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I've long thought of writing a diary called "If the CIA is smart enough to hire a political game theorist, then why aren't progressives?" Indeed, I've threatened to write such a diary.

This diary may or may not substitute for such a diary, due to overlap. We shall see.

A more accurate title for this diary is certainly "The Albert Einstein of Political Game Theory on the Stupidity of Lesser Evilist Voting". Who is this Albert Einstein / Jesus Christ? Well, none other than the political game theorist Bueno de Mesquita, who was featured in the New York Time in an article called Can Game Theory Predict When Iran Will Get the Bomb?. A brief intro to the subject of political game theory can be viewed online here.

The reason that de Mesquita is better compared to Einstein, is because he's a smart guy. The NY Times article tells us:

among national-security types and corporate decision makers, he is even better known for his prognostications. For 29 years, Bueno de Mesquita has been developing and honing a computer model that predicts the outcome of any situation in which parties can be described as trying to persuade or coerce one another. Since the early 1980s, C.I.A. officials have hired him to perform more than a thousand predictions; a study by the C.I.A., now declassified, found that Bueno de Mesquita’s predictions “hit the bull’s-eye” twice as often as its own analysts did.

(emphasis mine)

However, the comparison to Jesus Christ makes for a catchier diary title, and also expresses my hope that progressives (and voters in general) might be saved from their disempowered state, by voting more intelligently. And bravely, for those who are too afraid of splitting the vote of the legacy party candidate that they are more closely aligned with, thus potentially handing a victory to the "evil other" legacy party. For progressives, they tend to be hamstrung by being afraid not to vote for a Democrat, no matter how bad. An analogous situation holds for a good deal of the Republican base, who may well be afraid of throwing a Republican under the bus due to fears of electing a dastardly Democrat.

Because I don't want to spend a lot of time writing a polished diary, I will simply do the following:

First, I point to the unpleasant discussion I had with Mike Hersh, who wrote a blog diary on the Progressive Democrats of America website, called The High Cost of Voting for Spoilers, which prompted me to email Bueno de Mesquita.

Secondly, I quote my email to Bueno de Mesquita, verbatim.

Thirdly, I quote de Mesquita's replay, verbatim, which he has given me permission to do.

Fourthly, I'll mention that interesting discussions and debates on voting strategy, as regards jeffroby's proposal for a Full Court Press, were had at and Google is your friend. The Full Court Press (FCP) was a plan to alter the political dynamics of progressives who vote as Democrats, and hopefully spark the beginning of an effective progressive movement. Basically, the FCP would try and enlist 435 challengers in Democratic primaries for the House of Representatives, who could be minimalist candidates, whose minimal requirement was to appear in Democratic debates and argue the FCP's progressive platform.

Fifthly, I'll mention that Anthony Noel of the New Progressive Alliance (NPA) participated in the discussion comments of The High Cost of Voting for Spoilers. NPA embraces an aggressive voting strategy, which eschews lesser evilism. (I'm afraid that it will be too aggressive when it starts pursuing Congressional races, but that is another matter.)

Sixthly, I want to state that I sincerely hope that sincere political groups of diverse ideological stripes will avail themselves of individuals like de Mesquita, to hone more effective voting strategies. De Mesquita, himself, does not consult on elections (in the US, I presume), but I'm sure that individuals with his sort of political game theory background can be found.

My Email to Bueno de Mesquita

Dear Mr. De Mesquita:

I have mentioned your work many times at progressive blogs and forums, and I find it amazing and depressing that there is generally no support amongst progressives for hiring somebody with your background. Firedoglake is a happy exception, but, until today, I knew of no other progressive place similarly disposed.

Well, an unpleasant discussion at the Progressive Democrats of America website ended with this statement by the author, who had objected to my description of PDA's implicit voting strategy as "lesser evilism":

"PS—please ask Bueno de Mesquita (and anyone else you think would like to help) to contact us. We’re always looking for smart, effective people. Thanks for bringing his name into the discussion."

This was at the following web page URL:

So, there you go! You have an informal invitation to provisionally offer your services to the PDA ( Of course, the PDA should be seeking you out, not so much the other way around, but it's the end result that matters.

BTW, would you be kind enough to remark on my conviction that lesser evilism, as I have defined it (basically, always voting in the general election for the person from your party, no matter what he or she does; confine your electoral efforts to the primary, unless you succeed in voting out the incumbent) is a stupid voting strategy? I never studied game theory, though I've read a Scientific American article or two on it. I was the top chess player in my high school, but never read a chess book. I assume that I have an intuitive ability for strategy, even if I can't calculate it, as you can.

