Polly’s political analysis

In a two-party first-past-the-post electoral system (FPTP), capturing a party is the only way to change politics: FPTP’s iron electoral law bars new parties emerging to react to new circumstances. The worn-out defence of FPTP is that it creates “stability”: that’s not how the US feels, lurching from Barack Obama to Trump to Biden, the system denying coalitions of compromise. Both countries’ democracies are failed by their archaic voting systems.

Such a theory has to be able to explain the rise of the SNP in Scottish politics. Which is it doesn’t.

But then Polly was SDP and she needs an explanation for why that didn’t work. And the idea that it was just pants isn’t to her taste.

33 thoughts on “Polly’s political analysis”

  1. “capturing a party is the only way to change politics”

    Which is what the SDP did. “Nice organisation you’ve got there, Liberal Party”

  2. Funny how supporters of small parties which are likely to be kingmakers in a coalition and hence wield power out of all proportion to their number of seats tend to be in favour of systems which stand to give them this power over ones which tend not to…

    I can’t for a moment imagine why that might be…

  3. “lurching from Barack Obama to Trump to Biden, the system denying coalitions of compromise”

    HTF do you have a coalition of one person? And hasn’t she noticed that the majority of the time the American system has different parties in control of the three branches of government? The very thing the “progressives” have been cheering – control all three branches!!!!1111!!! – is an anomoly. The three branches are there specifcally to impose checks on each other and force cooperation and compromise.

  4. @jgh

    Good post

    It is illuminating how the punditry completely miss that

    It’s almost like the founding fathers were wise to the human capacity to make poor decisions

  5. Polly says we need more than two parties for a fair election. If it hadn’t have been for the Libertarian Party votes in certain key US states, Trump might have won in 2020…

  6. So Much For Subtlety

    In a two-party first-past-the-post electoral system (FPTP), capturing a party is the only way to change politics:

    The two most consequential British politicians since World War Two have been Margaret Thatcher (who did capture a party through sheer force of personality and to some extent her ideas, but mostly her personality by which I mean sex appeal I suppose) and Nigel Farage.

    Tell me again which political party Farage captured? Which elections he won? I am pretty sure Polly has heard of Nige.

  7. @aaa plus the Dems sueing to keep the Greens off the ballot in certain key states too so that their vote didn’t get split…

  8. None of the three parties (two in the UK) WANT co-operation and compromise, they merely want to fight against each other for the length of their tenure to make sure the policies of any other party are screwed at every turn.
    All to the cost of the electorate.

  9. “The worn-out defence of FPTP is that it creates “stability””

    This looks like bollocks as well – in the normal run of things, where nothing much actually happens, FPTP as about as stable as any other form, because nothing much happens.

    Given a shock, FPTP seems to reconfigure politics extremely quickly, compared to other forms.

  10. So coalitions are more stable? Like Italy, say? All political parties are themselves coalition. After all, Corbyn was in the same party as Blair.

  11. Electoral law has nothing to do with a two party system in the US, has it? As far as I’m aware there’s nothing to prevent 3rd, 4th or Nth parties. How would the electoral college system handle say a 20 – 20 – 10 result from 3 parties in a presidential if one of the larger parties agreed a coalition with the smaller?

  12. Bloke in North Dorset

    In FPTP parties need to have internal coalitions and present the public with moderately united image that has policies for the perceived problems ahead and can be held to their manifestos. By convention they get a free pass on their manifesto pledges in the Lords.

    The public do not reward parties that are seen to be squabbling and not united. not least because that usually produces incoherent manifesto.

    PR systems are the internal factions of FPTP parties in the open. They don’t have to compromise with anyone and so have a tendency to produce single issue politics that they hope to get through as king makers. Where they try to have a broader front they know they can ditch their daftest policies during negotiations to form governments. That way they can’t held to their manifestos.

  13. So Much For Subtlety

    bloke in spain February 16, 2021 at 9:56 am – “How would the electoral college system handle say a 20 – 20 – 10 result from 3 parties in a presidential if one of the larger parties agreed a coalition with the smaller?”

