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In the U.S., we vote on who are leaders are about every 4 years. My question is, what if you have a representative government where this is increased? Specifically, you can change your vote anytime.

There is a secure website (as secure as offline elections today), such that people can select who they want to lead. They can change this any time. It is a secret ballot. Telephone booth-like machines are set up, so poor people can change their vote whenever they like (or non-poor people.) Laws are set up so the poor don't get blocked out of the booths (no camping in it.) As soon as another person has more votes, they immediately become the leader. Indeed, a person who is very close usually sticks around the government building, ready to take the old leaders place. There are two variations on this:

  • The regular is you have one leader (like the U.S. President). Whoever has the majority of votes become leader. They have powers similar to the President.
  • People vote on parties (which anyone may form.) There are 100 hundred leaders. A party gets a number of leaders equal to the percentage of votes it gets. The party has a list of leaders in order. The procedures set forth by the party determine the list. I remember hearing that Israel had a legislature like this (except the voting all the time part.)

What would be the consequences of this?

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    $\begingroup$ I'm filing this in the category of things I would love to watch, but never experience personally. $\endgroup$ – Avernium Aug 27 '15 at 22:18
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    $\begingroup$ This assumes that the system doesn't collapse within a week, leading to anarchy (my prediction)? $\endgroup$ – HDE 226868 Aug 27 '15 at 22:19
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    $\begingroup$ @HDE226868 I never assumed that. $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Aug 27 '15 at 23:16
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    $\begingroup$ You can do this by building in some stability into the system. i.e. to change from old to new you need a 55% or 60% majority for the new. This means you can't hover around the 50% mark and keep switching - you need a real swing in opinion. $\endgroup$ – Tim B Aug 28 '15 at 9:05
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    $\begingroup$ I play games where this is possible. And eeeehm, our guild leader has been the same guy for many-many years. $\endgroup$ – Dorus Aug 28 '15 at 10:06

14 Answers 14

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Procastination and loss of any meaningful leadership.

Despite what your favourite politician will tell you at election time, there are no silver bullets1. Everyone is for budget control, everyone is for better schools and roads and PD, everyone is for less taxes. The difference in general is the equilibrium point (so many taxes for so much quality of transport).

So, the successful politician will deliver only the popular laws/actions and shelve the unpopular ones, no matter how needed they are. Honest politicians will be purged by the electors, who will always chose the guy that promises "better roads and lower taxes" over the one who promises "better roads at the expense of more taxes" or the other who promises "less taxes but not-so-great roads".

Additionally, the lower levels of the administrations may slow down changes due to perceived instability (why work hard to speed the building of new schools if tomorrow's government may chose to demolish them).

1: Someone chant the tune of "Better government efficiency". Well, government is not that inefficient that magically solving it solves the above equation, and government will always have a degree of inefficiency (due to sheer size, changes of leadership, etc.).

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    $\begingroup$ Somehow I don't see anything in this answer that is different from the status quo. $\endgroup$ – BlindKungFuMaster Aug 28 '15 at 10:04
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    $\begingroup$ @BlindKungFuMaster in the status quo, the government has some time between elections to implement policies and hope they give some positive results... you raise taxes in the first year of government and by the fourth people start noticing that roads are better, there are some new schools, etc. $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Aug 28 '15 at 17:18
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    $\begingroup$ @Joshua Which government? Somalia? In any case, without any reference your numbers seems a lot a fabrication or just a made-up number. $\endgroup$ – SJuan76 Aug 28 '15 at 18:37
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    $\begingroup$ @Joshua Care to name any examples? Federal, state, local...? My own research (e.g. theatlantic.com/politics/archive/2013/08/…) suggests 10 to 20% on the high end for fraud. $\endgroup$ – Brian Aug 28 '15 at 21:55
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    $\begingroup$ Fraud does not mean "Something I disagree with." $\endgroup$ – barbecue Aug 29 '15 at 16:27
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Fantastically bad things would happen. I would love to see this implemented for a week and watch the news with a bucket of popcorn.

