Canada and UK 2019: District level fragmentation

With two of the big Westminster parliamentary democracies having had general elections in 2019, we have a good opportunity to assess the state of district-level competition in FPTP electoral systems.

(Caution: Deep nerd’s dive here!)

Before we turn to the district level, a short overview of what is expected at the national level is in order.

As noted previously, Canada’s election produced a nationwide seat balance that was extremely close to what we expect from the Seat Product Model (SPM), yet the nationwide votes were exceedingly fragmented (and, anomalously, the largest seat-winning party was second in votes). The UK election, on the other hand, was significantly less fragmented in the parliamentary outcome than we expect from the SPM, even if it was in key respects a “typical” FPTP outcome in terms of manufacturing a majority for a party with less than a majority of the vote.

In general, over decades, Canada tends to conform well to the SPM expectation for the shape of its parliamentary party system, whereas the UK is a more challenging case from the SPM’s perspective.

The SPM states that the effective number of seat-winning parties (NS) should be the seat product, raise to the power, 1/6. The seat product is the assembly size, times the mean district magnitude. The SPM predictions for NS explain around 60% of the variance in actual outcomes for elections around the world under a wide variety of electoral systems. SPM predictions for other output quantities also explain in the neighborhood of 60%. So the SPM is both successful at explaining the real world of seat and vote fragmentation, and leaves plenty of room for country-specific or election-specific “other factors” (i.e., the other 40%). The SPM is based on deductive logic, starting from the minimum and maximum possible outcomes for a given number of seats at stake (in a district or an assembly). The logic is spelled out in Votes from Seats.

In the case of a FPTP system, the SPM makes the bold claim that we can understand the shape of a party system by knowing only the assembly size. That is because with district magnitude, M=1, the seat product is fully described by the country’s total number of seats, S, which is also the number of districts in which the voting is carried out. Thus we expect NS=S1/6. Let’s call this “Equation 1.”

For Canada’s current assembly size (338), this means NS=2.64, as an average expectation. Actual elections have tended to come pretty close–again, on average. Of course, individual elections might vary in one direction or the other. (The assembly size was also formerly smaller, but in recent times, not by enough to concern ourselves too much for purposes of this analysis.) For the UK, the corresponding expectation would be 2.94 based on a seat product of 650.

The actual Canadian election of 2019 resulted in NS=2.79; for the UK it was 2.39. Thus for Canada, we have a result very close to the expectation (ratio of actual to expected is 1.0578). For the UK, the actual result was quite short (ratio of 0.8913). As I said, the UK is a challenging, even aberrant, case– at least at the national level.

What about the district level? A national outcome is obviously somehow an aggregation of all those separate district-level outcomes. The SPM, however, sees it differently. It says that the districts are just arenas in which the nationwide election plays out. That is, we have a logical grounding that says, given a national electoral system with some seat product, we know what the nationwide party system should look like. From that we can further deduce what the average district should look like, given that each district is “embedded” in the very same national electoral system. (The logic behind this is spelled out in Votes from Seats, Chapter 10).

The crazy claim of the SPM, district-level extension, is that under FPTP, assembly size alone shapes the effective number of votes-earning parties in the average district (N’V, where the prime mark reminds us that we are talking about the district-level quantity rather than the nationwide one). (Note that for FPTP, it must be the case that N’S=1, always and in every district).

The formula for expected N’V under FPTP is: N’V=1.59S1/12 (Equation 2). It has a strictly logical basis, but I am not going to take the space to spell it out here; I will come back to that “1.59” below, however. It is verified empirically on a wide set of elections, including those from large-assembly FPTP cases like Canada, India, and the UK. So what I want to do now is see how the elections of 2019 in Canada and UK compare to this expectation. (Some day I will do this for India’s 2019 election, too.)

