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Disapproval voting is any voting system that allows many voters to express formal disapproval simultaneously, in a system where they all share some power. Unlike most voting systems, it requires that only negative measures or choices be presented to the voter or representative. If used to select candidates for an office, or for continuation to a next round of voting or play, it is either single- or multi-winner, as everyone who is not disapproved of is in effect a winner, for that round.
A referendum or a recall election may be said to be minimal forms of disapproval voting. However, usually only one measure or candidate is presented to be disapproved of. True disapproval voting would require more than two choices or representatives, and would ask voters to disavow one or more.
It is usually functionally equivalent to a simple inverted form of another kind of voting: rather than voting "for" one votes "against" a list of candidates - usually one (as in first past the post voting), but if one can disapprove of as many as one chose, or rank them in order of desirability for exclusion, disapproval voting becomes functionally identical to approval voting and some ranked voting systems respectively.
However, the psychology of vetoing, protesting, excluding individuals or options, or removing an incumbent, triggers a very different cognitive bias and mode of risk aversion on the part of voters, legislators, or board members - thus it is an over-simplification to think of disapproval as simply 'negative approval'. Similar asymmetries apply in economics, where they are studied in behavioral finance, and in social sciences and ethics, as the expression of tolerances versus preferences, e.g. as in opinion polls.
The well-known lifeboat game, is often portrayed in fiction as having a disapproval voting form, with the poor individual who is most disapproved is tossed overboard.
General-purpose methods of disapproval voting, e.g. for use in general elections as an electoral reform, have been proposed and discussed by political scientists, but there is little literature on the subject. Most discussion of the issue is concentrated in the theory of consensus decision making, where small numbers of members disapproving of a measure have disproportionate power to block it.
Also, there has been an explosion of application of disapproval voting systems in the reality game show, as noted below. Most people are familiar with the concept only from these shows.
Disapproval expression in other voting systems
Russia and several other countries of the region allow voters to vote "against all" candidates. In Canada, one can appear at a polling station and decline the ballot; although this does not count as a vote, declined ballots are tallied separately from spoiled ballots and no-shows.
Any voting system permits some expression of disapproval, but these are necessarily confused with expressions of choice or approval, leading some to conclude that separating these expressions is best:
After the U.S. presidential election, 2000, some commentators suggested that the ability to approve of a candidate, but disapprove of his or her party affiliation or elements of his or her platform, might be quite important, and that satisfaction of citizens with the political system might well depend on such an electoral reform.
A group of members of the Green Party, calling itself "Greens for Gore", made explicit the fact that they were voting for Gore but supported not the platform of the Democratic Party which nominated him, but that of their own Green Party, which they called on Gore to implement. This is an example of disapproval voting on an informal level, where voters found a way to approve of the candidate, while disapproving of party and platform - and of his key opponent, George W. Bush.
It is also often said that votes for a "protest candidate" or a "compromise candidate" can be viewed as disapproval votes, since the undesirable characteristics of the incumbent or alternative, respectively, can be said to be the voters' main concern. This of course is impossible to determine from the electoral results, as a vote intended to choose that candidate is indistinguishable in most systems from one that was intended to block or disapprove of another.
Arguments for and against
Given the prevalence of disapproval as a tool of government, including the criminal law and diplomatic relations, some see voting less as a positive and voluntary choice of a desirable outcome than as a way to reduce losses.
Other advocates of disapproval voting argue that they simply wish to extend to the citizen the powers that are already ceded to the executive, in terms of structure, e.g. many voters formally disapproving should tell the president when to exercise the veto. This is one of many arguments made for deliberative democracy, and advocated by some in the USA, e.g. Ralph Nader.
Detractors of this view of civic life note that the complexity of widespread public consultation and letting the public vote down necessary but unpopular expenditures is contrary to the spirit of a representative democracy, and is an impractical and untrusting measure. In part this is a reaction to the negative view of politics, parties, and platforms inherent in any scheme of disapproval.
Advocating disapproval or approval voting may be seen as taking a position on the tolerances versus preferences problem. Some propose that disapproval is more likely to trigger tolerance ideas of the voter, e.g. as in a poor woman choosing a lifetime mate, while approval is more likely to trigger preferences, e.g. as in shopping. This suggestion, like most advocacy of voting systems, is controversial as it implies that voters cannot measure both tolerances and preferences for themselves, and come to conclusions that consider both.
Another issue is that expressions of disapproval in many societies, especially in Asia, are taken as anti-social. In the government of China, which is structured more as a bureaucracy than as a democracy, an official who rises a level is ratified by others at the level he is entering - no other candidates are presented but abstention as a protest is not uncommon.
Support in this ratification vote of less than 67-80% is taken as a strong disapproval - and most likely ends the rise of that individual at his current level. In any such structure, formal disapproval voting may lead to less honest outcomes, if the peer pressure not to be seen to formally disapprove of anyone is extreme.
The best-known examples of the use of disapproval voting are on reality game shows, e.g. Survivor, The Weakest Link, where it is used to eliminate one contestant at a time from the contest, or the variation used on Boot Camp where the eliminated contestant can "take one (other) out with him". (Note: the examples given here are better examples of Coombs' method than disapproval voting as described here).
A particular case of disapproval voting is the no-confidence voting.
No-confidence voting is normally used after an "in favor" qualified majority vote, not instead nor mixed. Basically, the no-confidence voting first allows representative democracy to function as usual, then, if a second body of decision (this could be the people which act as in a direct democracy) decides to revoke the representatives' decisions, it can do so with a vote of no-confidence (which can be toward the representatives or toward the decisions of the representatives).
In the case of the state, this means that the representative democracy can function normally (without delays or interference), but can still be controlled by direct democracy. Today, this happens only on a small scale: parliament - president - government.
The premise on which the no-confidence voting is based is that it is better to have no rules than have any bad rules, at least until a new attempt to impose the rule.
No-confidence voting is a call for non-action, that is, it can be applied only when there is no necessity for an outcome of the voting process (meaning, things can be just as they were before the vote – without the rule). Therefore, it can't be applied when it is necessary to take action, like choosing a candidate in elections.
The percentage which triggers a successful no-confidence vote can vary widely, from small values (like 20%) which allow minorities (particularly people with experience in the issue being voted) to decide the outcome, up to unanimity.
Here is an example where the no-confidence voting is applied, in Canada: "If the Commons passes a motion of no confidence in the government, the prime minister and his cabinet are expected either to resign their offices or to ask for Parliament to be dissolved so that a general election can be held."