popular voting systems

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Selecting user questions with a popular vote

Several organizations have launched websites where visitors post questions to be answered by politicians, and then a popular vote is used to choose the questions which are asked. All of these systems are basically scams: they're designed to fail, and they allow weak questions to rise to the top while tough questions languish.

For a tangible example of that, MoveOn used their membership list to vote a question for Barack Obama to the top of the list of possibilities, and it was asked of him in a televised debate. The incredibly weak question was about net neutrality, a topic he was already on record as supporting. In fact, a very basic search had his position on that topic as the first hit. In other words, it was a complete setup, a Soviet Union-style sham.

And, something similar happened with the same effort another time.

Now, of course, all of this depends on how you define "failure". If the goal is to have politicians asked tough questions or be confronted with their lies, these systems are complete failures. However, if the goal is to have politicians asked open-ended questions that they can answer with ease, then these systems work remarkably well.

In almost all cases, the questioners seem to have spent very little time anticipating likely responses, and as a result almost all of these questions can be answered with stock boilerplate. And, in almost all cases, the questioners don't seem to have researched the previous statements of those being questioned. Part of that may be a form of conditioning: most people have only seen the weak questions asked by TV newsanchors and the like and aren't familiar with tough questioning.

Make no mistake: politicians are quite happy with this setup. Since many of them are lawyers they have little trouble offering a vague answer that sounds like it answered the question. It provides a show, a verisimilitude of a debate. From the standpoint of many questioners, it offers an ego boost; perhaps those who offer weak questions should consider the ego boost of actually doing a public service.

The alternative to such systems is to have a set of known quantities (pundits, bloggers, etc.) vote on questions based on their toughness. And, all their votes will be public. Using that system, those known quantities will risk losing credibility if they vote up weak questions or vote down tough questions, they'll put their reputations at risk. For instance, a transportation policy expert will lose credibility if he votes down a tough question he disagrees with at the same time as he votes up an Obamagirl video.

Last modified Dec 15, 2008
Discussed in (click each link for the full post):

Reddit Ask Me Anything of Obama was OK, if you want to enable the corrupt establishment - 08/30/12

Remember the phrase "Question Authority"? What the site Reddit [1] did yesterday is the opposite of that.

Fox News/Youtube GOP debate, September 22, 2011 (Perry, Romney, Bachmann...) - 09/22/11

Tonight Fox News will be conducting a GOP debate in conjunction with Youtube, with some of the questions to be asked having been submitted via Youtube. Feel free to leave comments below before, during or after the debate. This post will be updated after a transcript becomes available. This debate stands to be just as bad and as much of a public disservice as all the others, especially considering the involvement of Youtube.

AskObama: did Steve Grove choose an unpopular immigration question because of Voto Latino? - 01/28/11

Yesterday, Steve Grove of Youtube interviewed Barack Obama with a series of questions that users had submitted through the "Ask Obama" event. The Youtube interview was a scam; see that link for the details and the backstory. To further drive home just how much of a scam it was, Grove appears to have undercut the implied rules of the competition by choosing an unpopular video as the only question about immigration. However, that video just happens to have been uploaded by an organization that's partnered with Youtube. According to the implied rules of the competition, Youtube visitors would...

Another Youtube/Obama scam: ask State of the Union questions - 01/26/11

[UPDATE: Make sure and see this too] Youtube and Barack Obama are conducting yet another scam, soliciting questions for Obama based on the State of the Union that he'll answer on Thursday, January 27. Other users vote up or down submitted questions, and then Obama will answer the top vote-getters. The questions that get the most votes will invariably not be the best questions, the ones that Obama should be pressed on. In fact, they're likely to be some of the weakest questions of all. Obama and all other politicians should be "cross-examined" over their policies, and this latest scam will not...

Google Moderator finds its level: choosing questions for a puppet - 09/25/10

One of the main goals of this site is to hold politicians accountable. Google Moderator and similar systems go in the opposite direction: they've let a long series of politicians off the hook and in most cases they've even made it easier for politicians to mislead.

