Game Design, Programming and running a one-man games business…

Protest votes in Democracy 4. Final piece of the puzzle?

Democracy 4 is a game, but its also my attempt at a fairly accurate political simulator, given the limitations that are to be expected when you do not delve into the individual mechanics of voting systems, and constituencies and different systems such as primaries, mid terms etc.

One of the things that may feel unrealistic to you if you play the game and get good at it, is that sometimes you will win with a laughably high share of the vote. 80%, maybe 85% maybe even higher. In the real world, in true trustworthy and secure democracies, this is super rare. Why is this? and how can I fix it in Democracy 4?

The most obvious answer is probably that ‘differing views on politics exist…duh!’ meaning that no party is ever going to win over everybody. This is obviously true, but there is definitely a phenomena where political debate shifts focus over time, and either takes the electorate with it, or is dragged BY the electorate towards it, depending on your POV. This is often called the ‘overton window‘ and is the space in a theoretical political compass that contains the ‘theoretically electable possibilities’.

For example right now in the USA, segregation of the races is most definitely not inside the overton window. No serious party would suggest setting up apartheid in the US. Similarly, the forced seizure of wealthy peoples second homes by the state is not considered. This is also clearly outside the overton window. But there are policies that move in and out of that window over time. Is socialized medicine now in the US window? perhaps obamacare suggests it is, but thats a fairly recent inclusion.

The point I am making is that mainstream political opinion can shift over time, so in theory, if a government does a really good job, it could shift a LOT of people towards supporting it. There may remain 5% hardcore racists and 5% hardcore communist, but its *feasible* that a centrist party could get 90% of the vote, based on policies.

So why does this not happen, ever, and why does it feel weird if it happens in Democracy 4?

The trouble with letting a computer programmer like me design a voting simulation is that we act like classical economists, who have a concept of a rational consumer. Rational consumers have a price at which they buy product A. If the price is too high, we don’t buy, if its low, we buy. Thats classical economics. The problem is, it turns out that classical economics is horseshit.

Read up on ‘behavioral economics’ and you will find its a crazy world out there. It turns out that ‘free’ is a magical price that behaves totally different from $0.01. It turns out that sometimes we will buy more if the price goes up. Sometimes we will value a product at a higher price than we paid for it…for no reason at all other than psychological feelings of ownership. It turns out that we get confused between $2.99 and $3.01 and think the first price is WAY cheaper. If we buy a product for $9,500 and we see an option to add biscuits worth $5 to the price as an add on, we happily pay $20 for the biscuits. In other words, we are dumb, irrational chimps!

The same is true of voting. We do not look at all of the impacts of the various policies proposed by the various manifestos and then make a rational choice. We vote for dumb reasons, in dumb ways, for animalistic and pyschological and completely irrational reasons.

Democracy 4 models some of this as best as it can. Voters are individuals that have a sense of elasticity of opinion, based on age. In other words old people stick to their views and loyalties, young people chop and change. Actual chance of voting depends partly on party membership, partly on strength of feeling, partly on the campaign effectiveness by the likely party we normally vote for, partly on their innate tendency to do things like vote (randomized at birth).

Once a voter actually votes, we base their choice partly on rational policy evaluation, partly on their perceptions of the leader (strong/compassionate/trustworthy?), partly on how fed up with the ruling party they are due to its time in office (inverse political honeymoon), partly on the appeal of the ruling party’s ministers, and the amount that party spends. And a lot of this is mitigated based on how educated the voters are. Poorly-educated are more manipulated by this, and less by policy.

And ultimately this super-complex bunch of code spits out a decision by each voter… and sometimes 90% vote for you.

I just today realized what I’m missing. Tactical voting and protest voting. Basically people actually supporting you, but voting for someone else.

This is a big thing, especially in ‘safe seats’ or ‘non-swing states’ for US readers. If you live in a state where the democrats get 75% of the vote every election, and you are hard left…why vote for the democrats? You can safely vote for a third party harder-left candidate safe in the knowledge that the message will be received…but there is no risk of you letting a republican in. And the same vice versa.