Your first problem is that instantaneous changes in poll numbers make it possible for leaders to change within seconds of the last change. This obviously creates the potential for enormous instability… if no leader is in power for more than 60 seconds, nothing could possibly be accomplished in our current governmental system.

The next major issue is that people are frighteningly reactionary. All it takes are allegations — true or not — to change people’s opinions of officials. Many people don’t even wait for results of investigations to pass judgement. Even worse, any brief economic downturn can also cause uncertainty. You will see rivals planting false rumors about sitting politicians. People who dislike the current leaders would be very eager to connect any negative event to the government.

Media companies would become much more powerful. Media already shapes our perception of things on a day to day basis, but instant vote changes could allow individual stories to literally cause politician turnover. This will make them extremely dangerous to politicians and give them a lot more leverage. Interestingly, 24 hour news channels will now have a whole lot more content.

You will be shocked by who gets elected. One of the most interesting parts of this premise is that everyone has much easier access to voting. Instead of one third of the U.S. electing leaders, you will get a much higher percentage due to ease of use. When this happens, popular political parties are going to be turned on their heads. Trolling with ridiculous candidates (such as Mickey Mouse) is a very real possibility, especially when it could be relatively easily reversed a few minutes later.

Hacking will be a very serious threat. A system like this is going to inspire enormous cyber attack activity both in the US as well as over seas. No matter how carefully security is implemented, holes and exploits are all but inevitable.

Having a set amount of time when you’re essentially “stuck” with your leaders has many benefits. It lets the government accomplish things, it lets you get a more accurate picture of how politicians’ actions line up with their promises, and it lets you see how effectively they govern. There are always blips and poll changes, but over time it often averages out.

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    $\begingroup$ starts the Jedi party $\endgroup$ – Robert Grant Aug 28 '15 at 9:03
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    $\begingroup$ Don't know about the US, but here in Sweden, it's also common for people to blame the wrong part of the government. For example, the head of government is often accused of poorly functioning elderly care, schools and healthcare -- but those are not functions of the state, they are at more local levels (in the Swedish system of government, municipalities, municipalities and county councils, respectively). A system like what the OP proposes would not seem to make this any better, and I can see it making this far worse in practice. $\endgroup$ – a CVn Aug 28 '15 at 11:06
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling I agree that still occures, but at least the time a polotician take to campaign prior to an election gives people time to think and hear arguments to encourage somewhat more rational thought then a spur-of-the-moment lets do something this minute response that comes when a vote in a click away. Plus, even if people pick the 'wrong' party, or a party for wrong reasons such as blaming a leader for something that a different body did, at least whatever party is in power has enough time to try to do something. some leader, even randomly selected, is often better then none $\endgroup$ – dsollen Aug 28 '15 at 17:02
  • $\begingroup$ I would point out that the premise of this question said to assume fraud was no worse then current. So sticking with the premise hacking should be presumed to not be an issue. Our current world would have hacking issues, doesn't mean the world the OP creates hasn't somehow solved that. $\endgroup$ – dsollen Aug 28 '15 at 17:03
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    $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling - That is a huge problem in the US. More and more is being pushed up the to the federal government because people think of the president as the "president of the government" rather than head of the executive branch. Worse, people are completely apathetic about local elections and even sometimes state elections. We spend more time arguing about presidential elections as a populace than the sum of all other elected officials put together. It's why things are so screwed up. $\endgroup$ – wedstrom Aug 28 '15 at 21:32
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Short answer is chaos.

This is a form of unrestricted democracy, so if you are a figure like Donald Trump or Barack Obama, you could use your skills at demagoguery to whip up popular support and win the election, demonize your potential opposition and do whatever it took to gain power. To beat that sort of leader, you would have to become an even better demagogue, whip up even more popular passion and enraged supporters. who would eventually get to the point of having street battles outside the voting booths to ensure that the "enemy" was unable to vote (or alternatively, that your side could storm the booths and unseat the enemy). If the police or Army was dispatched to guard the booths, the battles might migrate to trying to get supporters of opponents fired from their jobs, mugged in parking lots and various other unpleasantries. And of course the Police and Armuy are made up of human beings who are also being manipulated by various demagogues, so guarding the booths might not ba a neutral value proposition.