How to use Google Moderator at Youtube: very carefully - 05/28/10

Youtube now lets video uploaders create Google Moderator polls attached to their videos; Moderator lets users submit questions (or comments) and other users can vote up or down those user-submitted questions. In the past, Google Moderator and similar systems have been used by politicians to avoid being asked tough questions, and those who take advantage of this new capability need to make sure to only use it for situations where it's appropriate.

GOP's "America Speaking Out" is worse than just a joke - 05/26/10

Following their "YouCut" stunt, the GOP has released yet another stunt called "America Speaking Out" (americaspeakingout.com, put together by Rep. Kevin McCarthy). Like YouCut, it's based on popular voting systems and lets users submit and vote on ideas in a limited set of categories.

YouCut: another stunt showing that the GOP has run out of ideas (Eric Cantor) - 05/19/10

A week ago, GOP House Whip Eric Cantor launched "YouCut" (republicanwhip.house.gov/YouCut), an attempt to show that the GOP is serious about spending. Except, it's just another tea parties-style cheap stunt:

Tea party "Contract with America" considers highly impractical immigration ideas - 02/04/10

[UPDATE: They've narrowed down the choices to 21, from which tea partiers have to choose 10. None of them have anything to do with immigration.] The group "Tea Party Patriots" is crowd-sourcing an agenda for their movement called the "Contract From America" (contractfromamerica.com): users can submit proposed planks and others can vote them up or down. In other words, this is a perfect storm of the issues that the tea parties have, combined with the issues inherent in popular voting systems. Please see both links for a discussion of those issues. The current top five proposals in the...

Steve Grove asks Obama weak questions live on Youtube ("Your" Interview with the President) - 02/01/10

Earlier today, Steve Grove - Youtube's director of news and politics programming - interviewed Barack Obama live on Youtube (and on the White House's live feed) and asked him a series of weak questions that he answered with ease. Some or all of the questions he was asked were submitted by Youtube's visitors, very few of whom are familiar with specialized topics and with asking tough questions.

Google Sidewiki: mostly worthless for showing how political sites are lying or misleading - 09/23/09

Google has launched a new service called "Sidewiki" (link) that's a bit of a universal commenting system. If you have their toolbar installed, you'll see comments that others have left about the current webpage; see screengrabs at the link. And, because the comments are ranked from "best" to "worst", this will simply reinforce the status quo at most sites in most cases. In other words, it won't help those like me who try to point out how MSM articles are lying or misleading. For instance, most visitors to the DailyKos will agree with their point of view. They'll vote down comments that point...

DHS wants your input on immigration policy, terrorism, FEMA - 08/03/09

The Obama administration has a habit of running popular voting systems - flawed systems that allows weak questions and proposals to rise to the top - and they're back with another one. This time it's concerning immigration policy and the other issues in the DHS's purview. They want your input at homelandsecuritydialogue.org

Youtube helps Obama find useful idiot questioners for his healthcare town hall - 06/29/09

Steve Grove of Youtube writes (youtube.com/blog?entry=20h2yiH79Tc): President Obama is taking your questions this Wednesday in a special online health care town hall event. With health care at the top of the President's agenda, he is opening up the White House to questions via YouTube... He'll answer some of the most popular questions during the event, which we'll stream live from the White House YouTube channel. In a word, this is a sham. And, it's similar to all the other shams that Youtube, CNN, Obama, and others have conducted for the past couple of years; see the popular voting systems...

Obama wants your ideas on transparency, open government - 05/23/09

From opengov.ideascale.com: On January 21st, the President issued the Memorandum on Transparency and Open Government, calling for an unprecedented level of openness in government. In the memorandum, the President outlined three principles for promoting a transparent and open government: transparency, participation, and collaboration. Now, the President is calling on you to help shape how that commitment is fulfilled. This online brainstorming session, open from May 21st to 28th, 2009, will enable the White House to hear your most important ideas relating to open government. Visitors can vote...

