Tuesday, April 28, 2009

The Popular Vote and The Role of Political Parties

So the STV folks are rehashing their traditional criticisms against our current system. Almost all of the criticisms against FPTP come down to some reference to the so-called "popular vote." I've made this argument before, but it bears repeating, so here we go. The popular vote is an irrelevant and inaccurate statistic. Why? Well, a closer examination of the current system is necessary. In the current system each voter votes for one candidate in his or her riding. Some of these candidates are affiliated with a political party some are not. People vote for a given candidate for a whole host of reasons, political party being a major one but certainly not the only one (just ask John Tory). This is why a popular vote total is irrelevant and inaccurate in our current system. The overall popular vote is never used to determine who gets a seat in the legislature. It's about as relevant as voter turnout: useful for pollsters and strategists but fairly useless otherwise. The reason the system doesn't reward political parties is because, quite frankly, the system wasn't designed with political parties in mind. Political parties are a function of the legislature and modern politics, they are not really a consideration in how our electoral system works. I would argue that this is perfectly appropriate as I don't want to give political parties (even my own) any more power than they already have. That's why I don't see the popular vote as being a holy statistic that must be worshiped.

Canadian political parties have piteous low membership rates (even when compared to other FPTP countries, Fair Vote folks). They are private clubs which, while subject to some external regulation, are fundamentally free to pursue their own interests, as they should. I believe an electoral system should entrench as little power as possible in political parties, for the sake of democracy. FPTP by ignoring them gives them no explicit power. The clear lines of local accountability make it difficult for political parties to hide unpopular candidates or play to small constituencies within a riding. STV, to its credit, also ignores parties in its fundamentals. However, the complexity of the system is a playground for political strategists. Decisions as to how many candidates to run in a given riding or how to promote different candidates in a given part of a riding, allow political operatives to massage results as they see fit. The latter issue is one of STV's most glaring flaws as its low quotas for election allow political parties to pursue a Rovian strategy of wedge issue politics with extraordinary success. To me it is more important to have an electoral system that encourages broadbased appeals to voters over a system that mirrors more closely the popular vote and encourages the division of the electorate into small constituencies.

1 comment:

Mike said...

"To me it is more important to have an electoral system that encourages broadbased appeals to voters over a system that mirrors more closely the popular vote and encourages the division of the electorate into small constituencies. "Our system doesn't do that at all, if it did, the Conservatives wouldn't be in power from having used Rovian tactics.

If you look at the last 3 national elections or going even further back, wedge politics and targeting specific consituencies (e.g. Reform vs. Bloc in the 1990s) has becoming a hallmark now of our federal system.

Why else are majority governments a thing of the past? And why else did Conservatives win the last elections by "targeting small constituencies"?

Because in the case of the Conservatives they only need 35% of the vote somtimes to win so they can ignore the rest, that's the CURRENT system. A system where Conservatives are the LAST choice of 65% of voters but win seat after seat anyway. Keep in mind Karl Rove operated in a FPTP system where his goal was to ensure Republican majorities in both House of Congress and that Bush would win BARELY enough states to win (of course in another winner take all system).

This wouldn't happen under STV where it pays off to be second choice. Playing Rovian politics would pretty much guarantee you wouldn't be anyone's second choice, either their first or last - it's our current system (NOT STV) that encourages that and the results of the last few elections easily play that out.

You really haven't presented a persuasive case as to how wedge politics would be MORE likely in a system where you want to be everyone's second choice.

All views expressed in this blog are those of the author and the author alone. They do not represent the views of any organization, regardless of the author's involvement in any organizations.

All comments are the views of the individual writer. The administrator reserves the right to remove commentary which is offensive.

The author is not responsible for nor does he support any of the advertisements displayed on the page