Chaos at the polls

ELECTION outcomes are chaotic, say mathematicians who study group decision-making. Computer modellers have already predicted that electronic stock trading could cause chaotic market swings if large numbers of computer programs are allowed to “vote” for which stocks to buy (This Week, 4 July, p 7). Now David Meyer, a physicist at the University of California at San Diego, and Thad Brown, a political scientist at the University of Missouri, say the same thing happens in all group decisions. “Almost any voting rule gives you chaotic outcomes,” he says. Their mathematical proof, which will appear in a future issue of Physical Review Letters, shows that even if the preferences of a group of voters change only very slightly, the results will be completely unpredictable a few elections down the line. Such sensitivity to initial conditions is a defining feature of chaos. “Look at Italy, with some fifty governments in the past few decades,
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