Monday, October 02, 2006

The "Super Weekend" and the Prisoner's Dilemma. Plus- What This Says About Liberalism

Well, this isn't totally unexpected, but it IS fascinating. According to the online breakdown of delegates, the number of delegates runs roughly as follows:

29.9% Ignatieff
19.8% Rae
16.9% Kennedy
16.6% Dion
4.6% Dryden
4.4% Volpe
3.9% Brison
1% Hall Findlay
2.8% Undeclared

With most of the meetings reported in. Assuming this ratio holds, we end up with pretty much everybody but Ignatieff in a classic prisoner's dilemma position. See, any of the three post-Iggy candidates can easily become Liberal leader, by absorbing the support of their fellows and the candidates like Dryden, Volpe, and Brison. (Who, seperate or together, don't have QUITE enough support to be kingmakers.) All Ignatieff needs to do is absorb the supporters of any of the three, and he's got it won, provided that he can scoop up Brison and Findlay.

(Volpe is out of the question- his bloc is pretty much totally unavailable to Ignatieff, so chalk that 4-5% up to "whoever is the Not Iggy candidate.")

If they band together, they can take Ignatieff down. BUT, if even one defects, Ignatieff will probably end up with enough support to be leader. Whoever defects will become a minister and his various supporters will be welcomed into the new regime, whereas those who DON'T defect will likely get frozen out, except for the most high-profile supporters. (Ignatieff will bring them in to "reach out", but the rest will be out in the cold.) Yet if more than one defects, or ALL defect to crown him, there will be little in the way of spoils.

So the classic prisoner's dilemma logic would suggest that at least one, if not two, will defect to Ignatieff, while insisting to their fellows that they won't. That makes Ignatieff (groan) the likely new leader of the Liberal party.

(Warm up the thumbscrews and start pumping that waterboard water.)

But... things get MORE complicated, because after the first ballot, supporters aren't necessarily going to go where they're told, and they'll know as much as anybody else that if everybody backs Ignatieff, nobody benefits, and if somebody else DOES pull it off, Rae/Dion/Kennedy will rise to power with a hell of a lot less people that Ignatieff to hand out spoils to. Plus, thanks to the "Volpe 5", you really only need about 45%, because Volpe will direct his (likely intensely loyal, considering their support existing despite the negative press) delegates to vote for whoever is the non-Iggy candidate, as payback for dropping the paid membership bomb on him right before delegate selection. That may be made up for by Brison breaking for Ignatieff, but might not.

Thus, they both have a smaller hurdle to jump than Ignatieff does, and stand the significant possibility that they might lose too many delegates to the non-Iggy alternative to be the kingmaker. That would be disastrous, as it would mean a non-Iggy candidate will probably win, and they will have played no part in that win. A lot of the Liberal left, quite simply, will not support Ignatieff. That has to be kept in mind.

So the question is, then, whether Dion, Rae and Kennedy can sit down and agree amongst each other, before the convention starts about how things are going to work. If they can come to terms, considering they know how difficult it will be holding on to delegates, then the one they choose amongst each other will likely overcome Ignatieff's initial advantage.

(A Classic prisoner's dilemma solution- work it out beforehand. Hence the famous Mafia code of silence and loyalty, among other things.)

If these negotiations break down, though, then whichever thinks that his followers won't break will likely try to back Ignatieff. Then it comes down TO said delegates- if they go with him, Ignatieff probably wins, but if they don't, the precedent will be set and the OTHER guy will likely win, thanks to the Volpe anti-Iggy bump.

(So if somebody blinks and has loyal supporters, they'll likely split and give Iggy the win, but if everybody is either not sure about the support and/or resolute in their anti-Ignatieff position, he loses.)

As for what this says about Canadian liberalism? Too soon to say yet, although the enormous success of the Rae campaign, despite the grumblings about the on-the-ground machine, suggests that the leftward shift that I'd been perceiving is very much real. No, Rae isn't a social democrat, or at least not anymore- but he does carry that aura, whether he wants it or not. The millstone around Ignatieff's neck that is foreign policy is likely to have hurt him too, and turned this from a coronation into a real race. The fact that Ignatieff is far ahead (which would seem to mean that he'd attract a majority from a "nothing succeeds like success" perspective) but hasn't attracted over 50%, and the sheer number of other credible candidates, suggests that liberals want a candidate who represents progressive, non-Americanized foreign policy- Ignatieff's other policies simply don't differ enough from his counterparts to explain it.

This is fairly similar to what's going on in the United States. I believe it reaffirms the idea that liberalism is becoming about more than simply intra-state economic divisions and structures. It's about the actions of of a country as a whole on the world stage- those sticky questions of shared values and identity that a laser-focus on economics often misses. It's also going to be a serious problem for Ignatieff, should he win. He is NOT in step with his party on foreign policy, and once the self-interested apologias by his backers become unnecessary, he'll probably start hearing it more.

Whether he watches his left flank disintegrate and get absorbed by the NDP depends entirely on how he reacts.

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