I’m sure all of you are aware of this, but I just wanted to examine the concept of majoritarianism versus utilitarianism myself to make sure that I grasp the situation. The concepts of "majoritarianism’’ and "utilitarianism’’ can be explained well using an anecdote, which I am borrowing from @psephomancy in his questionnaire linked here:
Suppose that three friends plan to chip in equal amounts of money to buy and share a pizza. They are just able to afford a single topping pizza if they all chip in. Two of the friends love pepperoni, and like mushrooms (but not as much as they love pepperoni). The third friend loves mushrooms and hates pepperoni. The question is, what topping should they get on their pizza?
According to the questionnaires, around 90% of people seem to agree that the friends should get the mushroom topping. Some ethical explanations are that the friends should get a topping that everybody is at least fine with if possible, that it is better for two of the three friends to have slightly suboptimal outcomes than for one friend to be extremely disappointed, and that “the total amount of happiness will be greater.” Ordering mushrooms instead of pepperoni would be called the "utilitarian’’ solution to this problem. Getting mushrooms has a "balancing’’ effect on the distribution of happiness in the group, while still pleasing everybody reasonably well. The outcome is sociable, and everybody in the group feels appropriately represented. There are additional positive consequences to this—good faith is established across the coalition through compromise and sharing, making it generally more stable and effective. Even though two of the friends have suboptimal outcomes, they may themselves benefit from utilitarian arrangements in future situations—effectively, the risks of negative outcomes to the parties in general contexts are distributed “more fairly.”
In contrast, the "majoritarian’’ solution would be if the friends collectively decided to order the pepperoni. The basic ethical explanation is that more people prefer pepperoni over mushrooms than vice versa. (Or in this specific instance, maybe the third friend can just pick off the pepperoni—he will still feel sad that he gets no mushrooms, though). In this case, where the parties involved are friends, the majoritarian solution would hardly be socially acceptable. However, parties involved in collective decision-making are far from always friendly. In this example, the two friends who prefer pepperoni might be referred to as the "block majority,’’ and given that they were selfishly only concerned with getting their favorite pizza, they would benefit from the majoritarian solution at the expense of the minority. People are generally less keen to support a utilitarian outcome when the parties involved are not “friends” per se, when decisions are to be made only a small number of times rather than periodically over a long period of time, or when they themselves are a member of the block majority. There is a double standard individuals hold for themselves versus others—subject X will want everybody else to be utilitarian when it serves his own interests, but he will probably support majoritarianism when it’s convenient. In terms of evaluating voting systems, it’s a prisoner’s dilemma.
As opposed to utilitarianism, majoritarianism tends to cause internal pressures to build up from within coalitions, making them weaker and less effective. Minorities will feel inadequately represented, and if the block majority remains stable over time—which is quite likely if they are the ones controlling the decision-making procedure—the minority will continue to build up resentment for the block majority. Such an arrangement is referred to as the "tyranny of the majority.’’ Short of violent oppression of minorities by the majority, coalitions ruled by tyrannical majorities can only be stabilized by external pressures that compensate against the internal pressures caused by the instability of the system. Otherwise, they will either dissolve through abandonment or rebellion, or else devolve, however steadily, into full-blown totalitarianism. Even in cases where there is no clear block majority, it is still possible for smaller factions to conglomerate according to shared interests in order to secure power over competing factions. In a majoritarian system, this behavior is encouraged. In other words, the public response to majoritarianism is to form a small number of large political parties, which implies a tendency toward political oligopoly, duopoly, or fascism.
It seems clear that utilitarianism is a socially superior ethical framework to majoritarianism. However, it is generally difficult to design a system that will remain utilitarian for long. The so-called “paradox of democracy" occurs when superficially utilitarian systems lead to unambiguously majoritarian outcomes, primarily due to strategic alignment of the block majority. For example, superficially “utilitarian” voting systems usually enable voters to be more expressive with their ballots by allowing them to indicate "degrees’’ of preference in some manner. However, it is exactly this freedom of expression that can allow the block majority to strategize and out-compete the more diffuse voter pool. On the other hand, less expressive systems tend to give poor results unless they are majoritarian to begin with. Thus there is the cynical argument for majoritarian systems that they simply eliminate the middle man—voters don’t need to burden themselves with worrying about strategies that tend to end them up with the same results anyway. This of course is slightly mendacious, since it can be very difficult for block majorities to align strategically in some utilitarian systems. In this case, though, voters are burdened with playing a strategic mind game in order to vote, which can make expressing their ballots more frustrating and difficult, and can also make the "meaning’’ of their ballots more arbitrary. Even then there is no guarantee that the block majority cannot eventually find a way to secure political victory.
@RobBrown has expressed the analogy between the Condorcet criterion and using the median to determine the result of an election for points over a real numbered line segment (as opposed to using, say, the arithmetic mean). I think this is a good analogy, in that both methods suppress tactical voting and hence encourage “honesty.” However, these methods are also both majoritarian (we can discuss examples if anybody wants to). I have been trying to think about a related spectrum along which voting systems can be polarized according to the expressivity of ballots in the context of the voting algorithm that operates on them, which I am informally calling “elasticity”—on one end are the “rigid” systems, for example ranked choice methods; and on the other end are the “loose” systems, for example, most range methods. To illustrate this concept more, I would consider Cardinal Baldwin to be weakly loose, score to be strongly loose, and Condorcet methods to be rigid. Obviously these are relative terms, and I am comparing these systems to what I imagine would be ideal. What I’ve noticed is that systems that are too rigid tend to produce poor results unless they are majoritarian, and systems that are too loose come across superficially as utilitarian, but will eventually (though perhaps only after an unreasonable amount of time) devolve into majoritarianism once the block majority aligns in strategy, whereas in the meantime strategic voting is something of a free-for-all.
It seems to me that one of the main things we want to do by studying voting systems is to produce a system that is more than “superficially” utilitarian—for example, a system that is at once not so rigid so that majoritarianism is preferable, and at the same time not too loose so that strategy is prevalent or that it devolves into majoritarianism anyway. In other words we want to resolve the paradox of democracy. In my opinion, true utilitarianism in voting systems exists at the balance between rigidity and looseness, rather than as one end of a spectrum.
I suggested a method for evaluating voting systems that might help us sort through systems that are too rigid or too loose according to how well they conform to a standard for utilitarianism outlined in a particular kind of social experiment here:
Hopefully we will be able to participate in it once the results for the mock election are in.
As usual, anything else you would like to add is welcome!