If the effective number of seat-winning parties at the national level (NS) is off, relative to the SPM, then it should be expected that the average district-level effective number of vote-earning parties (N’V) would be off as well. They are, after all, derived from the same underlying factor–the number of single-seat districts, i.e., the assembly size (S). We already know that NS was close to expectation in Canada, but well off in the UK in 2019. So how about the districts? In addition to checking this against the expectation from S alone, we can also check one other way: from actual national NS. We can derive an expected connection of N’V to NS via basic algebra. We just substitute the value from one equation into the other (using Equations 1 and 2). If we have NS=S1/6 then it must be that S= NS6. So we can substitute:

N’V=1.59(NS6)1/12= 1.59√NS (Equation 3).

In a forthcoming book chapter, Cory L. Struthers and I show that this works not only algebraically, but also empirically. We also suggest a logical foundation to it, which would require further analysis before we would know if it is really on target. The short version suggested by the equation is that the voting in any given district tends to be some function of (1) the basic tendency of M=1 to yield two-candidate competition (yes, Duverger!) in isolation and (2) the extra-district viability of competing parties due to the district’s not being isolated, but rather embedded in the national system. The 1.59, which we already saw in Equation 2, is just 22/3; it is the expected N’V if there were exactly two vote-earning parties, because it is already established–by Taagepera (2007)–that the effective number tends to be the actual number, raised to the power, two thirds. And the square root of NS suggests that parties that win some share of seats (i.e., can contribute more or less to the value of NS) tend to attract votes even though they may have no chance of winning in any given district. By having some tendency to attract votes based on their overall parliamentary representation, they contribute to N’V because voters tend to vote based on the national (expected, given it is the same election) outcome rather than what is going on in their district (about which they may have poor information or simply not actually care about). If the parliamentary party system were fully replicated in each district, the exponent on NS would be 1. If it were not replicated at all, the exponent would be zero. On average, and in absence of any other information, it can be expected to be 0.5, i.e., the square root.

How does this hold up in the two elections we are looking at in 2019? Spoiler alert: quite well in the UK, and quite badly in Canada. Here are graphs, which are kernel density plots (basically, smoothed histograms). These plots show how actual districts in each election were distributed across the range of observed values of N’V, which in both elections ranged from around 1.35 to just short of 4.5. The curve peaks near the median, and I have marked the arithmetic mean with a thin gray line. The line of most interest, given the question of how the actual parliamentary outcome played out in each district is the long-dash line–the expected value of N’V based on actual NS. This corresponds to Equation 3. I also show the expectation based solely on assembly size (light dashed line); we already have no reason to expect this to be close in the UK, but maybe it would be in Canada, given that the actual nationwide NS was close to the SPM expectation, based on S (Equation 2).

Here is the UK, then Canada, 2019.

What we see here is interesting (OK, to me) and also a little unexpected. It is the UK in which the actual mean N’V is almost the same as the expectation from nationwide NS (i.e., Equation 3). We have actual mean N’V=2.485 compared to expected N’V from actual NS of 2.45; the ratio of actual to expected is 1.014. We can hardly ask for better than that! So, the nationwide party system (as measured by NS) itself may be well off the SPM expectation, but the vote fragmentation of the average district (N’V) closely tracks the logic that seems to stand behind Equation 3. Voters in the UK 2019 election tended to vote in the average district as if parties’ national viability mattered in their choice.

In Canada, on the other hand, even though national NS was very close to SPM expectation, the actual average district’s N’V (2.97) was really nowhere near either the expectation solely from S (the light dashed line, at 2.58) or the expectation from the actual NS (2.66). The average district was just so much more fragmented than it “should be” by either definition of how things ought to be! (The ratio of actual to that expected from Equation 3 is 1.116; the Equation 3 expectation is almost exactly the 25th percentile of the distribution.)

