Would Gessler Have Won the GOP Primary with Approval Voting?

gesslerOn Tuesday Colorado Republicans selected Bob Beauprez to run for governor—again. Queue “both ways Bob,” queue the “war on women.” (I doubt the Democrats will make much of Beauprez’s 2007 support for an insurance mandate, or his 2000 support for anti-gun laws.) I predict that he will lose—again (this time to John Hickenlooper, the incumbent). (This is no courageous prediction; I don’t think any of the candidates would have been able to beat Hickenlooper, despite his mishandling of the gun issue. I could be wrong, of course; general antipathy toward Democrats this time around could swing the governor’s race.)

What’s interesting about the primary vote is that four strong candidates split the vote relatively evenly. With 98 percent of the votes reported, the Denver Post offers the following results:

  • Bob Beauprez: 30.3%
  • Tom Tancredo: 26.6%
  • Scott Gessler: 23.2%
  • Mike Kopp: 19.8%

In other words, fewer than a third of Colorado Republican primary voters, or a little over 111,000 people (in a state with a population of around 5.3 million people), cast a vote for Beauprez—hardly a popular uprising.

Consider what might have happened under approval voting. The basics of approval voting are straightforward: Each voter gets to vote for as many candidates as he or she “approves” of. The candidate with the most votes wins. For example, if I had voted in this primary under approval voting, I would have cast a vote for both Gessler and Tancredo (despite my deep disagreements with the latter).

Although it’s quite possible that Beauprez would have won under approval voting as well, I think there’s a good chance Gessler would have won.

Here’s my reasoning. Beauprez is the milquetoast, establishment candidate, and I think a lot of people voted for him just because he’s tall and grandfatherly, he has congressional experience, and he’s not as ornery as Gessler (a quality of Gessler’s I find appealing) or as weighed down by baggage as Tancredo. (Kopp was never a leading candidate, despite his incessant YouTube ads.) I think that, under approval voting, many people who voted for Beauprez also would have voted for Gessler. I think that many people who voted for Tancredo also would have voted for Kopp, and vice versa, but that many people who voted for those candidates also would have voted for Gessler as their second choice.  And I think that a disproportionate number of people who voted for Gessler would have voted for a single candidate. In this scenario, Gessler may well have pulled ahead.

Of course, there’s no way to know for sure. The only thing we can know for sure at this point is that fewer than a third of Republican voters cast a vote for the Republican nominee for governor, and that doesn’t give me much confidence that the outcome accurately reflects voters’ preferences.

Those who have a different guess as to what the outcome would have been under approval voting are welcome to explain their reasoning in the comments.

Incidentally, Mike Dunafon is also running for governor, as an independent (and I may well vote for him), and there’s also a Libertarian in the race. Although Hick might get more than half of the total votes, he may well win with Beauprez and Dunafon (and the Libertarian) combined earning more than half the votes. If that happens, I will take the opportunity to write yet another post about the benefits of approval voting.

7 thoughts on “Would Gessler Have Won the GOP Primary with Approval Voting?

  1. John Kranz

    Very interesting. Not to play “dueling anecdotes,” but I would have approved Gessler (for whom I did vote) and Beauprez as I feared a Tancredo candidacy would bring down the entire ticket. I posit a good number of “partial establishment” voters like me in the GOP primary and wonder if it would have washed out exactly the same.
    I don’t mean this necessarily as a critique of approval voting — just not sure it changes anything this time.

  2. ariarmstrong

    Yes, it is possible that many voters saw Beauprez and Gessler as the “safe” candidates, and would have voted for them and not for anyone else. If that’s the case, Beauprez likely still would have won. But I suspect that a lot more people who voted for Beauprez also like Gessler, than vice versa.