In periods of relative calm, any "elected" leader will be as conservative as possible, to avoid arousing passions that might lead to another round of "elections".

You might have noticed that ideas like "policy", "planning" and "national interest" have not been raised in this discussion, since the short and long term goals are going to be "power at any cost". A former Canadian Prime Minister (Kim Campbell) was roasted for saying "an election isn't the time to discuss policy", even though she was speaking the unvarnished truth (most "policy" pronouncements spoken at election time are better understood as a form of organic fertilizer that you might find in cattle yards....)

The Ancient Greek Philosophers were right to be suspicious of Democracy, and Churchill was correct in saying:

"Democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time."

Democracy needs checks and balances to moderate the passions of the mob, but still be flexible enough to respond to changing circumstances and needs.

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  • $\begingroup$ Most people vote in their homes. Booths are only for those with no computers. $\endgroup$ – PyRulez Aug 28 '15 at 3:12
  • $\begingroup$ hmm, while I agree there would be chaos, I don't feel this answer properly expresses why that would be. One can ask why all the arguments you gave are not just as accurate to describe our current democracy? I think it would be good to elaborate on why the more rapid change of elected president would make demagogs any more capable of getting themselves elected then currently, or how our current system prevents 'mob rule' from occurring exactly once every 4 years (I do think it would be worse, only that this answer doesn't elaborate on why sufficiently) $\endgroup$ – dsollen Aug 28 '15 at 16:58
  • $\begingroup$ I will not change the content of the answer, but you should remove your personal opinion of democracy from it since it only addresses the question tangentially; you already gave your answer above it. $\endgroup$ – person27 Aug 29 '15 at 0:49
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Introduction and simplifications

Most previous answers predict the end of the world. And they may probably be right. But let just assume it would work. For the sake of simplification, let us assume that for the time of the experiment, the country is isolated. So no taking over from a foreign power, or economic retaliation. The international diplomacy and economy is frozen to what it was before the voting mode was changed.

We also need to remember, that if a certain relation with power is often there, most people without prior background (like father/brother having been elected president already) start in politics with the force of conviction and the will to actually do something beneficial for their country and fellows. They do not start in politics because they want to be rich. Wall street's much more efficient for that.

We can further simplify, and that is not too far fetched, to assume that there are mostly two parties, and thus two candidates for the POTU job. Interestingly, said parties could elect one person who, for a given time would take the job if their party got the majority. They can't organise elections everytime it happens. For even more simplification, we'd take a direct election system like the French have: you directly vote for the president. Or for the party. Not for local representant, which complicates the whole process.

Currency model

So similar to currency market trade, I would assume that a substantial amount of votes would change everyday in both directions. Much like a lot of euros are exchanged against dollars everyday as well as the other way around. Again, with the same image in head, the dollar-euro parity changes if, on the whole, more exchange is made in one direction or in another. If we elimiate other currencies, 1 euro being at 1.25 dollars mean that the Americans buy more European goods than the European, Americans'. Very similarly, a party who is in favour would preceptively get more vote than the other. The evolution everyday, would make the ratio of votes of the one against the other evolves everyday.

Changing job needs time. Of course, with such a system, people have to be ready to leave on a moment notice, but nevertheless, I would limit the effect by having a count everyday. It would be very costly to have people switch for 5 minutes.

Politics done

Political leaders, who would want to stay in office, would limit themselves to short-term, popular policies. Anything long-term and it would be undone by the next guy, or it could change twice before any result come out. Unpopular measures, and you're sure to be out by the next day.

The parties would organise at all time a lot of propa... erm, information: to try and convince voters that the other guys are a bunch of useless idiots, and maybe to get some popularity for some measures. While the former is done by parties during political campaigns (extending currently to almost 2 years before the election with pre-primaries, primaries, and election campaign) and would be permanent, the latter is usually done by government. I can give at least two examples: the Death Penalty in France was still favoured some years prior to its abandon. But the government organised some information to convince the people of the problem. And then it got removed. Something similar was done for nuclear power in Germany in the 2000s. It is not necessarily bad. It is just that people opinion have a certain inertia, and rulers usually have access to some information before the rest of the population. And it does not always work. Anyway, this is something that takes time, and it would then be organised by political parties instead of ruling governments.