The Canadian outcome looks as if the exponent on actual NS in Equation 3 were around 0.64 instead of 0.5. Why? Who knows, but one implication is that the NDP (the third national party) performed far better in votes than the party’s contribution to NS implies that it should have. Such an overvaluing of a party’s “viability” would result if voters expected the party to do much better in terms of seats than it did. This is probably a good description of what happened, given that pre-election seat extrapolations implied the NDP would win many more seats than it did (and the Liberals fewer). The NDP also underperformed its polling aggregate in votes (while Liberals over-performed), but it held on to many more voters than it “should have” given its final seat-winning ability would imply. That is, the actual result in votes suggests a failure to update fully as the parties’ seat prospects shifted downward at the very end of the campaign. In fact, if we compare the final CBC poll tracker and seat projections to the ultimate result, we find that their actual votes dropped by 13.6% but their seats dropped by 31.7% (percent change, not percentage points!). In other words, this was just an unusually difficult context for voters to calibrate the expectations that Equation 3 implies they tend to make. (I am assuming the polls were “correct” at the time they were produced; however, if we assume they were wrong and the voters believed them anyway, I think the implications would be the same.)

It should be understood that the divergence from expectation is not caused by certain provinces, like Quebec, having a different party system due to a regional party, as some conventional expectations might point towards. While Quebec’s size is sufficient to exert a significant impact on the overall mean, it is not capable of shifting it from an expected 2.6 or 2.7 towards an observed 3.0! In fact, if we drop the Quebec observations, we still have a mean N’V=2.876 for the rest of Canada. The high fragmentation of the average district in the 2019 Canadian election is thus due to a Canada-wide phenomenon of voters voting for smaller parties at a greater rate than their actual viability would suggest they “should”. In other words, voters seem to have acted as if Trudeau’s promise that 2015 would be the last election under FPTP had actually come true! It did not, and the electoral system did its SPM-indued duty as it should, even if the voters were not playing along.

On the other hand, in the UK, voters played along just as they should. Their behavior produced a district-level mean vote fragmentation that logically fits the actual nationwide seat balance resulting from how their votes translated into seats under FPTP. There’s some solace in that, I suppose.

27 thoughts on “Canada and UK 2019: District level fragmentation

  1. Having not read your published work outlining the significance and implementation techniques of SPM, I feel like this post is saying something profound but I don’t quite grok it.

    If there was an introduction or separate post at one higher level of abstraction, I think it’d be appreciated for those of us who don’t follow this field professionally.

    • Yes, I understand that. I have thought of making an “explainer” but I have thus far not taken the time to do so. Rein Taagepera and I have written shorter summaries of the underlying logic than what is in the book itself, but alas, they are all behind paywalls to protect publishers’ copyrights.

  2. I’ve been going over the results last December 12 in 154 “Leave-Labour” constituencies with a Brexit Party candidate – that is, constituencies estimated to have voted Leave in 2016 that backed Labour in 2017 – and found the share of the vote for the Brexit Party in 2019 tended to decrease markedly as Labour majorities became smaller, in stark contrast with the results polled by UKIP in 2015 and 2017 in the same constituencies.

    Specifically, I arranged the 154 “Leave-Labour” constituencies in three groups: those with 2017 Labour majorities of at least 10,000 votes (74); those with majorities of at least 5,000 but less than 10,000 (38); and those with majorities of fewer than 5,000 (42). Back in 2015, support for UKIP was fairly uniform among the three groups, with the party scoring 17.2%, 17.7% an 15.9%, respectively. However, in 2019 the Brexit Party polled 9.6%, 6.9% and 4.3%, respectively. In terms of seats, Labour held all 74 “Leave-Labour” constituencies with 2017 majorities of at least 10,000, but lost to the Conservatives 13 of 38 such constituencies won in 2017 by at least 5,000 votes but fewer than 10,000, and far more importantly 38 of the 42 constituencies won by fewer than 5,000.

    For good measure I also ran the process in the subset of 116 constituencies which also had a UKIP candidate in 2017, and obtained very similar figures. Moreover, in 2017 support for UKIP in the three groups – reduced to 63, 28 and 25 constituencies – stood at 4.4%, 4.1% and 3.6%, respectively.

    • Were voters voting UKIP/Brexit Party in 2015, 2017, and 2019 as a way to transitional party; they use to vote Labour, and now they are voting Conservative?

    • Interesting. So that suggests a decent degree of tactical voting among UKIP/Brexit voters. Those who have decried the lack of tactical voting in the recent election might be overlooking the extent to which it happened–but, of course, mainly among the single-issue voters on the right.