Obama "Citizen's Briefing Book" has no immigration suggestions - 05/11/09

The Obama administration has released the final version of their "Citizen's Briefing Book", the culmination of them soliciting ideas from the citizenry. See the link for the backstory, and you can download a copy from whitehouse.gov/ope.

Sen. Blanche Lincoln thanks you for your input on the SAVE Act, will be in touch - 04/11/09

On the attached video, Arkansas Senator Blanche Lincoln responds to citizen input on the SAVE Act and her related push to increase volunteerism. This is part of the Youtube effort called "Senate Hub" in which users submit questions which are then answered by various senators (youtube.com/user/senatehub).

Obama's "Open for Questions": even MSM notices how bad it was - 03/26/09

Earlier today, Barack Obama conducted an online townhall meeting in which part of the time was spend answering questions that had been submitted to and voted up at whitehouse.gov/openforquestions. Sheryl Gay Stolberg of the New York Times has a run-down here. The problems with the system he used are covered in the popular voting systems summary, including a brief description of a better way to do things. As predicted, the questions were weak. However, on the plus side the mainstream media or at least the online version of same appears to be catching on to the flaws in the voting system that...

Why "Ask the President" will ask Obama worthless questions (Ari Melber, The Nation, WashTimes) - 03/22/09

The Nation, the Washington Times, and the Personal Democracy Forum are behind a new effort to solicit questions for Barack Obama from the general public: communitycounts.com/obama Anyone can submit questions and then vote for their favorites. The "best" questions might then be asked of him at a White House press conference. If you want Obama to be really pressed on very tough questions - the type the MSM refuses to ask - this is not going to give you what you want. However, if you want Obama to only be presented with puffball questions including those he's already answered, then you should...

Got a question for John Boehner? (Digg, until 1/22/09) - 01/21/09

Digg.com is soliciting questions that they're going to ask of Republican House Leader John Boehner. Until midnight on January 22, 2008, you can submit and vote on questions here: digg.com/dialogg/John_Boehner_1

The "Citizen's Briefing Book", the latest Barack Obama scam - 01/15/09

The latest scam from the Barack Obama camp is a "Citizen's Briefing Book" at change dot gov: citizensbriefingbook.change.gov

Change.gov Round 2: Ask Obama stupid questions, get stock responses - 01/13/09

Barack Obama's change dot gov has released their responses for the second round of their scam where they encouraged people to submit and vote for questions that Obama would answer (change.gov/newsroom/entry/open_for_questions_round_2_response). As with other popular voting systems, it was designed to fail, with weak questions being voted up while tough questions (such as the ones I submitted) languishing or being voted down (my vote totals at that link). What might have worked is if people had submitted only a small number of very tough questions and voted those up. Instead, dozens or...

Andrew Revkin/NYT: 11 weak science questions for Obama (dot Earth) - 01/02/09

Andrew Revkin writes the "dot Earth" blog for the New York Times, and he offers "11 Questions for Obama’s Science Team" (link). As one might expect, all of the questions are to one degree or another variations on, "Comrade Lysenko, tell us of the wonders of your system." About the only slightly tough question concerns ethanol. None of the questions challenge fundamental assumptions or expose flaws in the reasoning of Obama or his science selections.

More immigration questions for Barack Obama (change.gov Open for Questions) - 12/29/08

Barack Obama's change dot gov is starting round two of their "Open for Questions" scam (why it's a scam is explained here) where they solicit questions from the public at change.gov/openforquestions.

Obama releases "answers" to change.gov user-generated "questions" (420, dude) - 12/15/08

Barack Obama's change dot gov recently asked the citizens to submit questions which he would deign to answer. Now, the answers to the "top" questions have been released here. The questions were weak, the answers were weak and could have been gleaned from Obama's positions. All that was predictable; see the discussion of popular voting systems. First, my question - tougher than any of the others I saw - got 17 up votes versus 13 down votes. Since the question is fact-based, one wonders why 13 people didn't think Obama should have been asked it. Reading these questions is making me weep for our...

