The Magazine

Another Voting Paradox

Political scientists and democracy.

Sep 19, 2011, Vol. 17, No. 01 • By JAMES W. CEASER
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Political scientists today generally consider themselves an empirically minded group, less impressed by airy theoretical speculations than by attention to “hard data.” On this dimension, the cooptocrats possessed a clear advantage in the debate. The association’s treasurer, Arthur Lupia of the University of Michigan, one of the profession’s most decorated methodologists, introduced the only real evidence. In a lengthy speech, he proposed to answer the question “How have competitive elections changed the council?” Analyzing the cases over the last six years in which competitive elections for the council resulted in dissidents defeating the nominees proposed by the nominating committee, Lupia generated a table, which he read in full, that bears close study. It compares the diversity attributes of the victorious dissident candidates with the diversity attributes of the candidates proposed by the cooptocracy, but not elected.

Interpreting the result, Lupia observed, “In nine of the ten cases [I counted nine], competitive elections led to the council being more white or less international than it would have been under the nominating committee’s recommendation. .  .  . From the perspective of racial, ethnic, and international diversity, the actuality of these elections is difficult to support.”

This evidence, cited time and again, appeared to have a decisive impact on the outcome of the debate. It was so impressive that on my return from the association meeting, I immediately con-vened a panel of graduate students at the University of Virginia to further mine this rich data set and allow it to speak in all of its nuance. The heated objection of one panelist​—​that Lupia had buried the fact that the dissidents promoted more gender diversity (six females instead of three!)​—​was duly noted, but quickly set aside. Other panelists pointed out that there were several factors in play here, not just gender, so the full matter could in fairness only be determined by a more rigorous statistical approach that assigned weights to each variable. The resulting “Diversity Index” the panel constructed adopted the following weights. For gender, a male received a (-1) designation, a female (+1); for race, White (-1), Asian (+1) and Black (+2). Country of origin provoked some discussion, but in the end, in accord with the spirit of diversity’s concern for reversing the domination of hegemonic countries (and their allies) over oppressed nations, the panel decided to accord a (-2) to America, (-1) to dependent American allies like Taiwan and Israel, and up to a (+2) for the former French colony of Benin. For each entrant on the table it became possible to calculate a single diversity score [t = R(race)+O(origin)+G(gender)]. For example, to take the outliers, a White American Male (WAM) was scored at -4, while a Black Benin Male (BBM) rated an impressive +3. The White Female from Israel netted -1. When the totals for the dissidents who were elected were compared with the totals of the candidates from the nominating committee who were defeated, the panel had little difficulty concluding that the cooptocracy had, if anything, understated the strength of its case. These were robust findings in every sense of the word. 

The wisdom of social science was happily confirmed at the association meeting. Leaving the hall, I saw a smiling set of past association presidents being congratulated by their coopted beneficiaries. Substantive democracy had prevailed​—​by an exercise of procedural democracy, no less.

James W. Ceaser is professor of politics at the University of Virginia and a visiting fellow at the Hoover Institution.

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