Finally, you may be interested in some diaries of mine involving voting strategy:

Recommended Short and Long Term Voting Strategies for the Dump Obama Movement

"Dump Corporate Dems" - Going Green at the State Level, to "make Dems do it" at the Federal level

I'd just love it if you or a grad student of yours analyzed the voting strategies that I have recommended.


Bueno de Mesquita's Reply

You are right - it is a stupid voting strategy if you care about the outcome. A colleague and I just wrote a very technical paler on this subject.
Az a matter of policy my consulting firm does not use our capabilities to influence electoral outcomes. It sounds like this is what your colleagues are looking for. If they are interested in shaping specific policies that is another matter. Let me know if influencing legislative outcomes is of interest and if they have a consulting budget.
Thanks for thinking of me

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Comment Preferences

  •  I (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rich in PA, debedb

    remember when I danced, and guys would come in and hint, and whisper about being in the CIA like I was supposed to be impressed, or curious.

    I'd lean in and whisper,"So, why are you telling me?"

    They'd always leave.

    Paranoid people like to think they're in the CIA, FBI, or other Super Secret Club, and having co-conspirators, real or imagined, makes them feel safe in an uncertain world, and unpredictable future.

    Peace Shopper- Saving more than pennies :-)

    by Maori on Sat Jun 18, 2011 at 07:17:46 PM PDT

  •  That makes no sense, from what I know of it. (4+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    jan4insight, jgnyc, LHB, sewaneepat

    How could anyone with a game theory interest, let along expertise, make a blanket statement against lesser-evil voting?  It's the most obvious thing in the world, both generically and from our experience with actual games (stylized, rule-bound, iterative interactions), that you do sometimes go for lesser-evil outcomes, generally when the margin between best and compromised outcome is less than the probability of achieving the best vs. the compromised outcome.  We've understood maximax vs. maximin theoretically at least since the 1960s, I believe, and lesser-evil voting is just maximin, minimizing the badness of your worst likely outcome.

    It's better to curse the darkness than light a candle. --Whoever invented blogs, c.1996

    by Rich in PA on Sat Jun 18, 2011 at 07:22:46 PM PDT

  •  I Think Progressives Need to Be Creating (8+ / 0-)

    candidates not more or less passively strategizing about the ones that already exist.

    We are called to speak for the weak, for the voiceless, for victims of our nation and for those it calls enemy.... --ML King "Beyond Vietnam"

    by Gooserock on Sat Jun 18, 2011 at 07:38:05 PM PDT

  •  Seems like a long haul. What's the goal? (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    Rich in PA

    S.A.W. 2011 STOP ALL WARS "The Global War on Terror is a fabrication to justify imperialism."

    by BigAlinWashSt on Sat Jun 18, 2011 at 07:44:50 PM PDT

  •  I don't think it is game theory (3+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    tytalus, jan4insight, sewaneepat

    I think it is staying in the game in the real world where no one gets everything they wants, in the way it is wanted.

    To get anywhere, progress is incremental and often comes with mixed blessings.  To achieve policy goals, one must keep a seat at the table, a voice.

    If you are trying to convince others that staying at home with what the Republicans are doing right now, good luck.

    Most Americans can't afford that kind of purism.  

  •  One thing that would help is if instant run off (0+ / 0-)

    voting or other more advanced voting system was adopted.  I think you would see a more accurate picture of how people really felt and third party candidates would be able to build support.

    In Minnesota local governments are now able to adopt instant runoff voting.  The Republicans are dead set against it.  I wonder if New York Republicans might be for it all of the sudden after the way the last couple of special Congressional elections have gone.

    I don't know if game theory can have a clear easy answer on how to do this.  The "payoff matrix" used to analyze game theory strategies cannot easily be quantified in such a complex situation of the economics and politics of a large country.  I would like to see an actual analysis to be convinced, though I admit that my own knowledge of the calculations of game theory is very limited.

    I do think primary challenges are a good idea.  That is one of the principle means that the Tea Party has gained influence.

    "The trouble with the world is that the stupid are cocksure and the intelligent are full of doubt." Bertrand Russell

    by Thutmose V on Sat Jun 18, 2011 at 07:56:58 PM PDT

    •  Primaries are good (0+ / 0-)

      but my question about lesser evilism was specific about voting for an incumbent in the general election, who survived their primary.

      •  What are the stakes of a Republican win? (2+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        tytalus, sewaneepat

        I don't understand how you received such a blanket response without first having a discussion about the stakes of the incumbent being unseated by a Republican in any given election.

        The stakes are going to be different for House races, Senate races, and Executive races.

        The stakes are going to be different from state to state.

        The stakes are going to be different depending on the makeup of the Congress.  Are we risking the party losing control of a house?  Are we risking the party not regaining control of a house?  How does the makeup of Congress affect the President's ability to perform on Democratic issues?

        The stakes are going to be different depending on upcoming political issues.  Is a Supreme Court seat at risk?  Is there LGBT or women's health-related legislation at risk?

        I don't argue that voting for the lesser evil should be embraced 100% of the time, but unfortunately, I think the stakes are so high that it's necessary most of the time.

        I support primary challenges of problem Democrats, and we need to sort out our messaging failures to help ensure that those primary challenges are successful.  But when we fail, we need to be pragmatic.

        I look at you all; see the love there that's sleeping. - G.H.
        I really love a lot, but I fight the one's that fight me. - M.I.A.

        by hey mister on Sat Jun 18, 2011 at 08:38:09 PM PDT

        [ Parent ]

  •  Excellent idea metamars (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    I'm in the middle of reading Bueno de Mesquita's book- and his ideas certainly have plenty of relevance to really any debate on political strategy, and the "lesser evil" problem is similar to other problems that he writes about in his book.

    Sadly, in the end, I think what you will find is that what politicians care most about in our present electoral system in America today is money and the best way to influence them is with lots of it...  the right certainly gets that fact. I would say that Obama and most of the Senate Democrats, despite what they say in public, get it. And unfortunately if the game requires money for influence, most of us will not matter.

    I put my faith in the people, But the people let me down. So I turned the other way And I carry on, anyhow - Rare Earth, I Just Want To Celebrate

    by Spiny on Sun Jun 19, 2011 at 12:12:12 AM PDT

    •  I consider the money-corruption problem to be (0+ / 0-)

      mostly overcome-able.

      Otherwise, I wouldn't bother posting on political blogs. Doing so will require considerable efforts towards organization and politicization of the public. It will require the creation of what I call democratic infrastructure, such as this suggestion of mine, as well as (hopefully) a widely adopted vote bloc technology such as the Interactive Voter Choice System.

      However, a baby step along the way is educating the public about the stupidity of lesser evilist voting. If Americans can't grasp this easy point (without going overboard, and simply, say, "voting their conscience", whether they do so in an organized fashion or not), then there is indeed not much hope of overcoming the money factor.

      However, money can't buy you votes.  Thus, no matter how badly corrupted and confused we've become as a democracy, there is a way out that doesn't involve violent revolution.

      As a reference on how to avoid vote-splitting, please see my diary Gaming competing ‘FireDogLake Voting Blocs’ scenarios – getting Unity out of Diversity

  •  What do you propose for voters like me who live (0+ / 0-)

    on a red district in a red state? For 8 years (2002-2010) we had a blue dog Dem. but before that we had a crazy Christian right guy (who would still be the Representative if he had not left to run for Governor) and now we have a Teabagger.

    The blue dog drove me crazy and I often swore I would never vote for him again, but of course, I had to - the greater evil was so much greater. I asked my state senator to run against the blue dog, but he declined. And he would also have been a blue dog if he had run and been elected, just a slightly greener hue of blue. A progressive would carry my town of about 500 voters, but would be hard pressed to get 500 more votes in this district.

    Things might not be perfect now, but if the Republicans win the WH and Senate, the US will be a perfect hell.

    You may know only progressives and think that we are in the majority, but I assure you that in the real world, we are not.

    You can't scare me, I'm sticking to the Union - Woody Guthrie

    by sewaneepat on Sun Jun 19, 2011 at 05:14:24 AM PDT

    •  Although it appears to have escaped your notice, (0+ / 0-)

      much of this nation is already living in your "perfect hell".

      This is why the Democratic Party is increasingly irrelevant as each cycle passes.

      "Those who can make you believe absurdities can make you commit atrocities." - Voltaire

      by Greyhound on Sun Jun 19, 2011 at 05:27:09 AM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  I am living in a state which is rapidly (0+ / 0-)

        approaching that perfect hell so I am aware of that situation. It seems to me that the problem is as much a systemic problem of our entire political and economic culture as it is with the Democratic Party per se.

        While I would happily vote for a socialist candidate, it does not seem possible for many to be elected except in VT and maybe another state or two, but not on a national level and certainly not in TN.  Therefore, from a practical perspective, I am relegated to voting for blue dogs at election time. It's that or a teabagger or a regular conservative Republican or a perennial crazy candidate.

