Using LiquidFeedback in “polling mode” isn’t just casting a poll! 

news :: 2012
by Jan Behrens on October 16, 2012

LiquidFeedback version 2.1 introduced a new feature, the so-called "polling mode". While there are several analogies to classical polls, in this blog post we will point out, that LiquidFeedback in "polling mode" does much more than offering a simple poll.

When integrating LiquidFeedback in existing democratic systems (based on elected representatives), you might want to be able to poll people's opinions about propositions, which are voted upon in the assembly of delegates. If it is clear, that a proposition will be processed in the meeting, then simply starting a normal LiquidFeedback initiative to poll people's opinions might lead to unexpected results:

In order to be eligible for voting, each initiative normally needs to pass a certain quota of supporters. Thus, if an initiative fails to gain enough support, it won't be voted upon. To the assembly of delegates this would cause an awkward situation, because they can either

  • a) assume that a lack of support means the initiative is opposed, or
  • b) assume that nobody is interested in the issue, and they may proceed at their own choice.
If delegates would choose a), then issues where most people would cast an abstention might be wrongly seen as opposed by the people. If the delegates would choose b), then this might lead to an effectively negative voting weight, as not supporting an initiative might be tactically wise, when you support an idea while being unsure, whether it would win the final voting. In other words: Supporting an initiative might harm it, because a negative result after final voting might be worse than an indifferent result due to a failed supporter quota.

The "polling mode"

To address this issue, LiquidFeedback 2.1 supports the so-called "polling mode": The polling mode enables privileged members (e.g. board members) to create poll issues with one or more alternative initiatives, which do not need to reach a supporter quorum to get into final voting. Poll issues do not have an admission phase, they are starting directly in the discussion phase. For poll issues freely configurable timings can be used.

While the term "polling mode" suggests that LiquidFeedback is used to allow voters to simply cast a poll, the facts are different: In a poll the answers are given by the inquirer. But LiquidFeedback allows all voters to create their own answers, i.e. alternative initiatives, which have not been part of the original set of proposals. However such alternatives still need to reach a quorum to get into final voting.

Remark on yes/no questions

Simply creating a single initiative in polling mode is not always suitable for asking a yes/no question. This is because the status-quo (i.e. no initiative winning) takes on a special position in the count of the votes. Under certain circumstances the status-quo has an advantage over other initiatives (see details about the treatment of the status-quo during the counting of the votes). Thus if you want to ask a yes/no question with a single initiative, you have to phrase it in a way that disapproving the initiative leads to the status-quo. If neither answer leads to the status-quo (e.g. if there is no status-quo on a given question yet), then you need to create two initiatives for a yes/no question, i.e. one initiative representing the "yes" answer to the question, and another initiative representing the "no" answer to the question.

As explained above, if the voters are dissatisfied with giving "yes" or "no" as an answer to a question, they may always create their own answers. This overcomes a constraint present in classical polls.