Saturday, October 09, 2004

American Democracy (4)

Part 1, Part 2 & Part 3 need to be read first.

Obviously, much of this is simply the natural distortion of First Past the Post Electoral systems, otherwise known as plurality. Across America, many state legislatures are elected by various means, from weighted voting to Instant Run-Off (known as Alternative Voite this side of the pond). FPTP is well known for its distorting effect on voting. Over here, Labour lost the, IIRC, 1955 General Election despite having more votes than the Tories, because the Tories could turn their votes into seats, Labour just returned thumping majorities in Heartlands.

As in the previous example, it's easy to see how a minority can win an FPTP election, either through lumpy support (i.e. geographically concentrated) or its exact opposite, through being evenly spread against a fractured opposition. A party that has 30% everywhere might well take more seats than a couple of parties with clumpy support.

Take Statetone, again, 100 voters and ten seats. Pary A Could get 4 votes in each seat. Party's B & C get 6 votes in 5 seats each.

Party A 40 votes (no Seats)
Party B 30 votes (5 Seats)
Party C 30 votes (5 Seats)

Let's assume a political earthquake, and nexttime round, Party A gets 5 votes in 6 seats, and only 1 in each of the other Four. Party B picks up 9 votes in 4 seats and 3 in the rest, Party C picks up the rest.

Party A 34 (6 Seats)
Party B 54 (4 Seats)
Party C 12 (No Seats)

JUst to show that it's not muliple parties that is the problem, Party C goes out of business, the next result is that in Party A's result remains the same, and Party B picks p Party C's vote:

Party A 34 (6 Seats)
Party B 66 (4 seats)

The fact is, though, that in America now, many seats are being decided on a minority of the vote, Clinton won with a minority of the overall vote (in fact, IIRC, Lincoln was the very first minority president).

The fact that votes for president are filtered through constituencies first means that the vote will be inevitably distorted.


Blogger SIAW said...

FYI (and FWIW!): It was in 1951 that Labour got more votes than the Tories but fewer seats - indeed, IIRC, Labour got more votes (or was it a higher pecentage?) than any party before or since. The opposite happened in Feb. 1974: the Tories won more votes than Labour (though still not a majority) and lost the election. Liberal democracy may be less bad than the various bourgeois alternatives, but, yes, it's deeply fucked.

Genuine query re the US electoral college: points taken, but as long as the US remains a federation, and the states have a major role in the constitutional amendment process, what, if anything, can be done about it (short of socialist revolution,etc.)?

4:58 PM  
Blogger Bill said...


well, even in Bourgeoise Liberal democracy tehre are quick answers. One would be to allow the states to have as many electoral college votes as they have assessed population - the EU works a lot of its votes on hat basis, as has the Labour party. It would then be up to the states to decide if they want to use that as a block or split their tally among the candidates. See, I do think about these things.

Of course, if we'#re in fantasy land of constitutional amendments, they could just amend to make the President elected directly with the USA as a single constituency.

BTW, thanks for the correction, and yes, you're right, it was a huge vote for labourb that lost it for them.

8:10 AM  

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