Other effects and conclusion

Another, maybe unexpected to some, effect, would be that due to the time required to get to know all the subjects, assessors and high civil servants would be more powerful. Indeed the leaders may change from one day to the next. But someone has to keep track of what's going on. And they are the persons who would stay in place.

On a longer term, I can see two possible outcome: either the change is very frequent, and people will get bored, knowing that at the end the ones I mentioned in the last paragraph are the ones in power, and you can't decide anything about them. Or changes are less frequent, and people are checking the evolution, but nevertheless, the society would be pretty rigid, as the effort to make any structural reform would be very costly (in term of money -progaganda- and time).

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    $\begingroup$ Good thinking about civil servants. $\endgroup$ – Evpok Aug 28 '15 at 20:32
  • $\begingroup$ The tail wagging the dog is "not necessarily bad"? $\endgroup$ – Peter Wone Aug 30 '15 at 11:21
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterWone, if you don't like it, don"t live in a representative democracy. But from a personal point of view, I consider the abolition of death penalty, the fact that 7-years old children go to school instead of working in the fields, that people mostly get antibiotics when they have an infection as actual success of those policies. But it might just be my opinion. $\endgroup$ – bilbo_pingouin Aug 30 '15 at 19:26
  • $\begingroup$ @bilbo_pingouin - Sure. All good examples. But the case you are making is that a few people who know better should tell everyone else what to think. For the examples you provide this is obviously true. I am inclined to agree with your philosophy because like everyone else I imagine I'm one of those who know better. The end of this road is not a nice place. $\endgroup$ – Peter Wone Aug 31 '15 at 0:17
  • $\begingroup$ @PeterWone. Yes, it certainly has downsides. But it would be foolish not to admit it exists and/or claim it does not work. This illustrates the importance of a good government (or as good as one gets). Nevertheless it would in this situation be fully in the hands of political parties. And I'm not sure that's an improvement. $\endgroup$ – bilbo_pingouin Aug 31 '15 at 5:33
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The consequences would be that no leader would have an opportunity to exhibit leadership.

Most people would I think see leadership as a phenomenon that arises from the result of repeated competitive social interactions against a backdrop that is characterised by some kind of persistent challenge to the general welfare.

Its difficult to see how that kind of rapport and understanding could be generated by a socially distant anonymous voting system where the voters don't risk anything (like standing up at the campfire to speak in favour or against the leader).

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  • $\begingroup$ That's a very odd definition of leadership. I don't think competitive social interactions is a part of effective leadership anywhere I've seen or used the term. It's always been described to me as being about building consensus in and making the most out of the skills of their team / squad / junior officers. $\endgroup$ – Racheet Aug 28 '15 at 10:51
  • $\begingroup$ The selection of a leader is a generally a competitive process between plausible candidates. A need for a leader only arises in the first place where the group faces some challenge that prevents the group from achieving consensus on how to meet the challenge. $\endgroup$ – rumguff Aug 28 '15 at 13:23
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In the short term, governments might turn over more rapidly. The state might collapse. But maybe not.

But, in the medium term (presuming continued survival of the state), a culture of joining a "side" and cleaving to it (regardless of new information) would develop. People on a "side" who change their votes for almost any reason would be treated as social pariahs.

You can see a variation of this within most democracies, where "joining a party" is more than just casting a ballot, but a social act.

Possibly a duopoly of similar parties with slightly different positions could form, allowing flip-flop without much impact.

Payoffs and crony politics might be strong, but possibly no stronger than in most modern democracies; publicly belonging to the 'side on top' may be important for your financial and social success.

Disgruntled opposition groups would exist.

The dictatorship of the stable majority would either be relatively benevolent (see many democracies in the real world with basically one government over the medium term), or things get bloody quickly (see many autocracies/pseudo democracies with basically one government). So either oppression, or treating the opposition as if it where irrelevant.

In the longer term, the state would collapse; all states collapse in the long term.

