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Literature / Franchise

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First published in IF (August 1955 issue), by Isaac Asimov, this is a Science Fiction Short Story about the power of voting. It was republished in 1985 as a 33 page children's book with illustrations by David Shannon.

Norman Muller is chosen, a department store clerk in Indiana. Chosen by the massive computer Multivac to represent the opinions and views of the entire American people in this year's election. Characters provide political commentary, not on partisan politics, but rather on the nature of voting and how it could change with computer simulation software. The story starts when political speculation guesses that Indiana will be representing America's opinions, and ends on Election Day, 4 November 2008.

Franchise has been reprinted several times; The First World of If (1957), Earth is Room Enough (1957), Galaxy (issue 55, Italian edition, 1962), Alien Earth And Other Stories (1969), Political Science Fiction An Introductory Reader (1974), Histoires De Demain (1975), Inside Information (1977), Election Day 2084: Science Fiction Stories About the Future of Politics (1984), The Best Science Fiction Of Isaac Asimov (1986), Robot Dreams (1986), The Asimov Chronicles Fifty Years Of Isaac Asimov (1989), and The Complete Stories, Volume 1 (1990).

Not to be mistaken for Franchise, an index for works that have been adapted into multiple media formats. See Series Franchise for franchises of literature.

Examples of tropes within this work:

  • 20 Minutes into the Future: The introduction of Multivac is really the only bit of technology added to 1950s culture/technology. The story is about Multivac being used to "streamline" elections by asking one citizen their opinions on current economics and extrapolating how the population would vote from that.
  • Billed Above the Title:
    • When published in IF, Isaac Asimov's name appeared above the title to catch the reader's eye first (and James L Quinn put it first in the magazine). At this point, Dr Asimov had been successfully publishing Science Fiction for over twenty years, so editors were eager to use the Asimov name to sell issues.
    • When published as a children's book in 1985, a yellow box gives three lines of detail; "Isaac Asimov", "Franchise", and "A Creative Classics".
  • The Chooser of the One: The massive computer, Multivac, chooses the perfectly average Norman Millar to represent the opinions and views of the entire American people in this year's election. Data about his opinions will be used to extrapolate everyone's votes in every city/county of the country.
  • The Chosen Zero: Norman Muller, a milquetoast department store clerk in Indiana, is chosen by the massive computer Multivac to represent the opinions and views of the entire American people in this year's election. If he was exceptional in any way, he wouldn't have been chosen, although his wife plans to make him exceptional now that he's cast the deciding vote for this year's presidential election.
  • Constantly Curious: Linda Muller, Norman's daughter, is more excited than curious, but this excitement feeds into curiosity and she asks plenty of questions, mostly about the implications of daddy going to vote.
  • Decided by One Vote: Multivac is able to select one single individual that is representative of the entire country. He doesn't get to 'vote' so much as he's subjected to a lengthy questioning on assorted electoral and other issues (one voter was, among other things, grilled at length about his feeling on the current price of eggs), which together with existing data on demographics and political opinion is used to calculate what everyone would have voted. (In other words, when you hear about "the man in the street", or "the voice of the people"... Multivac picks one person TO BE that man/voice.)
  • Dramatic Irony: The story ends with Muller believing his answers are an expression of a public, political vote. Readers, on the other hand, are expected to notice that Muller is never asked a question about political platforms or political candidates. The story is a Satire on the idea of computer programs being used to model elections.
  • Election Day Episode: America is about to hold another presidential election, but since the creation of Multivac, elections are a bit different. In an election year, there's only one person voting, and they don't know who they are until just before the Election Day (to minimize the influence from political figures). They don't even vote for candidates directly, instead answering Multivac's questions about minutia such as "What did you think of the price of milk last year?"
  • The Everyman: Every year, Multivac chooses someone to ask apparently random opinion questions. These opinions (and their intensity) are missing data points that Multivac uses to extrapolate the entire election process. The person chosen is the most average example of America that the Multivac can identify for that year.
  • Featureless Plane of Disembodied Dialogue: Most of the main characters get a line or two of description when they're introduced, but rooms are completely bare of details unless a character interacts with the furniture.
  • Flag Drop: Downplayed Trope because bunting is used rather than the national flag. When published as a children's book in 1985, David Shannon's front cover has Muller in the foreground (with three electrodes attached to his head) and a bunting of red, white, and blue as background. The focus of the story is on his part in the American presidential election of 2008, ending on a strongly patriotic note.
  • Master Computer: Muller doesn't actually meet with the Multivac, he's taken to a nearby hospital instead to use peripheral devices that communicate with it, so the narration tells us what he's heard of. He's heard that Multivac is half a mile long, and three stories high, that about fifty programmers/engineers are inside it at any one time, day or night. The senior programmer explains that there are too many security precautions to allow Norman to meet Multivac directly.
  • Mr. Exposition: Matthew Hortenweiler, Muller's father-in-law, provides most of the explanation for how voting has changed between the "now" of publication and the near-future changes. Although a crotchety old man, he's providing some of the details to his Constantly Curious granddaughter because she's excited about this year's election.
  • The Namesake: The title refers to the right to vote, so the story revolves around how voting changes based on predictive algorithms.
  • Nostalgia Filter: Matthew Hortenweiler is old enough to remember when everyone voted, and is prepared to loudly declaim the current system of voting. One of his complaints is that there is more money spent on campaigns now that the politicians don't know who will be voting for them.
  • One-Word Title: This story is about voting, one of the meanings of Franchise.
  • Outsourcing Fate: Elections are done, not by asking everyone one question ("who are you voting for?"), but by asking one person a whole bunch of questions (mostly unrelated to the election itself) then inputting all the answers into a computer and calculating the election results from it. Multivac is so powerful that it can extrapolate national trends from a single person, but it needed that one "everyman"'s opinions to base its calculations on.
  • Prescience by Analysis: Multivac has almost every datapoint it needs to predict how the citizens of America would vote in the election, and selects Muller to fill in the gaps of its predictive abilities, thereby negating the need for anyone to vote at all.
  • Satire: Dr Asimov explores the idea of computer programs that predict voting habits based on broad swaths of information. The story itself ends on a bit of irony; Muller sees himself as being the expression of open and political voting, while the reader is expected to notice that Muller is never asked a question about political platforms or political candidates.
  • Unusual User Interface: When Muller is being asked questions by Multivac, the questions pop out as punch card tape. The tape is then fed through another machine that converts the holes into English. Muller's responses are written down, fed into the second machine (which spits out punch card tape), and then sent back to Multivac. While this is going on, Muller is also hooked up to various cords that monitor his blood pressure, heartbeat, sweat, and brain-wave activity. It takes three computer programmers/engineers to operate all of this, which is merely a peripheral, not Multivac itself. Going to the bathroom is said to be uncomfortable.
  • Vicariously Ambitious: When Mr Muller tries to say he'll pretend to be sick, Mrs Muller angrily tells him what he will do instead. At the very least, after this event, he's going to be promoted to branch manager with a big fat pension plan.