BC 2017: Non-Duvergerian watch

British Columbia votes for its provincial assembly on 9 May. Eric Grenier’s vote and seat projections at CBC suggest it could be a “non-Duvergerian” outcome, especially in the votes. The NDP looks likely to win a majority of seats, manufactured by the electoral system, as its votes are likeliest to stay below 45%. The Liberals are running well behind, but are also likely to be over-represented due to their more efficient votes distribution: Grenier’s average projection for the party would put them on just under 35% of votes but 39% of seats.

The non-Duvergerian aspect of the election is the Greens: average projection of 20% of the votes, which is on the high side for a third party under FPTP. The mechanical effect will crush them, however: average seats only 2 of 87. That, of course, is “typical” FPTP.

Where things get interesting is if the Greens rise even just a few percentage points. The “high” projection takes their votes up only to around 23% but their seats to 12 or more (around 14%)! Clearly, they are running second in many districts–particularly on Vancouver Island.

The reason this pattern is non-Duvergerian is that the so-called Duverger’s law says voters tend not to want to waste their votes on a third party. They should “coordinate” with the more-preferred of the two big parties. Further, this defection should be more likely after the third party has suffered from the mechanical effect of FPTP in past elections, as the Greens in BC have. Instead, their support is evidently growing.

But there is not much incentive to choose between the major parties when you have three-party competition throughout much of the province, and the third party could win a significant number of seats even if it stays well below 50% in the districts where it is most viable.

The BC NDP platform promises: “We’ll hold a referendum – and campaign for the “yes” side – on replacing our outdated voting system with a proportional one.”

Will they follow through if FPTP delivers them a majority?

Update: The tracker of where the party leaders are campaigning is interesting. Of course, there is much emphasis on swing districts, particularly for the NDP. However, this quotation from Richard Johnston (UBC political scientist) is spot on:
“You do have to campaign everywhere; you have to validate the existence of your candidates.” In Chapter 10 of Votes from Seats (forthcoming, Cambridge University Press), Rein Taagepera and I refer to this phenomenon as the “embeddedness” of districts in nationwide (here, provincewide) politics. We do not consider non-Duvergerian districts to be quite the puzzle that others do, because we expect voters to be more oriented towards the aggregate outcome than towards their own district, and parties to care about “showing the flag” even in districts they may not be very likely to win.

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9 thoughts on “BC 2017: Non-Duvergerian watch

  1. Has the NDP had a majority of seats in any province since it put PR in its platform? We now have some basis for predicting what the Liberals would do. Do we have any basis for predicting what the NDP would do?

    • The NDP provincial parties each have their own platform. The federal NDP put PR in its platform in 2004. The Manitoba NDP has never supported PR, nor the Nova Scotia NDP. The BC NDP has a long history of support for PR since about 2003, stronger or weaker under various circumstances, and decided a year ago to include it in their platform for the current BC election. The Alberta NDP did not have it in their platform although they did have it in their policy book. The Saskatchewan NDP spent two years debating PR and decided in 2006 to include in their 2007 platform a pledge to establish a Citizens Assembly on Electoral Reform (which everyone knew would design a PR model), but they were too late — 2007 was the election they lost power.

      • Thanks. Here’s a followup question about Canadian politics more generally. Are the Canadian parties more likely than U.S. parties to implement their platforms when elected? I’m aware that I’m setting a pretty low bar here.

      • Many people in Canada would say they expect winning parties to implement their platforms as much as possible unless circumstances change after the election. Other people would be more cynical. Perhaps someone has time to look for surveys on that point.

    • The sad record is that all political parties in Canada appear to be quite good at promising electoral reform. Unfortunately they are even better at applying consultative procedures, campaign rules and special majority requirements that ensure that electoral reform is never enacted. To lose one electoral reform may be regarded as a misfortune; to lose half a dozen looks like carelessness.

  2. Is it possible that we will see a reverse plurality election where the Liberals win another despite being in 2nd place? Would it have to happen twice in a row especially if it keeps an incumbent in power (a la New Zealand) for a change to be made to the electoral system?

    • Amazing that the election is so close, wow, the largest party wins 41% of the vote, but barely wins, appears to be short by 1 seat as of this point, was the NDP vote more efficient? The Greens win 3 seats on 16.5% of the vote, interesting. Is this providence becoming a 2-1/2 party system?

  3. Am I right that the Green Party’s success on parts of Vancouver Island is yet another example of the fact that small parties usually need geographic concentration in order to get anywhere under FPTP?

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