Video: Mary Schmich: Can’t pick the best Democratic presidential candidate? Try ‘Rank-a-Pol’

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Are you a Democrat or independent looking for a different way to talk about the Democratic presidential candidates with friends who don’t agree with you? Would you like a pleasant variation on the arguments so many of us engage in?

Try a game I’m calling “Rank-a-Pol,” as in “rank a politician.”

This game sprang from a conversation I had a few days ago, one of those conversations in which broadly like-minded people nevertheless have heated differences about who should be the next Democratic candidate for president.

There were four of us. One was a 24-year-old straight man who works for an online travel company. Two were middle-aged gay men, one of them a chiropractor, the other an administrator for a social service agency. I was the fourth, a straight female journalist old enough to remember that Democrats once believed George McGovern could beat Richard Nixon.

Our quartet was hardly representative of the country — we’re all white — but we’re hardly identical either. We grew up in different parts of the country and different economic circumstances. We attended different schools and rarely read the same books. And our idea of the best Democratic candidate varied widely.

Bernie, yes!

Bernie? No way.

Buttigieg, yes!

Buttigieg? Why?

Biden? Sigh.

That’s how our conversation was going when Rank-a-Pol popped into my brain.

The game was loosely inspired by real versions of ranked-choice voting, in which a voter selects more than one candidate, in order of preference, and then, through the miracle of mathematics, a winner eventually surfaces. One version of ranked voting was used by early voters in Nevada’s recent Democratic caucus. Alaska, Hawaii, Kansas and Wyoming plan to use ranked-choice in their Democratic primaries.

The Rank-a-Pol game isn’t as intricate as real ranked voting — it doesn’t necessarily result in a majority winner — but it works on a similar principle. Here’s what I proposed to my friends: Rank the viable candidates in order of preference. Then we’ll total how many points each candidate received. Whichever candidate has the most points wins.

So each of us made a list, with 5 being our favorite and 1 our least favorite. Mine looked like this:

5-Elizabeth Warren

4-Amy Klobuchar

3-Pete Buttigieg

2-Bernie Sanders

1-Joe Biden

Frankly, I waffled between my rankings of Klobuchar and Buttigieg, and could have been persuaded to flip them. Same for the placement of Biden and Bernie.

But one inevitable truth about voting, however you do it: At some point, you stop waffling and decide. Besides, my first choice was clear.

My friends ranked differently. Two put Buttigieg at the top of their lists. One — the 24-year-old — picked Bernie.

“Wait,” someone said. “We forgot Mike Bloomberg!”

As the game’s inventor, I decreed that it was too late to add him, which came as a relief to all of us because none of us was sure where he fit.

So who won our game of Rank-a-Pol?

We’ll get to that in a moment, but naming a winner is only part of the reason to play the game. The idea isn’t just to rank but to find a slightly different framework for discussing who you like and don’t and why.

The youngest person in our group explained that he was for Bernie because Bernie’s not afraid to push beyond the so-called centrism of traditional Democrats. He also liked Bernie for maintaining a consistent vision for his entire political career. Young people, the Bernie supporter said, aren’t willing to settle for as little as previous generations have on issues like health care.

The two older men, meanwhile, explained that they preferred Buttigieg not primarily because he’s gay — though they appreciated the symbolism of that — but because he’s so smart, knowledgeable, insightful, energetic and well-spoken.

I explained that I prefer Warren because she’s smart, knowledgeable, insightful, energetic and well-spoken — and also widely experienced. In addition, while she’s pushing beyond the bounds of so-called centrism, she’s practical and works well with others.

We all talked, we all listened.

“That was a satisfying conversation,” one of the Buttigieg supporters said at the end, and that was the main point of the game. He found it satisfying even though his candidate came in second in the final tally.

And the winner was?

Elizabeth Warren.

Which I bet is what would happen if Rank-a-Pol were the way the whole country voted. Try the game with your friends and see where it leads.



Mary Schmich is a columnist for the Chicago Tribune and winner of the 2012 Pulitzer Prize for commentary.


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