      • And going further back, in 2010 – when 152 of the 154 eventual “Leave-Labour” constituencies had either a BNP or UKIP candidate, or both – the combined share of the vote for both parties also showed little variation among the three groups, with the two parties polling together 7.4%, 7.2% and 6.7%, respectively. Note that in the 42 constituencies won by Labour in 2017 by fewer than 5,000 votes, the Brexit Party share in 2019 came up well below the combined BNP+UKIP figure in 2010.

  3. The 2019 election in Canada featured Conservative party dominance in farming and small-town regions, with Liberals strong in the largest cities.

    The 48 seats in Saskatchewan and Alberta (14% of the total in parliament) cost 30% of the Canada-wide vote total for the Conservatives. The Nv’ was less than 2.0 for 27 out of 48 ridings, providing much of the small bump visible in that region of the graph. Only 2 of the 48 had Nv’ above 3.0.

    The Liberals took 42 seats in Montreal and Toronto (12% of the total) at the cost of 24% of their Canada-wide votes. No riding had Nv’ less than 2.0; Nv’ was above 3.0 in 7 seats.

    Accordingly, in many of the 248 other ridings, minor parties were more competitive than would appear from the nation-wide vote shares. No need to attribute the unexpected Nv’ distribution to out-of-touch NDP supporters?

    • Will the Conservatives in the next Canadian election use Justin Trudeau’s broken promise of the last FPTP election for 2019 as a way to submit such a proposal in a referendum? This was a reverse plurality election.

      The Conservatives would be hard press to find coalition partners if a PR system is to be used unless they are to form a coalition or minority government with a populist party.

      For Canada and the UK, what if a preferential vote system had been used? What would the outcome had been and how different would it have been?

      • Have the Tories shown any interest in switching from FPTP? If anything I’ve seen commentary implying at least a belief that they only way for a Conservative government to form is with FPTP. I’m not sure what they could gain from a switch, unless it accompanies some sort of entrenched requirement for the largest party to govern alone.

      • Yes, the disadvantage FPTP has delivered the Conservatives might be somewhat annoying, but I think they recognise that it’s the best of a somewhat bad set of options: they probably guess that if they get a decent popular vote lead, they can turn that into a majority even with the extra cost.

  4. For Canada, what if a preferential vote system had been used? What would the outcome had been and how different would it have been?

    A new simulation from the 2019 vote by electoral systems expert Antony Hodgson shows AV could quite plausibly have delivered them a solid majority of as many as 186 seats.
    https://www.fairvote.ca/2019/11/06/alternativevote/

    This is not new. After the 2015 election CBC Senior Writer and Polls Analyst Eric Grenier showed that if Alternative Vote had been used in 2015, the Liberal Party would likely have won an even bigger majority government. The Liberals would have elected 224 MPs with AV compared to 184 under first-past-the-post
    https://www.cbc.ca/news/politics/grenier-preferential-ballot-1.3332566

    This is why Justin Trudeau said, on Feb. 19 2017, explaining why he had broken his electoral reform promise “I have heard very clearly that people think it would favour Liberals too much. And therefore I’m not going near it, because I am not going to do something that everyone is convinced is going to favour one party over another.”

    • To which the Canadian people replied as one, “Thank you, M. Trudeau! A single-member preferential electoral system under which the Liberals perpetually win 200 or 250 of 308 Commons seats, because they are ‘everyone’s second choice’ from Conservatives to NDP and Greens, would be a nightmare, and you have hit upon the only way to stop that happening, which is to retain first-past-the-post! Because if a preferential system were ever introduced, then even those of us who do not want it to ‘favour the Liberals too much’ would be compelled, as though be some irresistible force, to write a number ‘2’ next to the Liberal candidate on the ballot paper!”
      “Aw shucks”, Justin beamed, “c’est rien.”

      • Now, Tom, you know very well that such an irresistible and unstoppable force exists. It is exactly the same irresistible and unstoppable force that causes Fairvote Canada to note that, in Australia: ‘In 21 elections between 1919 and 1996, only six per cent of the leading first-choice candidates were defeated by the distribution of second choices.2’ and then to conclude that AV would deliver far, far more than 6% in extra seats to the Liberals.

      • I realise this is tongue-in-cheek, but I am inclined to think that that view is not quite as absurd as Tom implies. If you’d asked British Labour voters whether they’d rather a Conservative or Liberal Democrat MP, most would probably have said Liberal Democrat, but at the same time I don’t think they would be so enthusiastic about the Liberal Democrats (led by one of David Cameron’s cabinet ministers!) having a large number of seats in the abstract: I realise No2AV is something of a sore point around here, but the “President Clegg” line was arguably one of the more honest elements of their approach.

        As for Alan’s argument, I think Matthew has spent a substantial amount of effort explaining that Canada’s party system is more fragmented, and as such just transposing Australian arguments over there doesn’t work, and I certainly wouldn’t make the argument that a clumsy transposition of Australia’s 6% rate would be more accurate than the work of domestic Canadian analysts who have concluded time after time that AV would give a big bonus to the Liberal Party.

      • Right, Henry. I have spent a fair amount of effort on just that! More specifically, I have noted that Australia and Canada both have pretty much the legislative party systems they should have, given M=1 and their respective assemble sizes. In other words, the SPM seems not to care if it is plurality or AV. It works in both cases. It also kind of works in France, by the way (but with much more volatility in the actual outcomes, and an even worse fit of the votes than in Canada’s most recent election).

        On the question of AV, the “steroids” post is probably my fullest statement to date.

  5. Returning to the question of effective number of seat-winning parties: the 2019 results were not atypical. The average Ns in 8 Canadian elections from 1997 to 2019 was 2.86 (against the SPM expectation 2.59—2.64). The 1997–2019 UK average Ns was 2.39, bang on the 2019 result.

    Continuity is found also in the effective number of vote winners. In Canadian federal elections since 1997, the average national Nv was 3.77 (compared to SPM estimates 2.99—3.04). In the same period, 7 general elections in the UK averaged 3.40 while the SPM predicts 3.32.

    Indeed, Canada has been a serial offender: in the past 60 years Nv has been above 3.0 in all but 4 out of the 19 elections. Might the “excess” fragmentation of votes arise in part from Canada’s federal structure, with provincial legislatures acting as incubators and refugia for minor parties (CCF/NDP, Social Credit/Creditistes, Quebec separatists, Greens)?

    • The impact of federalism is certainly a credible explanation for why Nv tends to be higher. But I would have to go much deeper in analysis before feeling confident about it.

      To the point about whether 2019 is “typical” or not, the long-term average Ns in Canada is extremely close to the SPM expectation. Of course, it is going to move up or down in given elections or periods (politics!). But the deviations upward in several elections of the past two decades are no more remarkable in a long time series than the occasional sharp dips in the past (when one party won an unexpectedly big majority of seats).

      I’ve never done a measure of standard deviation of actual-to-expected ratio (strangely; I should!). But Canada would have one of the lowest of any long-term democracy. I am basing this off an “eyeballing” of Figure 17.1 in Votes from Seats. (Australia’s is also quite low.)

    • The Fairvote Canada statement was presented as conclusive proof of the way AV would work in Canada. Fairvote Canada’s own reliance the 6% figure suggests their argument makes no sense at all. Moreover, they rely on PNG as an example of AV which is perfectly valid.

      PNG has a somewhat higher degree of fragmentation than Australia or Canada. At the 2017 general election the largest party received 27 seats out of 111 and 11 parties won more than 1 seat in the assembly. If higher fragmentation under AV tends to produce a dominant centre party, you would expect to see some sign of it happening in the period 2007—now. There is no sign of that happening. It would also be useful to examine what has happened with the London mayoralty and the Sri Lankan presidency.

      I suspect the Liberals in Canada would do better than otherwise at the first AV election. However, to insist that would be a permanent effect when no such permanent effect has emerged in either less fragmented Australia or far more fragmented PNG is to rely on an invisible force.