Naturally, like any form of government (especially new kinds), there is a decently high chance of short-term collapse. In nations that already have an effective one-party democracy the probability of collapse might be lower. Without the social institutions to make a form of government work, they simply don't, and such a system seems sufficiently different that prediction would be difficult.

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I would say that the government would come to a stand still. Every leader would spend all his time make political speaches trying to keep a majority 'happy'.

Look at what happens the whole year of a first term president, they start politicking and try not to do anything that will upset anyone. If they could wake up any day to find out they are off the top, then they are going to spend every day of their term in office trying to keep everyone 'happy' instead of trying to run the country. Every single decision that a president makes pisses off someone, and to really run a government requires compromise (unlike what one of our parties in the US currently believe) and compromise generally means no one leaves the table happy.

So any president who tries to actually BE a president will never last more than a couple weeks at a time, and most won't even have a change to 'learn' how to be president. It will significantly weaken the presidency and cause the next phase of political maneuvering.

Since most people won't be able to hold the position for long, then people/parties will make plans to maximize it's usefulness. Such as getting candidates as 'sacrificial' heads to push them into the White House via propaganda in order for them to 'approve' unpopular legislation. Since no one will make it for long then throw some fodder in there to 'get important things signed'. This would also make some of the 'better' candidates let their popularity drop when contentious issues are coming up to let someone else 'deal' with it.

This would allow the president(s) to be just as wishy-washy as most of the congress people who can just 'abstain' from voting on issues that would upset their voter base either way they vote.

The presidency would turn into a 'reality' show like American Idol or worse the WWE...

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The immediate result would be as the other answers described it: power shifting so fast that the traditional mechanisms of government would be unable to function. Our government is already essentially worthless in the 2-3 months leading up to an election. If elections happen essentially every second, all leaders would be doing is trying to keep their job, not actually doing anything productive (whether politicians have ever done anything productive is still up for debate).

If you tried to do this in the real world, I predict several possible long-term outcomes (none of them very good):

  • The system devolves into lawless chaos - With leadership unable to do anything meaningful, law and order falls apart.
  • Voters give up - Many people already feel disillusioned with government and don't participate in the electoral process because they don't think that their vote matters. With a chaotic system like this, you could see voter apathy on a monumental scale. Once voter participation drops below a certain point, there won't be enough transient votes left to change anything and the current leadership would become a permanent ruling class.
  • A cartel takes over - Some savvy subset of leaders could organize an effort to change the voting laws to restore a more traditional system of voting. They could draw up all the paperwork ahead of time so that the only thing needed to make it official is an electronic vote. The first time that all of those leaders were in power at the same moment, they would hit the button to force the pre-written bill through and abolish the chaotic voting system. A group with that sort of numbers and coordination is unlikely to be completely altruistic, so it's likely that the legislation in question also makes them difficult or impossible to remove from office.
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  • $\begingroup$ Same as for HDE. Anarchy is a special thing in politics. Not what you mean here. $\endgroup$ – bilbo_pingouin Aug 28 '15 at 7:56
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The main problem is that both of the systems build on the systems created by the Roman republics. Where the people elect a leader and power trickles downwards. Its basically Monarchy 2.0. Combined with a total fluidity in leadership this would most likely lead to extreme stagnation as each new leader would start by countermanding the previous leader.

This does occur in parliamentary democracies when neither "block" or party has its own majority. It tends to favor small parties which get an undue amount of power due to swing votes. If the parties themselves constantly shifted size this might give some interesting dynamics.

I predict that it would lead to cycles of anarchy combined with periods of strong demagogues. Just like many real world "democracies" (cough cough Russia)

But this might just work in a system where power trickles upwards. In anarcho-syndicalism for example you have councils at the lowest level of government which send delegates to regional committees. Each delegate is usually instantly recallable (or at the next meeting) and only has a very limited mandate. This makes the incentives pretty low for changing delegates unless they don't do their job properly. Well the problem is that we don't really know if works.

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So far it seems like a US centric question and answers which doesn't even apply to the US itself as its central government is broken by design and elections are being made every two years which esentially means that at any point in time someone is campaining and there might be a seat gain or loss that will require the general change of policies.