        You can't scare me, I'm sticking to the Union - Woody Guthrie

        by sewaneepat on Sun Jun 19, 2011 at 07:23:25 AM PDT

        [ Parent ]

    •  I'll give you a general answer (besides moving :-) (1+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:

      I think citizens should form voting blocs, and the voting strategies pursued by those voting blocs should be fine tuned by political game theorists, though always subject to approval of the vote bloc members.

      The very idea of mutually exclusive left vs. right, and blue vs. red, obscures many areas of issue-based convergence amongst the citizenry, and thus disempowers them.  So, it's important to look for the complexity in your neighbors, which would reveal far more possibilities for cooperation than if they really were mostly Rush Limbaugh clones. It's also important to drive wedges between the Republican base and the corrupted Republican party leadership (similarly with the Democrats).

      I don't want to dig up more references,  but if you google at,, and, for discussions between myself and Nancy Bordier, as well as between myself and jeffroby, you will see that there are possibilities beyond what you're used to thinking of.

      I've gone further, and actually written a booklet on bringing about a democratic renaissance. However, I'm not distributing that, widely, though you can glean some of what's in there by reading my bloggerly writings.

      As far as taking over the Democratic Party, I recommend the "Angry Left" series at firedoglake by the blogger "Rayne". Finally, as to the games played by the legacy parties - even to the extent of throwing real reform candidates under the bus, so that party hacks can retain their power - you can read John Emerson's diaries at openleft, especially where he discusses the book Indispensable Enemies: The Politics of Misrule in America.  Says Emerson:

      Indispensable Enemies is a wild ride, and very few will want to stay on all the way to the end. Karp has no respect for either of the major parties, and his low opinion extends to such Democratic heroes as Woodrow Wilson, FDR, JFK, LBJ, and even McGovern. He was politically unaffiliated, but identified with the Progressive and Populist traditions, and  nowadays he seems to be admired mostly by paleocons and right-libertarians. But his insights into the two-party system can help dissidents of any stripe understand what's wrong with our political process, and more specifically, what's wrong with the Democratic Party.

      The basic idea of the book is that when you're trying to understand American politics, you don't want to start with the candidates and elected officials, or with the voters and public opinion, or even with the lobbyists or with the media, but with the political parties. Karp overstates his case considerably, but there are few who could read his book without learning something from it.

      The parties and the pros work for themselves first, last and always, and a party's ruling group would always rather maintain control of a losing party than win and lose control. Parties do not depend on elected officials for funding. Quite the opposite: elected officials who don't have their own organizations and who can't self-finance are pretty much dependent on the party. (This is especially true of low-seniority members of the House, who are little more than but peons.)  The party gets its funding from donors, and donors give money as often to prevent action asthey do to get action: sometimes all they want is nothing.

      By and large party leaders do not want reform, progress, or change, since anything new makes  their job harder and threatens to bring in new and competing leaders. The two party oligarchies support one another against the dissident forces in either party, and often their disputes are choreographed dog-and-pony shows leading, like pro wrestling, to foreordained conclusions -- as we have seen with free trade, tax reduction, and deregulation, often the two parties are in agreement on the issues.

      •  Let me be a little more specific (1+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:

        Well, first I'll continue to be general. "Lesser Evilism" implies slightly or somewhat lesser evilism. If there really is a huge gulf between a Republican front-runner and your friendly, neighborhood Blue Dog, go ahead and vote for the Blue Dog.  (Well, there could be other considerations, such as supporting a rising 3rd party, but I'll ignore that, for the purposes of communicating the basic idea.)

        As to specifics: The American healthcare system is parasitic, and sapping the life blood out of the economy. Furthermore, most of your Republican neighbors are in favor of lower costs (e.g., via a public option), and most of your Republican neighbors don't want to do away with Medicare. So, if you're going to be stuck with a Republican representative, shouldn't he at least be held to healthcare policies that have wide support in your community?

        IOW, you need to help get your Republican neighbors to eschew lesser evilism, also, which means that you have a task to educate them, and also to drive a wedge between them and the top of the Republican hierarchy, which is plutocratic, as is the situation with the Democrats. You should be eager to get your Republican neighbors to run better Republicans for office.

        I'm not arguing that citizens JUST eschew lesser evilism. Rather, I'm arguing that that is a baby step which should be supplemented by a major politicization of the American public. However, if Americans can't even break out of the relatively minor straightjacket of lesser evilism, it becomes that much more doubtful that they'd seriously work for the radical reform of the Dem and Repub Parties, and/or their abandonment.

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