Social choice and the 2016 US presidential election

Marquis de Condorcet

This is one of those "seasons" of the US political cycle, where I follow US opinion polls very closely, and I noticed a funny, little odd thing looking at some of the polls--specifically the polling averages (General Election head-to-head match-up polls & national party primary polls of Democrats and Republicans) and a single head-to-head match-up primary poll (with Cruz v. Trump and Rubio v. Trump, NBCNews/WSJ) not included in those averages.

On the day of the Iowa Caucus I wrote a hasty little research note on the topic, which you can download here.

But here is the gist of it, where > means "beats":

  • Clinton > Trump
  • Clinton > Sanders
  • Cruz > Clinton
  • Rubio > Clinton
  • Rubio > Sanders
  • Sanders > Cruz
  • Sanders > Trump
  • Trump > Cruz
  • Trump > Rubio

If that is correct (and we are disregarding the question of the confidence intervals of the polls), then we would seem to have three possible "cyclical majorities" (of a sort) involving all five leading contenders for the nomination of the two parties:
  • Sanders > Trump > Rubio > Sanders 
  • Rubio > Clinton > Trump > Rubio 
  • Cruz > Clinton > Sanders > Cruz 

Not Marquis de Condorcet
This is, of course, somewhat speculative and quite counter-factual, given that it is based in different "constituencies" (so to speak).  But it certainly suggests--as in the "Condorcet Paradox"--that no matter which of these five might win the US presidential election in November, there is a non-trivial possibility that that person could be beaten in a pairwise contest by at least one other candidate.