All indications are that the NDP will defeat the incumbent Liberals, in power since 2001, by a wide margin, although the race has tightened during the campaign. BC’s First Past the Post electoral system has a history of periodically producing anomalous results, but a near-total wipeout of the losing party no longer seems as likely as it did when the election was called. The last time the NDP won a BC provincial election was in 1996, when it was the beneficiary of a plurality reversal: it lost the vote to the Liberals, 39.4%-41.8%, but won the seats, 39-33. The only other time the NDP won an election was 1991, when their 41%-33% vote lead translated into a whopping 51-17 lead in seats. Today’s result could be similar.
The Greens, who won their first seat in federal politics in a BC riding (district) in 2011, have some shot at picking up their first provincial seat. The Green Party has won as much as 12.4% of the vote in a provincial election; that was 2001, when the Liberals defeated the NDP in a landslide. In 2005 and 2009, the party’s votes declined to 9.2% and then 8.1%.
As the election has tightened, the Greens’ odds of winning a seat may have declined. The BC Greens leader says her party has a chance at 4-5 seats on southern Vancouver Island, and that she will resign if she does not win her own seat. She is running against an NDP incumbent; given the strong NDP winds blowing this year, her odds would seem not so good.
The Liberal Party ran an ad in the Victoria Times-Colonist that has created some controversy. It praises the Greens for their environmental leadership, apparently hoping that a strong Green vote in the region will allow the Liberals to win some three-way races. NDP leader, Adrian Dix, responded to the ad by saying:
They will say anything, they will do anything. What the Liberals are saying is our path to get to power is for you to vote Green. I say the way to change the government, to get a new and better government, is to vote NDP.
The Green candidate in the Oak Bay-Gordon Head riding also had an interesting response to the ad, saying that if his campaign could afford a full-page ad, it would say the same thing about their environmental leadership and the NDP’s “flip-flopping”. Moreover,
What it would acknowledge is Ida [Chong, the Liberal incumbent] is certainly not in the lead … she’s not even second in this riding.
That’s a great example of the expectations game in FPTP elections: if you can convince voters that a given candidate is in third place, you might be able to promote strategic defection your way. The district in question was won by the Liberal with a margin of only a few hundred votes in 2009, without the presence of a strong Green challenge.
The other small party to watch is the Conservatives, who long have been scarcely a factor in the province’s politics. The last time the party placed as high as third was in 1979, with 5.1%. The now defunct Reform Party, which was a Western splinter from the Conservatives that later re-merged with it, was third with 9.2% in 1996.1
The BC Conservatives could have a chance at a seat this time. As the Tri-City News notes about the contest in Coquitlam-Burke Mountain :
If there is one thing Shane Kennedy is hoping voters remember when they head to the polls next week, it’s this: they needn’t cast a ballot for the NDP to get rid of the Liberals.
A bit deeper into the story is this interesting policy note:
He agrees with the Liberal’s stance on bringing the Northern Gateway pipeline to B.C. but said the money it generates for the province should be used to fund green industry.
Kennedy is also quoted as advocating more bus service for the area, so we have both local and provincewide–and not necessarily obviously “conservative”–positions being advocated in attempt to secure the seat.
Nonetheless, as with the Greens, the overall tightening of the race probably works against any BC Conservative candidate.
I was not aware till I came across a Globe and Mail article from September 10 that Nova Scotia has provincial electoral districts that are drawn for the benefit of two groups: Acadians and African-Nova Scotians. These “dedicated ridings”, or what in the US would be called minority-majority districts, represent cases of affirmative gerrymandering: the drawing of district boundaries to enhance minority representation.
The article says that these districts are believed to be the only ones of their kind in Canada.
These districts were established 20 years ago. The NDP government of the province has appointed a boundaries commission to attempt to equalize populations of districts (ridings). The commission’s terms of reference require each riding be within 25 per cent of the province’s average number of electors. Nonetheless, the commission recommended retaining the affirmatively gerrymandered ridings. The commission regarded the terms as non-binding; the government’s attorney general has considered the proposed retention of the districts as “null and void.” (See map of proposed changes.)
Regarding the districts themselves:
Right now there are three Acadian MLAs representing the Acadian ridings, but there has not been an African-Nova Scotian MLA in the designated black riding of Preston (outside Dartmouth) for more than 13 years. The ridings each have about 7,000 voters, far fewer than the other 48 ridings which vary between 10,000 and 21,000 voters.
Thus the districts are not only gerrymandered–drawn for a political purposes–but also malapportioned, meaning having fewer voters per single-seat district.
A very interesting case not only of boundary-drawing for minority representation, but also commission-vs.-government conflict over the process!
Quebec’s National Assembly (i.e. provincial) election is 4 September. It is a three-way race, which is always interesting–and potentially anomaly-generating–under plurality (first-past-the-post) rules.
The incumbent is a majority government of the Liberal Party, re-elected most recently in 2008, with the Parti Quebecois (PQ) as its main opponent. The newly created party in the mix is the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ), and there are other smaller parties as well.
The CAQ is trying to make a splash by bringing Jacques Duchesneau, a “celebrity whistleblower” (as the Ottawa Citizen described him) into the contest as one of its candidates. This personnel strategy by an upstart party is an excellent example of attempting to use a high-profile individual to signal something about the party as a whole.
The PQ is attempting as well to use a newly recruited candidate to help re-brand the party. The “sovereigntist” message of the party is in danger of not resonating with younger voters who have grown up under policies implemented by past PQ governments, and continued by Liberal ones. So to try to counter this lack of appeal, it has nominated Léo Bureau-Blouin, a 20-year-old leader of the recent Quebec student strike. As Konrad Yakabuski comment in the Globe and Mail: “Mr. Bureau-Blouin’s candidacy brings much more to the PQ than a chance at picking up a seat. It sends a message to Quebeckers that the party and its mission will live on.”
As for the three-way race, Eric Grenier notes in the Globe and Mail, even before Duchesneau’ entry, “the CAQ, even at these low levels of support in the polls, could still win as many as 11 seats, Québec Solidaire as many as two, and Option Nationale one, making it possible for either of the two main parties to form some sort of working arrangement or formal coalition in order to govern if they do not win a majority on their own.”
Quebec had a real three-way race in March, 2007, when the largest party was the Liberals, but with only 38% of the seats on just under a third of the vote. The Assembly elected then lasted only about a year and a half, and new elections were held in December, 2008, producing the majority that is attempting to defend its position now.
“Anglophones… should perhaps, in order to send a message to the Liberals, consider voting for the CAQ,” said Mr. Libman, “(but) only in areas where there is no danger of splitting the vote and electing the PQ.”
The ridings Mr. Libman has in mind are largely located in Montreal’s west end, with a few more in western Quebec. There are also a handful of ridings where any wavering by Anglo voters could spark big swings in close local races.
With so many outcomes being plausible–including a majority government by either major party–and dependent on results of key districts (ridings), this will be a contest to watch.
Ideas for replacing FPTP with some form of PR have been floated in Canada many times in the past, but so far no serious reform process has gotten underway.
This month, the former leader of Canada’s Liberal Party, Stephane Dion, has advocated a new system. He calls it P3, for “proportional-preferential-personalized vote”.
As best I can tell, this would be an amalgam the likes of which we have never seen before. District magnitude would be 3-5, and voters would undertake two voting steps:
1. They would rank parties in order of preference, and a process apparently akin to single transferable vote would be followed to determine how many seats each party would win in the district.
2. The voter could cast a single candidate preference vote (non-transferable, it seems), and these would determine which candidates would win the seat(s) each party was entitled to after the completion of the phase of party-level allocation.
In other words, it is party-STV-open-list PR!
Meanwhile, Benjamin Forest, a geography professor at McGill, has advocated other solutions to get “effective representation for national minorities“, by which he means French speakers outside Quebec and aboriginals. He proposes either separate voter rolls or minority-majority districts. The first of these ideas is akin to what New Zealand practices for Maori voters: separate districts for the minority, with voters of the minority group eligible to vote in those separate districts. The second idea–which Forest appears to prefer, given “difficult legal issues” with the separate rolls–would be the affirmative gerrymander widely practiced in the US.
Both of these districting concepts strike me as highly retrograde. As for Dion’s proposal, whatever one might think of it, one has to give him credit for originality.
In the chronicles of elections, ever noteworthy is the vote that results in the fall of a long-time hegemonic party. Tonight we may see such an outcome.
Somewhere in Africa? Asia, perhaps? No.
Canada. Or, to be more specific, Alberta.
The province has its legislative assembly election today, and the opposition Wildrose Alliance has been on track to win a majority. However, late in the campaign, the incumbent Conservatives have closed the gap. That we are witnessing a potential for alternation is momentous, for the Conservatives have governed since 1971, a string of eleven consecutive general elections.
During this string, the party has been genuinely hegemonic at times, winning more than 85% of the seats five times, and under 70% only twice (65.3% in 1971 and 61.5% in 1993). Its vote share has been under 50% only four times (1971, 1989, 1993, and 2004), with a low of 44.5% in 1993.
In the most recent election, that of 2008, the Conservatives managed 86.7% of the seats on 52.7% of the votes. Clearly, the party has benefited handsomely from the First Past the Post electoral system. At the same time, it has been more dominant in votes than most ruling parties under FPTP systems.
The challenger, the Wildrose Alliance, has attacked the Conservatives from the right. In 2008, Wildrose won only 6.8% of the vote and no seats. According to the ThreeHundredEight projection, Wildrose should win 43 seats out of 87, on 38.4% of the votes. The Conservatives should win 39 seats on 35.8% of the vote. Such a result would mean a balanced assembly, and likely a minority government. However, there is a great deal of uncertainty in the projection, with the estimate for Wildrose ranging from 22 to 62 and that for the Conservatives ranging from 20 to 62! Obviously there are a lot of closely contested ridings (districts) and this one may go down to the wire!
As has been usual in Alberta, the New Democratic Party looks set to come in third. The Liberals, who have been the second party in every election since 1989, with vote totals ranging from 26.4% to 39.7% in those elections (but only once more than 25% of the seats) might fall to fourth place.
With Wildrose hoovering up votes from disaffected right-wing voters who think the provincial Conservatives have gone soft, the Conservatives themselves may have to rely on tactical votes of NDP and Liberal sympathizers in urban ridings if they are going to hang on.
The Wildrose surge invites comparisons to the “tea party” south of the border. This is a party that does not accept climate science, wants to privatize (at least parts of) health-care delivery, and has had its share of gaffe-prone amateur candidates who were a bit too honest about their views on such topics as gays and South Asians.
Of course, the difference between Wildrose and tea-partiers is that while the latter have engaged in a takeover bid against the existing right-wing party, the former is challenging it head-on. Part of the difference is the dominance of the right in Alberta–even a split right will still result in a right-wing government of some flavor. And part of it is parliamentary democracy–operating as a tendency within a party is less attractive when you can form your own and thereby potentially take over the government.
On Saturday, Canada’s Official Opposition, the New Democratic Party, chose its new leader: Thomas Mulcair, MP, of Quebec.
Although there were several candidates, Mulcair always seemed to me to be the most likely of all of them to win. The election–partly on-line and partly at a party convention–took four rounds to decide. (I gather the party uses sequential-elimination majority.)
Much of the coverage seems to be stressing the low turnout (e.g. Huffington Post, CBC), as well as attacks on the on-line voting system.
The turnout was just over half of the eligible membership (around 69,000 out of 131,000. I have no idea whether that is really “low” by comparative party leadership-ballot standards or not. I would like to know, however…
Two questions on the Ontario Green Party that I hope someone can answer.
1. What happened to their campaign this time? In 2007, they came pretty close to winning one riding (district).1 Apparently they have almost no chance this time, despite this being the year when the national Green Party got its first seat (in British Columbia).
2. Is the Green Party of Ontario really to the right of the Liberal Party (on the socio-economic dimension), as well as more socially conservative? That is what the CBC’s Ontario Votes-Vote Compass says.
I can’t recall which one. So I guess that’s yet another question that I hope someone can answer! [↩]
Update: In a comment (#7), I compare the result to the seat-vote equation estimate.
Three Canadian provinces have elections this week. Voting has already been completed in Prince Edward Island (PEI) and Manitoba, and is taking place today in Ontario, the largest province. Each elections shows–or is likely to show–the vagaries of FPTP.
