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.