The Jesus Christ of Political Game Theory on the Stupidity of Lesser Evilist Voting

I’ve long thought of writing a diary called “If the CIA is smart enough to hire a political game theorist, then why aren’t progressives?” Indeed, I’ve threatened to write such a diary.

This diary may or may not substitute for such a diary, due to overlap. We shall see.

A more accurate title for this diary is certainly “The Albert Einstein of Political Game Theory on the Stupidity of Lesser Evilist Voting”. Who is this Albert Einstein / Jesus Christ? Well, none other than the political game theorist Bueno de Mesquita, who was featured in the New York Time in an article called Can Game Theory Predict When Iran Will Get the Bomb?. A brief intro to the subject of political game theory can be viewed online here.

The reason that de Mesquita is better compared to Einstein, is because he’s a smart guy. The NY Times article tells us:

among national-security types and corporate decision makers, he is even better known for his prognostications. For 29 years, Bueno de Mesquita has been developing and honing a computer model that predicts the outcome of any situation in which parties can be described as trying to persuade or coerce one another. Since the early 1980s, C.I.A. officials have hired him to perform more than a thousand predictions; a study by the C.I.A., now declassified, found that Bueno de Mesquita’s predictions “hit the bull’s-eye” twice as often as its own analysts did.

(emphasis mine)

However, the comparison to Jesus Christ makes for a catchier diary title, and also expresses my hope that progressives (and voters in general) might be saved from their disempowered state, by voting more intelligently. And bravely, for those who are too afraid of splitting the vote of the legacy party candidate that they are more closely aligned with, thus potentially handing a victory to the “evil other” legacy party. For progressives, they tend to be hamstrung by being afraid not to vote for a Democrat, no matter how bad. An analogous situation holds for a good deal of the Republican base, who may well be afraid of throwing a Republican under the bus due to fears of electing a dastardly Democrat.

Because I don’t want to spend a lot of time writing a polished diary, I will simply do the following:

First, I point to the unpleasant discussion I had with Mike Hersh, who wrote a blog diary on the Progressive Democrats of America website, called The High Cost of Voting for Spoilers, which prompted me to email Bueno de Mesquita.

Secondly, I quote my email to Bueno de Mesquita, verbatim.

Thirdly, I quote de Mesquita’s replay, verbatim, which he has given me permission to do.

Fourthly, I’ll mention that interesting discussions and debates on voting strategy, as regards jeffroby’s proposal for a Full Court Press, were had at and Google is your friend. The Full Court Press (FCP) was a plan to alter the political dynamics of progressives who vote as Democrats, and hopefully spark the beginning of an effective progressive movement. Basically, the FCP would try and enlist 435 challengers in Democratic primaries for the House of Representatives, who could be minimalist candidates, whose minimal requirement was to appear in Democratic debates and argue the FCP’s progressive platform.

Fifthly, I’ll mention that Anthony Noel of the New Progressive Alliance (NPA) participated in the discussion comments of The High Cost of Voting for Spoilers. NPA embraces an aggressive voting strategy, which eschews lesser evilism. (I’m afraid that it will be too aggressive when it starts pursuing Congressional races, but that is another matter.)

Sixthly, I want to state that I sincerely hope that sincere political groups of diverse ideological stripes will avail themselves of individuals like de Mesquita, to hone more effective voting strategies. De Mesquita, himself, does not consult on elections (in the US, I presume), but I’m sure that individuals with his sort of political game theory background can be found.

My Email to Bueno de Mesquita

Dear Mr. De Mesquita:

I have mentioned your work many times at progressive blogs and forums, and I find it amazing and depressing that there is generally no support amongst progressives for hiring somebody with your background. Firedoglake is a happy exception, but, until today, I knew of no other progressive place similarly disposed.

Well, an unpleasant discussion at the Progressive Democrats of America website ended with this statement by the author, who had objected to my description of PDA’s implicit voting strategy as “lesser evilism”:

“PS—please ask Bueno de Mesquita (and anyone else you think would like to help) to contact us. We’re always looking for smart, effective people. Thanks for bringing his name into the discussion.”

This was at the following web page URL:

So, there you go! You have an informal invitation to provisionally offer your services to the PDA ( Of course, the PDA should be seeking you out, not so much the other way around, but it’s the end result that matters.

BTW, would you be kind enough to remark on my conviction that lesser evilism, as I have defined it (basically, always voting in the general election for the person from your party, no matter what he or she does; confine your electoral efforts to the primary, unless you succeed in voting out the incumbent) is a stupid voting strategy? I never studied game theory, though I’ve read a Scientific American article or two on it. I was the top chess player in my high school, but never read a chess book. I assume that I have an intuitive ability for strategy, even if I can’t calculate it, as you can.

Finally, you may be interested in some diaries of mine involving voting strategy:

Recommended Short and Long Term Voting Strategies for the Dump Obama Movement

“Dump Corporate Dems” – Going Green at the State Level, to “make Dems do it” at the Federal level

I’d just love it if you or a grad student of yours analyzed the voting strategies that I have recommended.


Bueno de Mesquita’s Reply

You are right – it is a stupid voting strategy if you care about the outcome. A colleague and I just wrote a very technical paler on this subject.
Az a matter of policy my consulting firm does not use our capabilities to influence electoral outcomes. It sounds like this is what your colleagues are looking for. If they are interested in shaping specific policies that is another matter. Let me know if influencing legislative outcomes is of interest and if they have a consulting budget.
Thanks for thinking of me