The Politician is such a zany show, viewers might think all the over-the-top, unexpected twists and turns Payton Hobart has to go through to get elected were completely made up. But when it comes to politics, truth really is stranger than fiction. The newly released second season led up to an important game of chance, and it probably had a lot of fans wondering if The Politician's rock-paper-scissors tiebreaker is real or not. Weirdly enough, the unbelievable moment actually has some historical precedence.
Spoiler alert: This post includes spoilers from the Season 2 finale of The Politician. Just as the first season of Netflix's campy political dramedy ended in an unexpected election result, the second season's New York Senate election wound up resulting in a tie. Well, it wasn't really a tie, since Infinity stole a ballot box that would have given Payton the victory, but because those votes weren't counted, Payton and Dede Standish had to agree to an unorthodox method of settling their stalemate. The election board told the two candidates they could either opt to re-hold the election in 10 days' time, or come up with a mutually agreeable tiebreaker. Not wanting to risk an election loss, both Payton and Dede agreed to use rock-paper-scissors to determine who would win the Senate seat.
Weirdly enough, games of chance really have been used before to determine tied elections. On the show, a board member gave three examples of actual elections that were determined in random ways: a coin flip decided a tied legislative race in Anchorage, Alaska, in 2006; names were randomly drawn from a bowl for a Virginia House of Delegates seat in 2017; and a footrace determined a local election in Crawfordsville, Indiana, in 1891. Although none of those examples used rock-paper-scissors specifically, it is a method that's come up before. Most notably, the city of Ocala, Florida considered using the game of chance to determine its local elections.
Even more interesting, The Politician devoted a lot of time in its final episodes of Season 2 to analyzing strategies to win at rock-paper-scissors, and the strategy the politicians learn is actually legit. After rock-paper-scissors is chosen, Hadassah mentions a study to Dede that determined an optimal strategy for the game, and that study is a real thing.
As both campaigns explained, the study found that players who win the first round of rock-paper-scissors are more likely to keep playing the same option in the next round, whereas losing players are likely to switch to the option that beat the winning player's first choice. With that probability in mind, players can get an upper hand in gaming the system, which is what both Payton and Dede were training for. Of course, it wound up not mattering, since Dede conceded before the rock-paper-scissors game could happen. Still, it's good to know that strategy is the real deal, so you should keep it in mind next time a friend — or political opponent — challenges you to a rock-paper-scissors game.
The Politician Season 2 is on Netflix now.