  3. Eric Rinard

    Ari, I’m so sure you know better than to vote for a minor party candidate I won’t bother explaining the reasons you must already know. Instead I’d like to know what you think of Beauprez’ new campaign platform, “Liberty’s Promise.” I see it as an evolution of his thinking since 2006, as many have evolved since 2010, and the foundation of a governing principle that can be popular with a majority of western voters of every party. http://www.bobbeauprez.com/liberty P.S. I voted Gessler too, but I’m for “anyone but Hickenlooper.” At this point, that can only be Bob Beauprez.

  4. ariarmstrong

    First, Dunafon is not with a “minor party”; he’s running as an independent. Second, I think Beauprez has practically no chance of beating Hickenlooper, so it matters not a whit who I vote for in the governor’s race, except insofar as I see my vote as “making a statement.” Third, I think Beauprez will say whatever he thinks he needs to say to get elected. I cannot trust a man who supported an insurance mandate before Obama did; who supported anti-gun legislation; and who supported the absurd “personhood” measure before he didn’t.

  5. Eric Rinard

    Before I say anything else I want to say that I admire you and your work very much Ari. Now, unaffiliated is even more minor than a minor party. His chances are one notch higher than yours as a write-in. Are you going to vote for Udall over Gardner, because of a past position on “personhood?” Are politicians not allowed to discard bad positions? Beauprez is trumpeting a new platform based on the principle of individual liberty. (I linked to it above and asked for your opinion.) Let’s evaluate it, critique it, tell him where it’s right or wrong and help him get elected on a the back of it. Then if he governs by it we re-elect him, and if he doesn’t we primary his ass. I see this as a golden opportunity for the liberty movement! – If this were the 2006 Bob Beauprez I think you’d be right but have you read any of his stuff from 2009 and onward? Have you listened to recent interviews? Whether you believe him or not, at the very least he does seem to know what are the right things to say to western voters. That’s more than can be said for the only other man who might be the next governor (and that sure ain’t the mayor of Glendale.) And I’ll close by reminding you that the great Ronald Reagan started out as a Democrat.

  6. ariarmstrong

    I have to say you’re missing the point, Eric. If I vote for Dunafon, it won’t be because I think he can win; it will be because I like his ideas (at least those I’m aware of) and want to see them publicized. (Him getting a relatively high vote total will effectively promote his ideas.) It makes absolutely no difference whether I vote for Beauprez, because he’s going to lose anyway (and even if he wins my vote will make no difference to the outcome). There’s no way I can vote for Udall given his anti-energy stance; whether I vote for Gardner remains to be seen. Certainly his past support for “personhood”—and his present support for anti-abortion laws—counts against him. If the governor’s race appears to tighten up more than I expect it will, and if Beauprez can persuade me that he’s serious about his newfound “liberty” platform, then I’ll reconsider at that time. (Anyway, none of this relates to my views on approval voting, which is a good idea regardless of whether Beauprez is a good candidate and whether he would have won under approval voting.) Thanks, -Ari

  7. hair-trigger

    Sorry to have missed this when posted. Never too late – especially for Ari’s ear.

    First off, it’s clear that we both like Scott Gessler a lot. The guy has sass, and backs it with knowledge and planning. His courtroom work has always been lots of fun. As SoS he’s tried pretty hard to keep everyone following the law, as written. That has many times forced the legislature into action, or dismal discussion – but he knows how to get their attention. Good skill for a Governor.

    I will disagree with your thoughts on Hick keeping his seat. Progressives are not happy with his support of fracking, and his recent glad handing of Longmont was pretty transparent to them. Many of them are ready to vote for something different, but not likely an R.

    In regards to AV, consider in more than the spoiler fix for voters. Think of it in campaign finance terms. Third party independent agents of change who want to create a positive environment for their candidate by a negative campaign, will find the venture a costly prospect. Campaign math, the game of odds, is so upset by AV that it really is a guess on who to beat to a pulp. Once there are three or more candidates in an AV race, negative campaigns lose traction.

    Those that what to limit independent expenditures of campaign committees not under the control of the candidate – should give Approval Voting a warm hug.

    – paul

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