Saturday, November 06, 2004

Politics in an Analog World

Two things are happening in the blogosphere currently. One is trying to figure out what happened and why. (Link via Instapundit) The other is the intra-party bickering of who is truly loyal.

The roots of both of these debates are the urge to shoe horn people into categories, and just what those categories mean. The first article is about people trying to define others and not doing a particularly good job about it. The other is about people trying to define themselves and their erstwhile allies. The criticisms in both pieces turn on the fallacy that the votes for either side are monolithic, that on a chart they could be represented by a plane with a straight line dividing the two sides. The election would then be seen as the two sides trying to push the line deeper into the other side's territory.

I don't agree with that model because it reduces all of the points on the plane as very simple, deterministic units. If we use as our plane a model such as the Nolan Chart then each point represents a distinct political position, and in a population as large as a presidential election, each point will be populated by at least one voter. If you were to color each point by which side the voter in that position ultimately chooses, then conventional wisdom would have it that one side of the chart would be red, for the sake of argument, and the other side would be blue, with a straight line separating the two.

I don't like that image because it implies that it would be fairly easy to decide which of the polarities one belongs to, nor does it allow for the small yet consistent presence of third parties.

There is a fractal image (scroll down to the bottom of the page, upper left picture) that is created using a pendulum suspended over three magnets arranged in an equilateral triangle. The color of each point is determined by which magnet captures the pendulum when the pendulum starts at that point. The magnets are located inside the largest regions of their color. Note how the plane is not cut into neat thirds but instead has intricately folded seams of colors, even where another color is closer.

I've been pondering this image as a metaphor for politics for quite a while. The problem has been that it is a three part system with each part aquiring a third of the total, even if it is impossible to determine before hand all of the points that would be part of those thirds. The political arena, however, is dominated by two groups, while not completely extinguishing third parties, that can alter their total share of the electorate. Fortunately, I found the site linked above and its alteration of the trial to include variation of the strengths of the magnets. Scroll down and look at the bottom left image. Now we have two of the three magnets dominating the field while the third almost, but not entirely, disappears. Too bad it was the blue one that ended up disappearing rather than the green. It would have been easier on the eyes and made the comparison to politics more dramatic.

Pulling the analogy together: each of the magnets represents a candidate and his platform. The large blobs around each magnet are those whose choice of grape or cherry Kool-Aid was already set. Those who had to agonize over their decision, like this fellow, reside in the outlying regions. The ability of altering the strength of the magnets then represents the impact of campaigning and world events. I have a theory that a straight line drawn from the starting point to the candidate/magnet and the length in anyone one color is relative to the time spent by the pendulum in that region/voter in a camp before moving on to the next region/camp, but I have yet to see any information on that. The variation of attractive force can perturb the distribution of points on the plane and cause an unequal division of the points/voters.

This explains how there can be atheistic Pro-choicers for Bush and individualistic anti-regulators for Kerry. Fortunately, we only had chaos in who voted for whom, not in what the result would be.

No comments: