Sometimes, interesting discussions sprout in the comments that I fear will seem more buried than planted, if not re-propogated here in the main orchard.
Several of us have been discussing the merits of the Alternative Vote (AV), one of several formulas that might fit under the rubric of what American reformers mean by “Instant Runoff Voting” (IRV).
Just this week, I received an e-mail from a political science contact (based outside the USA) who said that he “loathes AV.” At first, I thought the comment a tad harsh. But the more I think about, the more I wonder if it might not fit my own views, with respect to the suitability of the system for US legislative elections (or for the nominal tier of potential MMP systems).
In the thread on Electoral Reform in Canada Ed made the following observation:
I’m also impressed by the evidence that the effect of AV is to reduce the plurality of voices and parties in the legislature. I used to support use of AV over FTFP until I looked more closely at Australian elections.
Its interesting that the use of runoffs have not had quite the same effect in France.
To which I responded:
Of course, in France there was an existing very fragmented party system into which a two-round system was (re-)introduced, in 1958.
All path dependency aside, there are good logical reasons to expect that a two-round system, especially of the majority-plurality variant used in France, would tend to support a multiparty system, but AV (IRV) would not.
When there is an actual second round of voting if no candidate has won a majority of first votes, parties have much more opportunity to enter as “spoilers” (and all the more so, again, when the runoff is a restricted plurality rule and not 50%, plus 1).
Advocates of AV/IRV often favor it because it avoids spoilers. Yes, and perhaps too well.
This latter comment moved Bob to ask:
By “too well” do you mean that reducing spoiled elections reduces the effect of small party and independent candidates on outcomes? If so, then that’s a good thing for the small parties themselves, because spoiled elections are what prevent people who support these candidates from actually voting for them. Or do you mean that small party and independent candidates win less often? If so, then less often that under what other voting rule(s)?
My response to Bob’s question–and now this is something new to this current planting–is that, regarding his two ways of possibly interpreting what I said about AV dealing too effectively with the “spoiler” problem, I would endorse the first one as closer to my view.
I take a pretty Machiavellian view of interparty dynamics under winner-take-all systems (whether FPTP, AV, two-round, the absurd list-plurality system of the absurd US electoral college, or what have you). I am pretty sure large parties take such a view themselves, when they bother to be worried about the groupuscules that, in most US legislative elections, pass for parties other than the dominant Two. Large parties will take note of smaller when the latter threaten the former. So, go and spoil if you are serious about increasing the influence of small parties. As I have suggested before, that is the most likely route to real electoral reform–a form of PR (which is not, by any means, to suggest that it inevitably leads there).
It is clear from the experience of most FPTP cases that (certain types of) small parties can win seats under FPTP, even if they tend to be under-represented, sometimes seriously (but sometimes not). Of course, the USA is not such a system. It has a 2-party system that is even more solidly so than that for Australia’s AV-elected first chamber.
In the US context, that might imply that AV (or another form of IRV) would be a step forward for pluralism in our legislative bodies. I doubt it, though it is possible. I suspect that it is more likely that AV would enhance the role of single-issue organizations that could make a claim to be able to determine which candidates won through following the preference trail. That is, we might see more candidates, but I wonder about more parties, in a form that is recognizably partisan. If single-issue organizations were more institutionalized in US elections, that would hardly be a step forward.
Maybe my views of smaller US parties and AV are too bleak. I don’t know, honestly. But I am very skeptical of the passion that many reformers have for AV/IRV for US House or state-legislative races. I am actually somewhat agnostic about FPTP vs. AV for these types of contests.* I just do not feel that the difference between them is worth getting too excited over, even if the balance of the comparison is favorable to AV. Which, obviously, I am yet to be persuaded it is.
Beyond that, I’ll just say “what Ed said.” And, so that you do not have to go a-clicking, I will let Ed have the more-or-less last word in this planting (for now). Here is what Ed said:
…the evidence from Australian House of Representatives is pretty clear.
Minor parties such as the Greens, Australian Democrats, and Democratic Labor have existed in Australia and elected candidates to the Senate, which uses STV. None of these parties have ever won a House of Representatives seat in a general election, or come even close. The National/ Country Party has won seats in coalition with the Liberals, though the alliance is so close there is reason not to treat Liberals and National as separate parties.
First-Past-the-Post elected legislatures such as Canada, New Zealand (before the switch) and the UK have all had significant third party representation, from both national third parties and regional third parties. Even in the case of the US House of Representatives the Socialists have won a couple of seats. The PDS, the Greens, and I think also the FDP have won Bundesrat districts at various times. [FDP, I think not; certainly not in recent decades--MSS]
So the record is pretty clear. This could be due to cultural reasons unique to Australia, though its hard to see what the are. Minor parties in Australia seem to be much more accepted than in the US. It could be due to the failure of minor party leaders to cultivate regional bases of support, though the dynamics of AV would encourage that, as these parties can exert influence through second preferences without actually winning a seat in the House. I suspect voters may not want to be in a situation where a minor party is a “finalist” for a seat. Mathematically, its hard for a party polling 10% to get enough a deviation in any one district to get over 50%, but they might reach the 30% mark.
I hope we might have a visitor or two with actual experience voting in AV elections stop by later.
(I still need to address the question of the incompatibility of AV and MMP, which has come up in another thread. I’ll get to it–promise.)
* On the other hand, for replacing two-round majority elections at the municipal level, especially in the case of officially non-partisan contests, the superiority of AV is clear to me. By the same token, it is obviously superior to the “top two” proposal (which would replace the partisan primary and restrict general election ballots to just two candidates, even if of the same party) being floated in California, but then so is the existing two-stage FPTP (once in the primary, once in the general).