My change.gov question for Barack Obama (in-state tuition for illegal aliens) - 12/11/08

Change dot gov is soliciting questions from the citizens and allowing others to vote on submitted questions. Presumably Obama will answer the most popular questions and, as previously discussed this system shares the same flaws as other popular voting systems and is thus little more than a scam designed to fool people into thinking that Obama will answer tough questions. As a test, I (using the same Robert Bellaire pseudonym as I used at MyBHO) submitted the following question. Due to character length limitations I didn't include as much supporting information as I would have wanted: You...

New Obama scam: visitors vote for questions he'll be asked - 12/10/08

Barack Obama has recently launched a new effort that lets visitors to change dot gov submit questions he should be asked. Others then vote those questions up or down, and he'll presumably answer the top rated questions at some point in time: change.gov/page/content/openforquestions This is, in a word, a scam: it shares the same huge design flaw as other popular voting systems in which weak questions are pushed to the top while the questions he should be asked are ignored. In fact, he has experience with such a scheme, where a weak question from the 10Questions group was asked of him after...

Wikipedia is a good, credible source for one thing at least - 11/09/08

In the past, I've been extremely critical of Wikipedia and I still consider them, among other things, as a source of disinformation. In fact, if you're reading this as a single post you'll see that I have a site just about them. However, there is one good thing I have to give them credit for. Actually, two things: commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/Image:LargeBreastCleavage.png Sadly, the provider of this "self-made" photo doesn't have a user page or another way to send her thanks.

eCitizen's "Ask the President-Elect": yet another setup? - 11/07/08

The eCitizen Foundation (ecitizenfoundation.org) has launched the "Ask the President-Elect" Project, where regular citizens can submit video or text questions for Barack Obama. The questions that get the most votes will then be asked of our new president or his transition team, with three of the top vote getters being flown to MIT for a live event. And, it appears to be as much of a setup as similar past efforts.

Open Debate Coalition: a failed format for fake debates - 09/26/08

The "Open Debate Coalition" - a group consisting of people such as Glenn Reynolds ("Instapundit") and Stanford law professor Larry Lessig [1] - is calling on John McCain and Barack Obama to open the presidential debates by allowing questions chosen by regular people and not just the MSM. However, what they support has not only been proven to be a failure, but two of the signatories helped show how such formats can be gamed and another was involved with the system that was gamed.

10Questions.com is a horrible idea, here's *more* proof - 11/21/07

10 Questions.com lets people vote on their favorite questions for the political candidates, which their MSM partners (NYT and MSNBC) will presumably try to get the candidates to answer (two have already come in: youtube.com/profile?user=10ques). My issue with the site is that it allows those who can drive traffic to the site to propel weak questions to the top; this allows partisan hacks to avoid having difficult questions asked.

Janet Murguia/NCLR misleads to support illegal immigration (Kansas City, Minuteman issue) - 11/04/07

The National Council of La Raza ("The Race") is an extremist-funding group that in turn is funded by large corporations [1] that profit from illegal activity. Senator Chris Dodd even wants to give them millions of dollars. They recently pulled their 2009 convention out of Kansas City, MO because a member of the Minuteman Civil Defense Corps was appointed to that city's Parks Board. Local Hispanic leaders even went as far as trying to deliver a letter to that board member's house in what appears to be an attempt to intimidate her. Now, their president, Janet Murguia, offers "La Raza left...

10Questions.com is a horrible idea, here's proof - 10/29/07

10Questions.com is a new site that aggregates Youtube and similar political videos and allows visitors to vote on their favorite. The top 10 will then be asked of the presidential candidates, with the candidates then asked to upload replies. The site is co-sponsored by several blogs as well as the New York Times and MSNBC.

Tech President/10 Questions: is it meant to work in the first place? - 10/17/07

This site "techPresident" (techpresident.com) has launched a new feature called "10 Questions" that's highly similar to the existing site Community Counts (one of those behind CC is involved in 10Q).