LOTS of people clearly do this… but the game does not yet handle it. Not only that but the *chance* of someone voting is probably also influenced by this. I know 100% that where I live, our next MP will be the same Tory MP we have had here for decades. Its a super safe conservative party stronghold. So in theory, if I was a natural Tory voter, I could safely ‘use’ my vote to send a message to him that he should not be complacent…OR I could just stay at home that day, safe in the knowledge that he doesn’t need my vote and will win anyway.

I need to include this in Democracy 4, and I am just working out a way. Clearly some people are likely to vote tactically and some are not. I could simply give it a percentage and say 10% of the electorate are susceptible to these thought processes, then assign some other thresholds. For example if the polls show >70% approval for the ruling party, then scale in a chance I don’t bother to vote if I support them anyway, or scale in a chance I vote for the closest party to the ruling party that is *not* them (could be one of two opposition parties…).

I need to code this, and test it, but also hopefully find a way to represent this in the game. One way might be to make up a bunch of small protest-vote parties with fringe views, and represent them as another column of ‘smaller parties’ on election day. This could effectively be the ‘protest vote’ column… Still thinking about it, but I think it does need to go in…

Could this work?

4 thoughts on Protest votes in Democracy 4. Final piece of the puzzle?

  1. Even if you’re not modelling tactical votes and protest votes, I doubt that they are strong enough effects in reality to make the difference between 90% and <50%.

    I personally get the sense that this "inverse honeymoon" effect should be pretty strong. When a party (or coalition) is in power, all you hear about in the media is what they're getting wrong, rarely what they're doing right. So there is a natural bias towards voting against them. Whether this would make for good gameplay though…

    Also I think you're insulting the chimps there ;)

  2. I can think of some things that are missing from your sim.

    Censorship of opponents from social media access, denial of access to bank accounts, harassment of employers until dissidents are fired from their jobs, run them broke with nuisance lawsuits, etc.

    External state actors, local intelligence services, wealthy individuals/lobbyists, or groups that work within government and private enterprise who operate as a community with a common interest etc. All of these people exert pressure on politicians using blackmail/bribes/media power/censorship, to go against what the public voted for. The public gets to vote once every 4 years. while these people get to “vote” every day. Who has more leverage in this situation?

    From what I have seen, the Overton window is just what the people with real power allow. It is shifting in a direction they do not like, due to the open discussion on the Internet, so they sued their opponents, banned them from social media, and kicked them off the net. And now the Internet as we know it has to go, because people people voted for the bad man in 2016.

    Speaking of intelligence services subverting democracy, there’s some interesting video being passed around where they show the same guy popping up at all the events leading up to January 6th riot in Washington D.C., and each time he was inciting people to invade the Capitol building. At the end he was at the front of the mob that tore down the barricade on the border to the round. This guy has not been charged with anything, while a lot of people are locked up in solitary for doing very little, so some are saying he is an FBI agent or informant. I can find it if you want to see it. In the USA it is the law you are not allowed to incite violence, unless you are working in your capacity as an FBI agent or informant. So this behavior is how dissidents have learned to spot what they call “glowies” on social media.

    I know you aren’t modelling the things I mention, because if you did, you would be banned from social media, and that would be the end of your business. So I’ve been half seriously thinking of making a democracy game of my own, that includes the things I mention. But I would only put it on the dark web, and sell it using a private currency like Monero etc. Why would I do that? So the groups I mentioned above can’t track me down and destroy my life. The game would be called Darkmocracy.

  3. Single issue voters also should exist – it would be correlated with policy, that has largest unhappiness on voter group.

    So if worst policy is -X% to voter group happiness, then they had some chance at not voting for you if their happiness is at Y+(X/2) percent
    That is 100% unhappiness from policy – voter can choose to not vote for you no matter what happiness.
    50% unhappiness from policy – chance to not vote for you if voter happiness is below 75%.

    Chance to not vote for you would be affected by membership. So 1% Liberal wouldn’t care much about banned abortion, but voter that is 100% liberal, and is 51% happy wouldn’t vote for you with high probability.

  4. You might also want to model weights if you aren’t already. People tend to lean more toward a couple things. If i offend a socialist, commuter, liberal. Is the socialist, the commuter, or the liberal the highest weight?
    If i made traffic terrible but am socialist, maybe that’s ok? The debate on a lot of topics can be pretty strong. Giving somebody 80% may result in the other party offering the other 20%
    Don’t forget the other party has campaign promises too. Some of which might not work.

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