee's numbers have been pretty stable, suggesting that his supporters decided sometime ago, while Romney's backers in Oklahoma have only recently and reluctantly made him their choice. It seems possible for Huckabee to catch McCain here; Romney would have a much steeper hill to climb.

Here's the bottom line for Oklahoma voters:

If you're an Oklahoma Republican and want Mike Huckabee to have a chance at the nomination, vote for Huckabee. You won't be accidentally helping McCain.

If you're an Oklahoma Republican and want Mitt Romney to have a chance at the nomination, vote for Huckabee, even if you don't particularly like Huckabee. Huckabee has the best shot at denying McCain the delegates and the win here in Oklahoma and thus at slowing McCain's national momentum, which would give Romney the opportunity to fight on.

If you're an Oklahoma Republican and you don't like anyone left in the race -- this is my category --vote for Huckabee. Denying McCain a win here helps to stop his momentum and leaves the door open for a new candidate to be chosen at the convention.

Now all this second-guessing and predicting what your fellow voters will do would be unnecessary if we had a sensible voting system like Instant Runoff Voting, where you could vote your conscience secure in the knowledge that your vote will not inadvertently help your least preferred candidate. Using proportional delegate allocation, where you don't have to finish first to gain delegates, would be another way to make the delegate allocation more closely reflect the opinions of the voters.

An article by Newsweek science writer Sharon Begley points to a voting methods demonstration on the American Statistical Association website where you can vote by the traditional method (pick your favorite), by the approval method (check all candidates that are acceptable), and by the instant runoff method (rank the candidates in order). The election method used affects the order of finish. Begley writes:

For anyone who believes in democracy, this is a little disturbing. What it means is that "election outcomes can more accurately reflect the choice of an election rule than the voters' wishes," writes mathematician Donald Saari of the University of California, Irvine. One candidate could win with some rules and lose with others. In fact, as mathematicians analyze voting systems, they are turning up other oddities that can yield a "winner" who does not reflect the will of even a plurality, much less a majority. The discoveries are especially relevant this year. "The severity of the problem escalates with the number of candidates," notes Saari, and one thing this primary season has is a lot of still-viable candidates.

One of the most surprising aberrations mathematicians have found comes in a four-way race. There, of course, one candidate wins a plurality and another comes in last. Saari examines what happens if the third-place candidate drops out and, in the next round of voting, people have the same ordered preference as before (A is the first choice of the most, followed by B, then D).

She then presents a four-candidate scenario where one candidate dropping out completely inverts the order of finish using the traditional single-preference, first-past-the-post voting system.

While we can hope that the Republican convention rules committee will pass improvements to this system this fall, it will come too late for this campaign season.

However much they stink, the rules are what they are, and if you're an Oklahoman who doesn't want one of the least conservative Republicans in the Senate to get the nomination, you need to vote for Mike Huckabee on Tuesday.

UPDATE: Numbers USA, the anti-amnesty organization, explains when to vote for Romney and when to vote for Huckabee in order to cast an anti-McCain vote in each of Tuesday's states. The only disagreement with my list is Georgia, where more recent polling shows Huckabee, not Romney, in second place.

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5 Comments

RecycleMichael said:

You should base your vote on polling?

Sad, very sad.

W. Author Profile Page said:

OK ... let me get this straight.

A few weeks ago, you were attacking Mike Huckabee as too liberal.

Now you're urging Republicans to vote for him.

Does any of this make any sense? If Huckabee wasn't good enough then, why is he suddenly good enough now? Is this a case of shifting standards?

mad okie Author Profile Page said:

W... If you had bothered to read you would have seen that this is Michael's guide on how to keep McCain from being nominated... not how to get Huckabee nominated... Michael is wanting a brokered convention

To W.: Please note the word tactical. I don't take back any of my complaints about Huckabee, but voting for Huckabee is only thing I can do as an Oklahoma voter to slow or stop a worse option from sewing up the nomination on Tuesday.

Think of it this way: In Britain in 1992, the Conservatives held on to power by winning a bunch of seats with only 40% of the vote because the two opposition parties split the remainder of the vote. By 1997, anti-Conservative voters had become smarter. A Labour supporter in Somerset might hold his nose and vote for the Liberal Democrat, because the LD candidate had the best shot at beating the Conservative in his constituency. An LD supporter in Manchester would do the reverse.

To RecycleMichael: I didn't write the rules. The system is what it is. Only the first-place finisher (a) gets any delegates and (b) gets proclaimed the winner by the news networks. I'm looking at the set of likely outcomes and figuring out what I can do with my vote to help bring about my preference among the likely outcomes. Without preferential ballots or proportional allocation, polls are the only way to figure how my vote is likely to affect the outcome. Click through to that Newsweek story to see how the same set of voter preferences can result in different outcomes depending on the rules that are in place.

G said:

What about conservatives who actually like Ron Paul and want to see him elected? Not one of the other Republican candidates is a real conservative. I used to be a good little KFAQ/FoxNews loving neo-con, sold on every word that dripped out of their mouths. But, when I started researching Ron Paul I realized I was being brainwashed. They're all a sham. McCain, Huckabee, and Romney will all cowtow to the establishment in Washington. That's the stark reality we face.
I hope your strategy works, Michael. I am a precinct captain in my county and going to be a delegate to the County Convention as well as state and national if I can. If it does end up being a brokered convention in Minneapolis this year, I'll be there voting for Dr. Paul and I doubt I'll be alone. I have absolutely had it with the way this country is heading. Neo-con/Liberal, it's all the same game. Big government, hyper-inflation, taxation, and loss of liberty are the prizes we will win for our apathy over the last 8 years. Dr. Paul seems to have the only remedies for our ailing country: The Constitution/The Rule of Law/Sound Currency/Humble Foreign Policy/Lower Taxes/Fiscal Responisbility/Protection of Civil Liberty. I just don't understand why people are so afraid of freedom?!
May Yahweh bless Ron Paul with a win.

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This page contains a single entry by Michael Bates published on February 2, 2008 11:22 PM.

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