First, the election in PEI produced a lopsided majority–again. The incumbent Liberal party returned to office with 22 of the 27 seats, on a slightly reduced vote percentage (51.4% compared to 52.9% in 2007). This was a loss of one seat, with the Conservatives winning 5 (+1). For the second straight election, the Greens supplanted the NDP as the (distant) third party, with 4.3% (up from 3%).
The province has a history of lopsided results (as I have shown in graphs); the 2003 Liberal victory marked an alternation from a Conservative government, which itself had 23 seats. In the election before that, the Conservatives had 26 of the 27 seats. In 1996, the last time no party won a majority of the vote, the Conservatives, with 47.4% could manage “only” 18 seats (a 2/3 majority).
The seat-vote equation, which estimates seats under FPTP systems, based on jurisdiction-wide votes for the top three parties, the size of the assembly, and the number of voters, says that a party with around 51% of the votes, where the second party has around 40%, “should” be expected to win around 65% of the seats, rather than the 85% it won in this election.1
One key reason why PEI has such lopsided results is that its assembly is about half the size that the cube root rule says it “should be,” for its electorate. With around 80,000 voters turning out in recent elections, an assembly of 55 seats would be more appropriate than 27. The undersized assembly is why the seat-vote equation sees as “normal” for FPTP even a a party with just over 50% of the votes potentially getting almost two thirds of the seats. The geographic distribution of the vote in PEI, and its tendency towards big island-wide vote swings, only exacerbate an inherent tendency for big seat bonuses for the largest party.
In Manitoba‘s election, the incumbent NDP was returned to office with 37 of the 57 seats (64.9%) on just 46% of the votes. The NDP had won 36 seats in 2007 on 48% of the votes. So the party’s votes declined, but it seats increased. The second-place Conservatives substantially increased their votes, from 37.9% to 43.7%, yet saw their seats remain steady on 19. Such are the vagaries of FPTP. Liberals saw their votes fall from 12.4% to 7.5%, and dropped from 2 seats to 1.
The seat-vote equation would expect such a close race between the top two parties to have resulted in a seat split of about 30-27, instead of the actual 37-19.2
Manitoba has no record of particularly odd results, although in both 1990 and 1995 the second largest party won many more seats than it “should have” won. This is a pattern that can result in a plurality reversal (higher seat total for the second largest party in votes), if the election is close enough. In both of those elections, the Conservatives won narrow seat majorities on less than 43% of the votes, while the second-place NDP in 1995 had 40% of the seats despite only 33% of the votes.3 Evidently, in several recent elections the NDP’s geographic distribution of its votes has been such that it can translate them into many more seats than expected, whether it is the largest or runner-up party. I point this out simply because this week’s election was quite close in votes (46%-44%) yet produced an unexpectedly large seat bonus for the NDP. A plurality reversal may have been barely more than a couple of percentage points of the provincial vote from happening.
In today’s Ontario election, we see real three-party competition, with the third largest party, the NDP, polling at around a quarter of the votes. The incumbent Liberal party won 71 seats in the 2007 election, or 66.4% on just 42.2% of the vote. For most of this year, it was expected to lose, possibly by a wide margin, to the Conservatives. Yet as the official campaign got underway, the Liberals and NDP made gains in polls. For a while the Liberals and Conservatives looked headed for a near tie in seats, with neither winning a majority, and a potential plurality reversal. Now the Liberals could retain a majority of seats, depending on how some key ridings (districts) turn out.
