Tyranny of Minorities and the Uninformed Voter

IMG_6624If you are an uninformed voter, should you vote?

Today is voting day, and I’m reminded of an interesting study that I ran across a few years back that says yes, you should vote.

Because of the many proposed developments in Cupertino, there have been many heated debates on a popular social media site that many Cupertino residents use to discuss these issues.

There is one advocate that argues that having elected representatives make decisions on development approvals is a better system than having residents vote on the issue directly because elected officials will have the resources to analyze the details of the issues, and there are too many uninformed voters out there who do not study the issues and thus can’t be trusted to make the right call.

Then there is another participant who laments the Tyranny of Minorities – basically that a vocal opinionated minority doesn’t have the power to move things forward but hold enough power to halt progress.  Thus, decisions are deadlocked and nothing gets done.

It turns out that the results from a study shows that these two problems may cancel each other out!

This is a study that was performed at Princeton a number of years ago.  They started working with fish but have over time project also developed models to explain the phenomenon.  Basically, the reasoning goes something like this.  Uninformed voters (and fish) tend to follow the choices made by the majority.  Because of this behavior, within a community, uniformed voters tend to dilute the influence of the vocal minority.  When the uninformed get involved and add their vote to the majority, the strength of the opposition from the vocal minority gets diluted, and the group as a whole avoids deadlock and is able to arrive at a decision faster than they would have been able to otherwise.

Of course, this phenomenon does not scale, and the scientists found that if there are too many uninformed fish (and voters!), then noise nominates and neither the majority and the minority take the lead.

There is a lot more to the study, and there are other studies that show parallels between fish and the behavior that we see in the market and in politics.  Who knows, these dynamics may be a naturally occurring process and uninformed voters may have a real and important role to play in the democratic process!

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