Outside of the US election are much more fluid. In israel I don't think that there was ever a government (maybe parlemant is more appropriate here) that succeeded to serve the allocated time for it (4+ years as the election date is theoretically a specific date in the year), some served about 4 years some much less. The other intresting aspect of israeli politics in the context of this question is that there was never a majority goverment and the way the political system is structured it is unlikely that there will ever be, therefor you have only coalition goverments.

The thing about coalition goverments is that the internal relative power between the various parties is not that important. To make an actual difference it is not enough for a vote to go from one coalition partner to another but to go to the opposition which is a much more rare thing. For example a communist might become a socialist and vise versa but is less likely that any of them will become capitalists over night.

So how does the system functions? opposition usually has a say even if they can not veto anything. It can be informal or formal ad-hoc agreement and of course each new government respect whatever the previous governments had put into law for the time it takes to reverse it.

In a way I would actually like your system to be used here even if just to trigger an election, at least it will be much more precise way to measure government disapproval rate then the pools all the political parties do by themselves.

So assuming you will let it some time to run before measuring the system's impact I predict some form of an equilibrium will be found either via coalitions or "cultural" agreements. Sorry but no doom prediction here.

Another thing to remember is that voting is not a zero effort thing. Today voting rate are about 60% and there is no real reason why it will change with your system. On the contrary, most people do not really follow politics close enough to have an opinion unless there are being kinda forced to form one, therefor it is unlikely that voting will become something that people do daily, it is more likely to follow some critical high profile events, and how many event of such a magnitude happen each year? one, maybe two. So government change might be something that happens once a year, which actually gives some time for doing things. And if it happens every two years them you get a proximity of the US system which I would say that is functioning relatively well.

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The first case will result in the country becoming trivial to take over. Having one person take over whenever they get more than 50% of the votes yields a metastable point. All an opposing country needs to do is to cause propaganda to get the voter opinion to sit right on the edge of 50%, and let the continuous tradeoff of power paralyze the military. If America did it, China would have them eating out of their hand within a year, just through clever manipulation and misinformation.

The later case offers more fluidity, so it stands a better chance of actually working. However, making it work will require more people to understand the value of balance. If everybody votes out people for voting against their wishes on each and every bill, there will be far too much turmoil to get anything done. People will need to be taught the value of responding to change slowly, but firmly. Unfortunately, there are indications that people tend to be more rash and fickle than slow and firm, so it is unlikely that we have enough combined maturity to manage such a volatile process.

... and then enters the high volume traders -- I mean high volume voters...

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Arguably, you could consider the U.S. as capable of electing new leaders whenever they want. Impeachment and recall.

The election is every 4 years, but the election does not absolutely grant the position under any circumstance for the 4 years. The elected official can be removed.

That said, if you are casting a hypothetical where, say, every day when each citizen wakes up, they cast a vote "New election/No new election", pretty much what is said above. Chaos.

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The problem is that if you have a single leader to elect (like in the USA), nearly noone would get 50% of the votes. I mean, Obama currently has around 50% approval rate, but all of the Republican voters are currently split among 17 different candidates ranging from 1 to 20 % popularity. It's not until the actual candidate is elected that we can start to go for majorities.

If we just elect the person with the most votes, we have a large chance at minority rule.

Additionally, this could run the risk of the spoiler effect: a president with average approval who has his same-party successor campaigning during his rule might cause a popular 3rd politician from another party to seize power because the largest faction is split between 2 politicians while the smaller faction focuses on 1 major player.

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In short, POTUS would no longer be in charge. Government interacts with citizens many layers below POTUS; the police chief who decides where to concentrate his agents, the civil servant who signs the contract for the new road (or your benefit check or tax assessment), etc. These individuals are simply not going to listen to an authority which is too random.

Some new parallel system will emerge which preserves these individuals' jobs and (to some extent) their consciences. It would be nice if it were also more-or-less democratic, but I wouldn't bet on it. Plutocratic seems likelier.

Whether this an improvement (or even a change) on the present system is left as an exercise for the reader.

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