      • As I’ve noted before, these sorts of “permanent kingmakers” arguments presuppose that voters are morons who can’t recognise that they’re being duped – that they lack the minimal intelligence needed to sweep the centre party out of power by giving either Team Red or Team Blue (either one – precisely which one seems to be secondary) an absolute majority of seats.
        In reality, to maintain their balancing position, the FDP have to be extraordinarily careful not to abuse their power. Requests for concrete examples of a socially-liberal market-economy party pushing through policies that are clearly detrimental to the average German tend to begin and end with “Well, they’ve held the Foreign Ministry most of the time since 1949”. As if Germany might not have, ahem, other reasons to insist on a bipartisan and stable foreign policy.
        Certainly they’ve never abused their power as selfishly as have much-smaller minorities with strategically-located support in single-seat electorates (Southern Democrats, Northern Irish Unionists, the Australian Country/ National Party).
        As the 2011 AV referendum shows, you can fool all (or 62%) of the people some of the time, but to argue that the FDP has managed to fool (almost) all the German people for (almost) all of the past 71 years is a real stretch.

      • Alan, if you’re searching for an explanation as to why Papua New Guinea has not had a dominant centre party emerge, I would point to the almost complete lack of any national party system emerging, or indeed any really ideologically-motivated party, as a fairly plausible explanation that FairVote Canada might be able to use. As I’ve pointed out several times before, the hard work (which Nick Xenophon and the Democrats failed to do) of building a centre party from scratch into a major party that is able to regularly leapfrog at least one of the left or right par has all been done in Canada

        As to Tom’s point, again, I think there is an argument that Canada is different. “Team Red”, so to speak, has been a minor party for most of its history. Telling left-wing voters “well, just give your second preference to the Conservatives instead!” might not be the most convincing alternative.

      • Henry, your points are solid but I just cannot wrap my head around a Canadian, any Canadian, saying with a straight face, “We’d better keep FPTP, or else a centrist, middle-of-the-road party will be permanently in government.. why, it might hold as many as 25% of the Cabinet seats in perpetuity, like the German Free Democrats! No, far better that we keep FPTP so that Canada can have a two-party system of clear choices between Left and Right, and regular rotation in office between them.”
        I doubt the Canadian Liberals could have done better historically even under a Condorcet pairwise system with mandatory full preferencing.

      • Okay. So, sarcasm /off, I’ll try “steelmanning” (Scott Alexander’s term: https://rationalwiki.org/wiki/Straw_man#Steelmanning) the case here for FPTP:

        Banning second, third and later preferences is something akin to imposing term limits. In the short term it may indeed restrict voters’ choice, and ensure the election of suboptimal candidates (even on its own terms, since we cannot be sure how many ticks each candidate receives are genuine first preferences and how many are really second, third or nineteenth preferences in disguise).

        But in the long term, it preserves the health of the system of removing undue bargaining strength of centrist parties (or those that are prepared to bargain with both sides of the aisle).
        It is easier for the Big Two to agree on this at the macro-level of voting systems (a choice that politics revisit only once every, say, 50 years or so) [eg, UK, 1832, 1931, 1974, 2011) and then take it off the table, than to have to resist temptation every single election, or even every single legislative sitting day.

        Parties might say that normally they want clear-cut majority wins on election night for either government or opposition, and may well support voting rules designed to ensure such results. But on occasions when those rules miscarry, and there is a hung parliament (usually because of independents with strong local support, a factor that neither “only one preference per voter” nor “only one winner per district” can fully prevent), leaders of those parties cannot restrain themselves from yielding to the immediate temptation to cut a deal and take a scalp. Examples like Bob Carr (Labor, NSW, 1991), Rob Borbidge (National, Queensland, 1996) and Tony Abbott (Liberal, federal, 2010) show that Opposition Leaders will happily take advantage of persuadable/ floating Independents to inflict a defeat on the Prime Minister or Premier.

