Thursday, October 14, 2010

Third parties and conspiracies

I'm going to do this again, because I keep reading the same nonsense over and over again about how third parties in America don't exist because of deep dark conspiracies yada yada yada. Apparently math is hard. So I'll try to simplify it for you:

In a first-pass-the-gate electoral system, what number of votes are necessary to absolutely guarantee you will be elected?

  1. A majority of the votes
  2. 50% of the votes, plus one.
The answer is #2 -- mathematically, you need 50% of the votes, plus one, in order to guarantee that you will be elected in a first-past-the-gate electoral system.

Now, what is 100% divided by 50%? Hint: 2.

Third parties aren't irrelevant in America because of a conspiracy, unless math is a conspiracy. They're irrelevant in America because we use a first-past-the-gate electoral system, and the only way to guarantee that you are the one elected is to build a coalition of what would be individual parties in a proportional representation system. Thus the Libertarian right vs. the Religious right vs. the Business right, and on the left, we have the Classical Liberals vs. the Socialist Liberals vs. the Business moderates, all of which would be separate parties in a proportional representation system.

Now, does this mean that I believe the United States should change to a parliamentary system with proportional representation? Well, no. There is a one-word example that a proportional representation system is no panacea: Israel. Israel uses such a system, and their politics are every bit as toxic as U.S. politics. It appears that having toxic politics in your country is a cultural thing, and the system that you use to elect the toxic politicians is rather irrelevant to the question of, "is our politicians servicing us?" Stallions. Mares. Just sayin'.

-- Badtux the Math Penguin


  1. Israel and Holland have almost identical voting systems, which shows that the voting system doesn't explain everything. But that doesn't mean it's irrelevant. Most developed countries use proportional voting systems, and have done for most of the last century. They tend to have better representation of women and minorities, more consensual politics, greater voter satisfaction with politics and politicians, and higher voter turnout.

  2. The National Popular Vote bill would guarantee the Presidency to the candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    Every vote, everywhere, would be politically relevant and equal in presidential elections. Every vote would be counted for and directly assist the candidate for whom it was cast. Candidates would need to care about voters across the nation, not just undecided voters in a handful of swing states.

    The bill would take effect only when enacted, in identical form, by states possessing a majority of the electoral votes–that is, enough electoral votes to elect a President (270 of 538). When the bill comes into effect, all the electoral votes from those states would be awarded to the presidential candidate who receives the most popular votes in all 50 states (and DC).

    The bill uses the power given to each state by the Founding Fathers in the Constitution to change how they award their electoral votes for president. Historically, virtually all of the major changes in the method of electing the President, including ending the requirement that only men who owned substantial property could vote and 48 current state-by-state winner-take-all laws.

    The bill has been endorsed or voted for by 1,922 state legislators (in 50 states) who have sponsored and/or cast recorded votes in favor of the bill.

    In Gallup polls since 1944, only about 20% of the public has supported the current system of awarding all of a state’s electoral votes to the presidential candidate who receives the most votes in each separate state (with about 70% opposed and about 10% undecided). The recent Washington Post, Kaiser Family Foundation, and Harvard University poll shows 72% support for direct nationwide election of the President. Support for a national popular vote is strong in virtually every state, partisan, and demographic group surveyed in recent polls in closely divided battleground states: Colorado– 68%, Iowa –75%, Michigan– 73%, Missouri– 70%, New Hampshire– 69%, Nevada– 72%, New Mexico– 76%, North Carolina– 74%, Ohio– 70%, Pennsylvania — 78%, Virginia — 74%, and Wisconsin — 71%; in smaller states (3 to 5 electoral votes): Alaska — 70%, DC — 76%, Delaware –75%, Maine — 77%, Nebraska — 74%, New Hampshire –69%, Nevada — 72%, New Mexico — 76%, Rhode Island — 74%, and Vermont — 75%; in Southern and border states: Arkansas –80%, Kentucky — 80%, Mississippi –77%, Missouri — 70%, North Carolina — 74%, and Virginia — 74%; and in other states polled: California — 70%, Connecticut — 74% , Massachusetts — 73%, Minnesota — 75%, New York — 79%, Washington — 77%, and West Virginia- 81%.

    The National Popular Vote bill has passed 31 state legislative chambers, in 21 small, medium-small, medium, and large states, including one house in Arkansas (6), Connecticut (7), Delaware (3), The District of Columbia (3), Maine (4), Michigan (17), Nevada (5), New Mexico (5), New York (31), North Carolina (15), and Oregon (7), and both houses in California (55), Colorado (9), Hawaii (4), Illinois (21), New Jersey (15), Maryland (10), Massachusetts (12), Rhode Island (4), Vermont (3), and Washington (11). The bill has been enacted by the District of Columbia, Hawaii, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, Massachusetts, and Washington. These seven states possess 76 electoral votes — 28% of the 270 necessary to bring the law into effect.


  3. In Canada we have always had the first-past-the-post system, where whichever candidate in a given riding (we have about 300 Members of Parliament) gets the most votes takes the seat, and the leader of the party with the most seats becomes the Prime Minister. Since World War Two we have always had at least three parties represented, but the FPPP system guarantees that the standings in the House of Commons have little or nothing to do with the national popular vote.

    In our last election (2008) we had record low turnout (about 59% of voters, better than yours and registration here is far easier than in the US), and the election was effectively over by the time the polls in western Ontario closed, but here is how things panned out in terms of % of popular vote, the seats they actually won, and the seats they would have received under a simple proportional system.

    Conservatives: 38% and 143 seats (117)
    Liberals: 26% and 76 seats (80)
    Bloc Quebecois: 10% and 50 seats (31)
    New Democratic Party: 18% and 37 seats (55)
    Green: 7% and 0 seats (22)

    So, a party that got not much more than a third of the support of the electorate gets 100% of the power (and incidentally, is turning the clock back on Canadian progressivism - political culture up here lags American by a few years, so we are going through our Bush years right now, but there's a lot more social safety net to shred so they are in a big hurry!).

    You should not trot out Israel as an example of political systems - really, it may be a country but it has the population of a large city and atypical problems. If you want to underscore the fragility of coalition governments look at Italy. On balance, Germany is a country that has made a mixed system of representation work out fiarly well.


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