Archive for voting

The Quantum Mechanics of Voting

Posted in Politics, The Universe and Stuff with tags , , , , , , on June 23, 2017 by telescoper

Now that I’ve finished a marathon session of report-writing I thought I’d take a few minutes out this Friday afternoon, have a cup of tea and pass on a rather silly thought I had the other day about the relationship between Quantum Mechanics (and specifically the behaviour of spin therein) and voting behaviour in elections and referendums.

Gratuitous picture of a Stern-Gerlach experiment

For a start here’s a brief summary of the usual quantum-mechanical context as it relates to, e.g., electrons (rather than elections). Being fermions, electrons possess half-integer spin. This attribute has the property that a measurement of its component in any direction has only two possible values, ±½ in units of Planck’s constant. In the Stern-Gerlach experiment illustrated above, which measures the spin in the vertical direction of silver atoms emerging from a source, the outcome is either “up” or “down”, not some spread of values in between. Silver has a single unpaired electron which is why its atoms behave in this respect in the same way as an individual electron.

The way this is often described in physics textbooks is to say that the operator corresponding to spin in the z-direction has only two eigenstates  (call these ↑ and ↓) ; the act of measurement has to select one of them, not some intermediate state. If the source is thermal then the spins of individual atoms have no preferred direction so 50% turn out to be ↑ and 50% to be ↓ as shown in the cartoon.

Once such measurement has been made, a given particle remains in the same eigenstate, which means that if it is passed through another similar measuring device it will always turn out to have spin pointing in the same direction. If you like, the particle has been `prepared’ in a given state by the act of measurement.

This applies as long as no attempt is made to make a measurement of the spin in a different direction, which is when the fun starts. If we start with a particle in the ↑ state and then pass it through an experiment that measures spin (say) with respect to the x-axis instead of the z-axis then the two allowed eigenstates are then not ↑ and ↓ but ← and →.  A particle that was definitely spin-up would then be forced to decide between spin-left and spin-right (each would have a  50% probability).

Suppose now we took our long-suffering particle that began with spin ↑ after a measurement in the z-direction, then turned out to be spin → when we measured it in the x-direction. What would happen if we repeated the z-measurement? The answer is that “preparing” the particle in the → state destroys the information about the fact that it was previously prepared in the ↑ state –  the outcome of this second z-measurement is that the particle that was previously definitely ↑ now has a 50% chance of being either ↑ or ↓.

So what does all this have to do with voting? It is clear than an election (or a referendum) is very far from a simple act of measurement. During the campaign the various sides of the debate make attempts to prepare a given voter in a given state. In the case of last year’s EU referendum the choice of eigenstates was `Leave’ or `Remain’;  no other possibilities were allowed. The referendum then `prepared’ each voter in one or other of these possibilities.

If voters behaved quantum mechanically each would stay in their chosen state until some other measurement were attempted. But that’s exactly what did happen. Earlier this month there was a General Election. More than two parties were represented, but let’s simplify and assume there were only two options, `Labour’ and `Conservative’.

Now it is true that the `Leave’ camp was dominated by the right wing of the Conservative party, and the majority of Labour voters voted `Remain’, but there were a significant number of Labour Leave voters and a significant number of Tories voted Remain. While these pairs of states are therefore not exactly orthogonal, they are clearly not measuring the same thing so the situation is somewhat analogous to the spin measurement problem.

So along came the General Election result which `prepared’ voters in a state of `Labour’ or `Conservative’, with a slight preference for the latter whereas the earlier referendum had prepared a them in a state of `Leave’ versus `Remain’ with a slight preference for the former. From a quantum mechanical perspective, however, you can further argue that the General Election prepared the voters in such a way that should have erased memories of their vote in the referendum so the previous BrExit vote is now invalid.

There’s only one way to test this quantum-mechanical interpretation of voting patterns, and that is by repeating the EU Referendum…

Why You Should Vote

Posted in Politics with tags , , on May 7, 2015 by telescoper

SuffrageI came across this wonderful photograph this morning via Twitter and couldn’t resist sharing it here.

Some people fought very hard to secure the right to vote, like this courageous Suffragette addressing a vast and hostile audience on Newcastle quayside way back in 1914. The rights we enjoy today were hard won. Don’t squander them.

Yes for Wales!

Posted in Bute Park, Politics with tags , , , , , , on March 2, 2011 by telescoper

Still suffused with a peculiar form of vicarious national pride after last night’s rousing St David’s Day concert in Cardiff – of which I hope to do a review later today – I thought I’d put up a gratuitous picture of the daffodils in Bute Park because they’re one of the two official emblems of Wales.

The other national emblem of Wales is the leek, but I couldn’t find any of them growing in Bute Park. It’s the wrong time of year anyway.

More importantly, tomorrow (Thursday 3rd March) is the date of the Referendum on Welsh Assembly powers. The question is a fairly uninteresting one, actually, and is simply about whether the Welsh Assembly should be allowed to make laws itself – concerning those matters over which it has devolved responsibility – rather than the current system which requires oversight by the House of Commons.

As a matter of fact I’ve got another vote to cast tomorrow, in a Council by-election. My ward is currently controlled by Plaid Cymru, but I will be voting for the Green Party in protest against the over-development of Bute Park.

In the Referendum I’ve decided to vote Yes for Wales, a stance which all the major parties agree on in fact. I’m pretty confident the Yes vote will win, but am concerned by a sense of apathy over this, and the Welsh Assembly elections coming up in May.

I think it’s very sad to compare the courage and determination shown by people across North Africa and in the Middle East protesting for democracy, with the attitude of so many here in a mature democracy who just can’t be bothered to exercise the rights that others struggled so hard to establish for us. If it matters so much to people in Egypt, Algeria and Libya to have the right to vote then it matters here too! Call me old-fashioned, but I think the right to vote is not only a privilege but also a duty.

So whichever side of whatever argument you’re on, and wherever it is you’re voting, please get down to the polling station and put your cross where it counts!


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