The ThreeHundredEight final projection sees the Liberals winning 58 seats (54.2%) on 36.6% of the vote (to 33.3% for Conservatives). No party in Ontario4 has won a majority of seats on less than 40% of the votes since the NDP won 74 of a then 130-seat parliament on 37.6% of the vote in 1990–the only time the NDP has been the governing party. For the record, the seat-vote equation agrees that this projected vote split would produce a majority (about 56 seats); what it does not expect is the mere 29 seats the Liberals are expected to win, according to the ThreeHundredEight projection. The seat-vote equation expects such a close second place to be good for 44 or 45 seats, which would leave only 7 for the NDP. That the NDP could be projected to win 20 seats by ThreeHundredEight–which takes into account district-level information unlike the seat-vote equation5 –only shows how much the existing FPTP electoral system favors the NDP. Their huge manufactured majority in 1990 shows this pro-NDP bias is not new.6
Finally, both Manitoba and Ontario, like PEI, have undersized assemblies. For their population sizes, the cube root rule expects around 100 seats in Manitoba (instead of 57) and 200 in Ontario (instead of 107). Small assembly sizes only exacerbate the chances of anomalous results, although if one wanted seats distributions more reflective of votes distributions, a proportional electoral system would do the trick without needing to increase assembly size.
For more on the seat-vote equation and estimating the seats in first-past-the-post systems, see:
Matthew S. Shugart, “Inherent and Contingent Factors in Reform Initiation in Plurality Systems,” in To Keep or Change First Past the Post, ed. By André Blais. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.
Past election data and estimates of seats come from the data set originally prepared in conjunction with the chapter, and updated since.
Error on year of NDP majority in original entry corrected.
Four seats in PEI were decided by fewer than 100 votes, and some of these might swing on recounts. Each major party has won two of these seats, based on current results. [↩]
Given the greater gap in votes between the top two, we would expect the 2007 election to have split the seats 37-20; in other words that election turned out almost exactly as expected. [↩]
In 1990, it had only 28.8% of the votes, yet 35% of the seats. [↩]
at least since 1967, which is the first year in my data. [↩]
As I often point out, the seat-vote equation is not a projection tool. It is only meant to see how close an actual result deviates from what a “typical” FPTP election would produce, for a given jurisdiction-wide votes breakdown, and number of voters and seats [↩]
Of course, potentially winning in this election nearly three times the number of seats as could be expected in a “normal” FPTP system offers minimal benefit when some other party has won a manufactured majority. Clearly the NDP today–although not back in 1990!–would benefit from a proportional system that would promote minority or coalition governments in which such a strong (in votes) third party could have real policy influence. [↩]
The campaign for 6 October provincial parliamentary elections in Ontario is underway.
According to the ThreeHundredEight projection as of today, the province is headed towards a no-majority situation. Conservatives and the NDP could each make big gains.
The current government is Liberal, (re-)elected in 2007 with a large seat majority. The Liberals would fall to second place, behind the Conservatives, according to current polling.
The province has some history of rather odd votes-seats relationships, which is why there was a review of the electoral system initiated following the 2003 election that brought the Liberals to power. A Citizens Assembly proposed MMP, but the proposed reform went down to resounding defeat in a referendum concurrent with the October, 2007, provincial election. So Ontario has remained stuck with an ill-fitting FPTP, at least for now.
The party will hold a leadership convention in March.
An intra-party controversy has been voiced in recent weeks about whether to guarantee affiliation labor unions a share of the votes for leader, or to operate under a “one member, one vote” principle. Apparently this has been resolved in favor of the latter (although news items earlier today had reported otherwise).
Another challenge faced by the party is that it has few members in Quebec, the province that now provides a majority of its parliamentary caucus, since the remarkable surge in the recent parliamentary elections.
Just months after leading his party to an improbable second-place finish in Canada’s general election, and weeks after taking “temporary” leave as Leader of the Official Opposition, NDP leader Jack Layton has died.
Quite apart from his politics (which I generally, but not always, agreed with), he was a political leader I admired. This is very sad news.
It has been an interesting week for election-watchers, especially those of us interested in the dynamics of competition in single-seat districts. Canada had its election, with historic shifts in voting patterns, on Monday. Tomorrow the UK votes on whether to retain FPTP or move to the Alternative Vote (AV). And, just to make things even more interesting, voters in parts of the UK–Scotland and Wales–will be voting in MMP elections tomorrow as well. 1 Quite a week–and tomorrow is quite a day–for electoral systems!
Here I will offer some observations about why I do not like either FPTP or AV (except from a researcher’s standpoint, for which they are terrific!)
