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Disapproval voting

Disapproval voting is any voting system that allows many voters to express formal disapproval simultaneously. Unlike most voting systems, it requires that only negative measures or choices be presented to the voter or representative, as in a veto, some kinds of referendum, or a representative recall.

It is usually functionally equivalent to a simple inverted form of approval voting. However, the psychology of vetoing, protesting, excluding individuals or options, or removing an incumbent, triggers a very different cognitive bias and mode of risk aversion on the part of voters, legislators, or board members - thus it is an over-simplification to think of disapproval as simply 'negative approval'. Similar asymmetries apply in economics, where they are studied in behavioral finance, and in social sciences and ethics, as the expression of tolerances versus preferences, e.g. as in opinion polls[?].

General-purpose methods of disapproval voting, e.g. for use in general elections as an electoral reform, have been proposed and discussed by political scientists, but there is little literature on the subject. Most discussion of the issue is concentrated in the theory of consensus decision making, where small numbers of members disapproving of a measure have disproportionate power to block it. Also, there has been an explosion of application of disapproval voting systems in reality television, as noted below.

Table of contents

Disapproval expression in other voting systems

Any voting system permits some expression of disapproval, but these are necessarily confused with expressions of choice or approval, leading some to conclude that separating these expressions is best:

After the U.S. presidential election, 2000, some commentators suggested that the ability to approve of a candidate, but disapprove of his or her party affilation or elements of his or her platform, might be quite important, and that satisfaction of citizens with the political system might well depend on such an electoral reform.

A group of members of the Green Party of the United States, calling itself "Greens for Gore[?]", made explicit the fact that they were voting for Gore but supported not the platform of the Democratic Party which nominated him, but that of their own Green Party, which they called on Gore to implement. This is an example of disapproval voting on an informal level, where voters found a way to approve of the candidate, while disapproving of party and platform - and of his key opponent, G. W. Bush.

It is also often said that votes for a "protest candidate" or a "compromise candidate" can be viewed as disapproval votes, since the undesirable characteristics of the incumbent or alternative, respectively, can be said to be the voters' main concern. This of course is impossible to determine from the electoral results, as a vote intended to choose that candidate is indistinguishable in most systems from one that was intended to block or disapprove of another.

At executive levels, some disapproval measures already exist, e.g. the presidential veto[?] over legislation, which recently was radically extended to line-item veto. And, in legislatures, such vetos can exist, such as the power of the U.S. Senate to disapprove of the President's appointments to the Supreme Court of the United States or other judges, or indeed of that body to override the presidential veto.

Arguments for and against formal disapproval

Advocates of disapproval voting argue that they simply wish to extend to the citizen the powers that are already ceded to the executive, in terms of structure, e.g. many voters formally disapproving should tell the president when to exercise the veto. This is one of many arguments made for deliberative democracy, and advocated by some in the USA, e.g. Ralph Nader.

Detractors of this view of civic life note that the complexity of widespread public consultation and letting the public vote down necessary but unpopular expenditures is contrary to the spirit of a representative democracy, and is an impractical and untrusting measure. In part this is a reaction to the negative view of politics, parties, and platforms inherent in any scheme of disapproval.

Advocating disapproval or approval voting may be seen as taking a position on the tolerances versus preferences problem. Some propose that disapproval is more likely to trigger tolerance ideas of the voter, e.g. as in a poor woman choosing a lifetime mate, while approval is more likely to trigger preferences, e.g. as in shopping. This proposal, like most advocacy of voting systems, is 'political'.

Another issue is that expressions of formal disapproval in many societies, especially in Asia, are taken as anti-social. In the government of China, which is structured more as a bureaucracy than as a democracy, an official who rises a level is ratified by others at the level he is entering - no other candidates are presented but abstention as a protest is not uncommon. An approval rating[?] of less than 67-80% is taken as a strong disapproval - and most likely ends the rise of that individual at his current level. In any such structure, formal disapproval voting may lead to less honest outcomes, if the peer pressure not to be seen to formally disapprove of anyone is extreme.

Popular use

A well-known example of the use of disapproval voting are on reality game shows, e.g. Survivor, The Weakest Link, where it is used to eliminate one contestant at a time from the contest, or the variation used on Boot Camp[?] where the eliminated contestant can "take one (other) out with him". (Note: the examples given here are better examples of Coombs' method than disapproval voting as described here)

It appears that these shows were coined "reality shows" and grouped with other "reality shows" such as Cops and People's Court[?] in part because there is a popular perception that real life consists of disapproving and excluding others systematically from our lives.

Another well-known example, certainly to Internet users, is IP bans[?] that forbid online participation from particular addresses, even if participants are anonymous. These bans are common at net dating services and net porn services where large numbers of unwanted trolls patrol.

These examples suggest that the fundamentals of disapproval voting processes may already be in place in society, so deeply embedded it is hard to notice.

See also

representative recall, executive veto[?], electoral reform, tolerances versus preferences, reality game show

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