A Divided Contest: the World Series

Winning the World SeriesCredit: Photo courtesy of the Minnesota Twins

Under the US Electoral College, it doesn’t matter how many votes a candidate gets. What matters is winning states. To understand how that works, consider another contest that is divided into sections: the World Series.

At the end of the baseball season, the winner of the National League and the winner of the American League meet for a final best-of-seven series. The first team to win four games is crowned champion of the baseball world.

Each game counts separately. Whether you win by one run or by 10 doesn’t matter—it’s winning the game that counts. In a close Series, it’s not uncommon for a team to win more games despite scoring fewer runs overall.

This happened in 1991, when the Minnesota Twins played the Atlanta Braves. It was a very close Series—five of the seven games were decided by just one run. But one game was different. In game 6, the Braves trounced the Twins 14-5. As a result, by the end of the Series the Braves had scored 29 total runs to the Twins 24, but Minnesota won the championship, 4 games to 3.

The Series also shows how a divided contest creates more opportunities for players to influence the outcome. For most fans, the decisive moment came at the end of game 7, when Greg Larkin drove in Chuck Knoblauch to win the game and the Series. But the Twins had three other game-winning hits: Knoblauch singling in Gladden in game 1; Belliard driving in Olsen to break the tie in game 2; and Puckett’s 11th-inning home run to end game 6. All four of those plays were decisive—if the Twins had failed to win just one of those other three games, the Series would have gone to the Braves.

If the World Series was not a divided contest but a direct one—simply play seven games and add up all the runs—there would have been only one decisive moment: the middle of game 5, when the Braves passed the Twins in total runs scored.

The same holds true in elections. In a direct system, there’s only one big vote, and the winner takes all the marbles. But in a divided system, there are many smaller contests, giving many people a chance to decide at least part of the outcome.

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