MA177---Discussion questions on voting and elections

These questions refer to Borda's paper on elections by ballot and to Condorcet's analysis of the problem in his Essai.

  1. How serious is the problem with straight plurality election? Are Borda and Condorcet right in considering that system bad?

  2. How persuasive is Borda's argument for his point system?

  3. Borda seems to suggest another system at the end of his article? What is it?

  4. Condorcet's would like to use the results of one-on-one comparisons to order the overall choice. Why doesn't this always work?

  5. How does Condorcet propose to handle the "cases that involve contradiction"?

  6. How seriously do these investigations undermine our confidence in elections?

If you'd like to know more about twentieth-century developments related to the questions raised by Borda and Condorcet, look at the book For All Practical Purposes, which has a chapter on social choice theory. The most important twentieth century development is known as ``Arrow's Theorem,'' and it is due to Kenneth Arrow, a Nobel prize winner in economics, so another way of learning more is to read his books (the library has a bunch of them). Social choice theory is still a very active field that lies in the intersection between mathematics, economics, and political science.

Fernando Q. Gouvea
Fri Nov 14 09:39:47 EST 1997