The problem with FPTP is that it is fundamentally a system to elect a local representative in a world in which–at least for Canada and the UK–a general election is mostly a contest among national parties. That’s fine if there are just two parties of any significance. You still get the tension between hundreds of local contests and the clash of national parties. But if most districts are two-party contests, notwithstanding some number of “safe” seats for one party or the other, the system works, on its own terms: A series of local playings of the national contest between government and alternative government.
However, decades ago in Canada and the UK, the voters (and the party elites) largely stopped playing this game. Third parties have become more and more significant, and not only regionally. There seems to be a widespread view, even in the academy, that national multipartism masks local two-partism–that most districts feature two “serious” candidates, just not necessarily the same two in all parts of the country. That may have been true at one time, but it ceased being so some time ago. Now many British and Canadian districts feature a strong third party, and can be won with barely a third of the vote. Or even less. Canada’s election could be a step back to a more two-party pattern, given the collapse of the Bloc and the poor performance of the Liberals, but the latter may well be back. So it is far too early to say.
Sometimes voters in a given district even “tacitly” coordinate to send a minor party to parliament, not because it is best positioned to represent the specifically local interests of the district’s voters, but because the small party has invested in winning this one district that happens to have a demographic base consisting of the type of voters the party appeals to. I am thinking especially of Elizabeth May’s move across Canada to Saanich and Gulf Islands, which she won for a Green party that invested everything there. Caroline Lucas and the UK Greens last year are another such case, although Lucas at least had represented the same locale in other offices previously. It is not that there is anything inherently wrong with this strategy and outcome. Not at all! It just is another piece of evidence that voters and elites not playing the FPTP game.2 The contest in such a district becomes not about local representation, per se, nor about voting for the current or a potential governing party, but about voting for a fringe national party.
Then there is the whole micro-targeting strategy. To the extent that a party tailors its message to ever-smaller subsets of its constituency in swing districts, it, too, is not playing the FPTP game as we (used to) know it. It ceases to be a national campaign, speaking to broad swaths of citizens collectively, and becomes instead a disaggregated message to relatively small blocs of voters who just happen to live in swing districts. Again, not necessarily about local concerns, per se, but about ever-narrower demographic slices.
OK, so British voters can put a stop to all of this by voting for AV, right? Not so fast.
The best argument that the pro-AV camp in this referendum seems to have come up with is that your MP will “work harder” and will have to earn a majority of the district’s voters. I assume MPs tend to work pretty hard as it is, and to the extent that many of them already are pretty close to the median voter in their district (even when winning 40% or less), it is not clear that they have to work any harder under AV. Moreover, given that the proposed version of AV for the UK would allow voters to give only one or as few preferences as they wish,3it is simply not true that the system will guarantee endorsement of every MP by a majority of voters.
Fundamentally, it seems that the argument for AV in an existing FPTP system where two-party competition is no longer the norm is a reactionary one.4 It puts the emphasis back on who wins the district and by what share of the vote. Yet FPTP parliamentary democracies have mostly gone well beyond that, as I started out with in my overview of the problem with FPTP.5 If significant percentages of voters are routinely voting for parties that have little hope of winning their district, but instead will be a clear third or fourth place finisher, it says they don’t really care about who represents the district. They care about national politics. And the two Green examples mentioned above suggest voters are capable of coordinating when what they care about national politics is electing a nationally small party with what are perceived to be fresh ideas. In neither case is AV necessary, and in the main, it’s not helpful if it is trying to put the genie back in the bottle and return to the good old days of majority winners in each district (as a presumed ideal).
And I would think that AV would be a micro-targeters dream. (Is there evidence for that in Australia, or am I out of line here?)
My take on AV would be different if the system could make a large difference in the way national politics works. And in style maybe it would do so, although I suspect that claims about reducing negative campaigning are exaggerated. (Candidates still have an incentive to see that certain contenders are eliminated from the count before others.) Fundamentally, most UK elections would have had the same basic shape of partisan forces in parliament with AV as they had under FPTP. So you get a reactionary effect at the district level without a clear corresponding progressive effect at the national level.
I guess it is clear how I’d be voting tomorrow if I had the privilege. Not because I like the status quo. And not because the political scientist in me wouldn’t love to see how AV would work if adopted in the UK context. But because I am not convinced AV is a real improvement on FPTP.
If FPTP is broken, as I believe it is in the UK (and arguably Canada, even if less this week than it seemed before), the only solution worth the effort is MMP or STV or another proportional system. If only the voters could have the chance to plump for PR…
Plus voting for many English local councls; are these all FPTP? There could have also been STV races on tap, in Scottish municipalities, but these are no longer concurrent with the Scottish Parliament elections. [↩]
If enough of this sort of thing happens to subvert FPTP, it’s fine by me! [↩]
Which is fine; I do not like the Australian requirement to rank every candidate. [↩]
But not in the horrifically specious way that William Hague and Margaret Beckett claim in a cross-party no-on-AV article in The Telegraph: that it would take Britain back to the days of the rotten borough by undermining one person, one vote. [↩]
India, the largest FPTP parliamentary democracy by far, is at least partially an exception to this point. More to come on that, as Indian district patterns are an ongoing research topic of mine. [↩]
What if we had a FPTP parliamentary system in which there were three national parties, and their vote percentages in any given election were:
We would have to call that fairly typical FPTP stuff. Not your ideal Duvergerian pattern, to be sure, but nothing remarkable in the real world of FPTP elections. Now let’s suppose their seat percentages were:
Pretty unremarkable, too, right?
Yes and no. On the one hand, this is what we should expect with FPTP: the two biggest parties with higher percentages of seats than votes, and the third party with significantly lower seats than votes.
Of the 211 FPTP elections in my database, there are 23 in which the largest party won from 38% to 42% of the vote (regardless of other parties’ percentages and excluding four plurality reversals). Of those 23 elections,* what’s the average seat percentage for the largest party? 54.35%. (The median is 52.63%, and the range is 36.15% to 69.09%.) So a large party winning around 40% of the votes and 54% of the seats is totally unremarkable.
Yet in another sense, the largest party in this Canadian election, the Conservatives, is under-represented–relative to a norm of FPTP expectations. Here I am speaking of the expectation set by the seat-vote equation,** which takes a distribution of the top three parties (plus “others”) and computes a “normal” output of seats for a given voting population and assembly size. Here is what the seat-vote equation thinks the seat distribution should look like, given the actual vote percentages:
We’ll call that 1 “other” seat the Green winner, given that the Greens indeed did win their first elected seat. The seat-vote equation does not do well with regional parties. Fortunately for the equation, the regional party in this election almost disappeared (4 seats for the BQ, down from 50).
So the Liberals did quite a bit better than can be expected for the national third party. As a result, the Conservatives are under-represented, relative to FPTP “norm,” with 18 fewer seats than the equation’s estimate.
For all those who think the Liberals’ run as a viable party is over, be cautious. The British experience tells us that a Liberal party can survive for a good long time between the big parties of left and right. The party’s over-shooting of the seat-vote equation estimate underscores the extent to which it retains an efficient regional distribution on which it could build to win back seats in the future. In percentage terms, it is about where the British Liberal Democrats are in seats. This is a big shift, to be sure, but it is premature to write the party off, or to assume it will merge with the NDP.
Perhaps the bigger question is whether the NDP can survive as a major national left-wing party; first it will have to reconcile its now dominant Quebec wing with the NDP constituencies in the rest of the country. If it can’t, the Liberals will resume relevance, whether or not they surge back to “major party” status again anytime soon.
For all those advocates of proportional representation in Canada, this election is bad news. The first past the post system functioned about as expected, notwithstanding the under-inflation of the governing party’s plurality.
* The elections are: BC 1963, BC 1972, BC 1991, CA 1963, CA 1965, CA 1972, CA 1993, CA 1997, CA 2000 (the last majority government in Canada before this election), MB 1986, MB 1988, NS 1999, NS 2006, ON 1977, QC 1976, SK 1975, UK 1975, UK 1992, UK 2001, IN 1967, IN 1977, IN 1989.
** For details, click the words, seat-vote equation in the “Planted in” line above. There was an entry on election day applying the equation to the EKOS final projection, and many previous entries applying it to various past elections.
If by my laws you walk, and my commands you keep, and observe them,
then I will give-forth your rains in their set-time,
so that the earth gives-forth its yield
and the trees of the field give-forth their fruit.
--Vayikra 26: 3-4