09 November 2008

Another voting conundrum

Voting theory has a new mystery to explain. In what may turn out to be his greatest contribution to an understanding of electoral politics, journalist John Sergeant has made it onto week 9 of Strictly Come Dancing.

Let no one be under any illusions about this - he could end up winning the whole thing. The presenters tell us that half the contestants' marks come from the four judges, and the other half from the phone-in vote. The final will be on phone-in votes only. Sergeant always gets the lowest votes from the judges, and yet never finishes in the bottom two once the viewers' votes are added.

This could not have happened in the past. In years gone by, if telephone votes looked to undermine a program, the vote would simply be rigged. These practices were exposed last year, and they would certainly not be able to get away with it for Strictly this year.

An obviously similar event was the MTV Europe "Best Act Ever" award - won on Thursday by Rick Astley.

The key fact is that people cannot be assumed to vote for the "right" reason. Why vote for the best dancer, when annoying the judges is more fun? Why vote for the best Mayor of London, when Ken Livingstone or Boris Johnson will be far more entertaining?

If Sergeant does win, the TV producers will have to find a way in future to make the show workable despite perverse phone votes. The things they try may turn out to have relevance for politics.

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