Monday, January 16, 2006

The abuse of statistics

Statistics, politics,
democracy, elections,
If you were invited to a party and were told that nearly half of the people there didn't like you, would you have some reservations about attending?
What if you were asked to lead a group in which you knew, even before you started that 5 out of 10 of the members were against you. Would you think twice about taking on such a job?
While I'm not about to discuss, Chilean politics, per se, I want to note that yesterday, Chile elected a new president, Michelle Bachelete, their first female president, with about 53% of the votes, her oponent, Sebastian Piñera, getting 47%.
It's clear that Bachelete gained a majority of the votes, but what is equally obvious, if you look at the figures is that nearly half of the votes were against her.
If you add to this, the fact that there were approximately 3% of the votes submitted in blank or spoiled, and consider that these abnormal votes could have been made in protest, then she received only a very slim majority ... somewhere around 51% of all the votes cast.
Jorge Luis Borges once defined democracy as an abuse of statistics. I tend to agree, especially when most people today live with the illusion that their participation in an election has a vital role in their future or the future of the world.
One of the major failings of the present democratic system in my eyes is that fact that people are forced to choose from a pre-determined list of choices. What if they don't like any of those choices? They are then required to select the lesser of the evils.
Use the just completed Chilean presidental election as an example. This was the second round, and there were just two candidates: the two who had received the highest number of votes in the first round, about a month ago. Regardless of what happened, one of these two candidates would be elected president.
What would have happened if there were a third choice on the ballot which offered people the chance to vote for

Would the 3% of blank ballots have been cast for this option?

More importantly, there were possibly another 30% of votes which were supposedly transferred from the candidates who were eliminated from the first round. Conceivably, in this election, the majority of the votes, might have been cast for the option of "None of the Above"

If this were the result, obviously the voters would be telling the politicians in the country that they didn't like any of the choices they had been presented with and they had better come up with a new list.

I realize that even this option, if it were available, would not be a complete solution to all the weaknesses and imperfections which democracy currently has, but the fact that it has never been made available in any election that I've heard of, is one of the reasons why I consider the popular notion about democracy to be an illusion and think that Borges may have been right on the mark.

No comments: