Median Voter Theorem Essay, Research Paper
Median Voter Theorem:
A Unavoidable Reality Leaving No One Truly Satisfied
On the spectrum of politics (or any other ideologically-based matter), personal opinions will inevitably vary from one extreme on the left to the opposite on the right. In a governing system such as that of the United States, where the population directly elects representatives to govern, the position a candidate holds on the spectrum pertaining to certain issues in relation to other candidates becomes increasingly important. Theoretically, two people coming from different backgrounds and different political parties should provide contrasting opinions on major issues, allowing an individual voter to clearly and easily see the difference between his options and choose which option would be best for himself and his country. According to the Median Value Theorem, however, in most cases, the candidate’s personal views and priorities cannot be considered if a victorious election is the ultimate goal, leading to nearly identical candidates at the time of election. Although this theory contains flaws, both theoretically in the actual workings and ideologically in the results, it is still valid and important to today’s political strategies.
The median voter is the voter closest to the center on an issue. If determined properly, half of the population holds a position to the left of this determined median voter and half to the right. According to the Median Voter Theorem, the median voter in a majority-rule election will be decisive so long as voters have single-peaked preferences. The theorem implicates that candidates who are successful in winning elections are those who are able to capture the vote of the median voter. If two candidates campaign against each other, they are each forced to take the political position of the median voter of the spectrum or risk losing the election, regardless of their personal beliefs. If one candidate were to establish an idea even one percentage to one side or the other of the median voter, his opponent would theoretically capture more than half of the popular vote, leading to a victory.
However, this theorem, like most theories, contains flaws making the concept imperfect. One such flaw is the consideration that not all elections are decided by the popular vote, the basis for the Median Voter Theorem. In the United States, for example, the president is elected not by popular vote, but by the Electoral College, leaving the candidate to think not only of the median voter in the population, but how that may relate to the actual election and the median voter of the Electoral College. By adding this extra party to the election process, the Median Voter Theorem, although still relevant, is not necessarily as vital in such situations. Furthermore, if more than two candidates run against each other, the entire system is thrown off, leaving a totally different game strategically. With three or more candidates, each individual must strive to differentiate himself in the eyes of the voters, forcing variation from the mean voter.
Political parties and the support thereof also play an important role in the political system. Parties are established and maintained around certain political views and perspectives and the degree to which these ideals are held. By taking a position too far from this central position of the party, a candidate risks alienating those within the party who hold more extreme views, leaving them feeling abandoned by their own candidate. While these people probably would not vote for the opponent, this change in platform may cause them to abstain from voting at all, thus changing the median voter and making the Median Voter Theorem irrelevant.
One way a party may work to improve upon this predicament is by the use if the vice presidential candidate. Although if the presidential candidate is elected, the vice president will have power to a certain degree, many voters do not take this idea into consideration, looking only at the qualities and ideas of that presidential candidate when making a decision. Such blind activity by the majority of voters allows the party to select a vice presidential candidate that may hold (and continue to hold) the more controversial and traditional views of the party without seeming too bold. Thus with the combination of a presidential candidate following the Median Voter Theorem in order to obtain approximately half the voting population and a presidential candidate standing for the ideas of the party, no one feels alienated.
Ideologically, the theorem still holds flaws. The whole point of candidates and an election between people of different parties with different beliefs is to indeed have an election between two candidates of different beliefs. Unfortunately with the Median Voter Theorem, this situation is not and cannot be the case. Because of the voter trends and results of polling prior to the election itself, candidates are forced to alter their beliefs to the point of not even having beliefs of their own. In their desire not to alienate anyone or risk losing the election, the candidates, although they may begin with entirely different perspectives on issues, eventually morph into virtually the same person with the same prepared answers for debate questions, leaving the voter with no other choice than to vote, in essence, for the candidate whose hair style they like the best, rather than basing a decision on the issues. Neither candidate is willing to take a stand that may (although be pleasing to some) turn others against him. As a result, when they winner of the election is eventually determined, virtually no one is entirely satisfied. The candidate will have mutated his views to the extent that they may not come close to resembling those of his party or initial platform. The average voter, however, will be able to find at least parts of his own views within those of the candidate as the candidate will have taken on those views determined to be most popular.
The want for acceptance and the need to be liked are natural desires within human nature, especially within political context. Politicians are often criticized for bending their beliefs and making different promises to different groups, often even contrasting in their ultimate goal, but is there really another option? In order to win an election and maintain power, one must win the support of the majority of the constituent. In order to do so, he must sacrifice some of his own goals and thoughts to become what the people want, what the median voter wants; he must become who they want to represent them, who they want in office, and, most immediately, for whom they want to vote. Only by taking on this median voter approach on some scale, can a candidate even hope to become more than a candidate.
Sened, Itai. Lecture #4.