Wine tasting inspires French left-wing primary

Don’t call them champagne socialists, but half a million of French left-wing voters are going to pick their preferred presidential candidate thanks to a democratic innovation inspired by wine tasting — of all the French clichés.

La Primaire populaire (“The People’s Primary”) was set up outside of parties by a group of left-leaning activists who hope to unify France’s divided left ahead of the 2022 presidential election. Online polling started Thursday morning and will end Sunday afternoon.

The primary is not your ordinary political contest.

First, the most well-known of seven names on the ballot don’t want to be on it. Leftist Jean-Luc Mélenchon, MEP Yannick Jadot of the Greens and Socialist Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo consider the primary to be illegitimate — as opposed to former Justice Minister Christiane Taubira. This means the primary won’t eliminate anyone, and will rather look more like a popularity contest that could give the winner a bit of legitimacy and vindication.

Second, it’s not really a vote.

Instead of casting a ballot for the candidate of their choice, voters will give every contestant a rating from “Very good” to “Lacking.” The same grade can be given to more than one candidate.

This process, called the “majority judgement” method, was devised in 2007 by two French mathematicians, Michel Balinski and Rida Laraki. They took inspiration from wine tasting, as well as the judging system in figure skating or gymnastics, according to their research — which can be found at MIT Press or in Wine Economics. They say grading candidates creates less biases than voting for a single candidate, and grading with words is more accurate than using numbers, since people disagree more on the value they give to one numeric grade to another.

Once polling is over, the winner is the person who received the best median grade. A candidate’s median grade means that more than 50 percent of voters have chosen that grade or a better one. Ties are broken by looking at how many voters chose grades above the median, and how many chose grades below it.

One purported benefit of this method is that it is resistant to tactical voting. In the French presidential two-round system, voters may be tempted to pick a candidate that is likelier to go to the runoff, rather than the one they genuinely prefer.

If his method gains traction, “citizens will be really able to say what they think and democracy will function normally,” Laraki touted in an interview with the French Huffington Post.

However, a side-effect of majority judgement is that it requires a mathematician to tell everyone who won. One of the creators of the method will assist organizers in assessing who is the candidate chosen by primary voters, POLITICO’s Playbook Paris reported.



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