        If these politicians truly believed what they say about strong, stable government, clear-cut election verdicts, yadda yadda yadda, they would react to a hung parliament quite differently. The party with the second-highest number of seats would say:

            <i>"Well, true, ideally we do wish we'd been the side who won. - BUT it is so important that there be a clear-cut majority for the largest party, that our MPs will abstain from voting on all supply and confidence motions, and indeed all major Government bills, for the duration of this Parliament. The party with the most seats will be able to govern, and to enact its legislative program, even without an absolute majority of all MPs [or a working majority of non-boycotting MPs]. Its 48-45-7 plurality of seats will be, for the next 3 or 4 or 5 years, a 48-7 majority of those MPs who aren't abstaining."</i>
        

        Now, you can’t imagine an opposition leader saying this, and yet this is only a more consistent extension of the (supposed) logic behind non-preferential and/or non-proportional voting systems. If hung Parliaments are that bad, they are bad when it is Adam Bandt or Nick Clegg or the DUP calling the shots, just as much as if it’s the FDP or other irresponsible anti-system wreckers. And certainly, major-party propaganda sees hung Parliaments under single-member systems as bad also. No one said “At least there’ll probably be a reversion to major-party majority alternation after the next election.”

        The reason you can’t imagine an Opposition Leader making a statement like the above is that it would require them to be transparent, to resist ongoing temptation, and to put the (supposed) stability of the system above the nightly news cycle. By contrast, leaving the electoral system as it is (or knocking down reform efforts by throwing dust and creating confusion) can be done covertly without public attention.

        So, to recap: justifying “no, you can’t give contingent votes” with arguments analogous to “No, you can’t give Reagan/ Clinton a third term” seems to me the strongest (or least-weak) argument that one could make in favour of FPTP. Odd, then, that in decades of reading debates on electoral systems I have never come across an FPTP advocate actually make that argument, except by innuendos, inferences, and syllogisms with significant gaps in their chain of logic. And ironic that it should fall on an STV shill to spell that argument out.

        Unless I am still missing something…?

      • Not sure why the quote formatting went so weird, but here’s what it says:

        “Well, true, ideally we do wish we’d been the side who won. – BUT it is so important that there be a clear-cut majority for the largest party, that our MPs will abstain from voting on all supply and confidence motions, and indeed all major Government bills, for the duration of this Parliament. The party with the most seats will be able to govern, and to enact its legislative program, even without an absolute majority of all MPs [or a working majority of non-boycotting MPs]. Its 48-45-7 plurality of seats will be, for the next 3 or 4 or 5 years, a 48-7 majority of those MPs who aren’t abstaining.”

  6. The Australian experience:
    In 1918 the Nationalist government brought in AV to avoid splitting the anti-socialist vote with the up-and-coming Country party. The plan worked. For 100 years, under the AV umbrella, a dominant actor in Australian politics has been the world’s oldest established permanent floating anti-socialist Coalition.

    The Canadian experience:
    (1) In 1952 a Liberal-Conservative coalition government in British Columbia sought to fend off the socialist CCF by means of AV. The plan failed. Social Credit went from 0 seats to minority government, drawing 2nd preferences from both CCF and coalition supporters. In the 1953 election Social Credit won a majority, smashing the Conservatives and crushing the Liberals. The AV experiment ended quickly when the Socreds brought back FPTP, snatched up the baton of anti-socialism and ran with it for the next 40 years.
    (2) For the past 100 years the Liberals have been the dominant federal party. In defiance of Duverger’s law, they have remained a party of the centre (sorta) between progressive parties to the left and conservative parties to the right (plus separatists off in another dimension).

    Would the Liberal party have done better in the 2019 federal election (and an indefinite number of future elections) if AV had been implemented? Canadians and Australians tend to come up with different answers to the question. Strange, that.

    I am less sure of the outcome in a different alternative history. Suppose the Conservative government had implemented AV in 2012, when the Liberals had been reduced to a demoralized rump of 34 MPs and 19% of the popular vote. Might the Liberal party now be the very junior partner in a coalition with the NDP, in a more polarized parliament?

    • Interesting. My gut answer to your counterfactual at the end is… YES.

      On the “permanent floating anti-socialist Coalition”, what do you mean by “floating”?

  7. It was a nod to Guys and Dolls: “The oldest established permanent floating crap game in New York”

    Thinking that the Coalition was the same game even if some of the names changed over time.

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