    If A got 41%, B got 39% and C got 20% of the electors, then B and C did a deal, B and C would direct their electors to vote for Candidate D (who may or may not be the candidate of B or C). The electors may. Or they may not. Probably they would.

    So D would get elected even though he was not the most popular candidate.

  14. SMFS,

    “Tell me again which political party Farage captured? Which elections he won? I am pretty sure Polly has heard of Nige.”

    Quite. The other way to achieve things in the FPTP system is to stand as a 3rd party and split majorities. That’s why we got a referendum on the EU. I’m not sure on the math for 2010, but UKIP may have cost the Conservatives a majority. It certainly scared Cameron enough.

    And to some extent, this is what the Lib Dems/SDP/Alliance/yellow party did. Thatcher’s massive majorities were a lot to do with the yellow party taking 15-20% of the vote in places like Swindon, splitting the opposition vote. People who wouldn’t vote for the party of the winter of discontent, Benn etc. Who wanted a more moderate opposition. Labour eventually won by picking Blair as a leader, someone with roughly the same political position as Roy Jenkins.

    I supported AV, but the people in charge of electoral reform are utterly incompetent at the most basic level. Couldn’t burn down a whelk stand if you left tins of paraffin and a lighter next to it. And the UKIP move is how you change politics. “nice constituency seats you’ve got there. it’d be a pity if something happened to it”.

  15. My one beef with FPTP is that you can get people like Caroline Lucas elected, because if there are 4 parties with some strength to them, you can win with barely more than 30% of the vote. 45% is probably fine. Translated into AV, that candidate would have still won, but on 32% you just don’t know.

  16. @aaa: “Polly says we need more than two parties for a fair election. If it hadn’t have been for the Libertarian Party votes in certain key US states, Trump might have won in 2020…”

    No, the Democrats would have just cheated even harder.

  17. In the last election in the Netherlands, it took 225 days to form a government. A great advertisement for the benefits of PR. If only we could have similar levels of government inactivity in the UK

  18. Bloke in China (Germany province)

    Surely the electoral college is only for the prez, who is directly elected as a person. So the person with the most votes wins.

    I think there were some results in the recent past, when the democratic party was still the racist party (at least in parts), that a third party candidate won some states and their electoral college votes, and they were cast for that candidate, no dodgy deals to support one or other of the other candidates.

  19. The “loyal opposition” is an euphemism for Labour. The real opposition is on the Conservative back benches. They won against May, I hope they win against Johnson.

    Polly seems devoid of insight. A three way has usually resulted in policies she doesn’t like.

  20. “Surely the electoral college is only for the prez, who is directly elected as a person. So the person with the most votes wins. ”

    That’s the question. Does he? Why I chose to work with state results rather than popular vote of the entire US. In a coalition situation, can the electoral votes go to the candidate for one of the smaller parties, rather than the majority winner.?

  21. Bloke in North Dorset

    “ Er, Polly, what was the result of the UK European Parliament election of 2019?”

    European Parliament elections were PR, so that sorta makes Polly’s case. Not that she’s likely to enjoy that as an example.

  22. The Labour and Conservative parties feel like coalitions themselves. Labour ranged from Corbyn to Blair like creatures. Conservatives have Libertarians, One-nation conservatives and people like my MP Philip Hollobone who seems quite authoritarian conservative.

  23. @BiS
    AFAIK in most states their electoral college votes go to the Presidential candidate who gets the most votes in that state. A few states (none of the large ones) have a proportional system.

  24. @Chris Miller
    We still don’t seem to get answer. The scenario I suggested was where candidate 1 wins 21 states, candidate 2, 19 & candidate 3, 10. Can the electoral college voters combine votes for candidate 2 or 3?

  25. BiS

    If no-one gets a majority in the Electoral College, it goes to the House of Representatives. See election of 1824.

  26. PR gives the third party enormous power in EVERY election no matter who the winning party is. The result is a coalition in which little changes and voters begin to wonder what is the point. Take the EU, for example. Even without the bureaucracy there would be stasis. The advantage of a two-party system is that we get to test policy proposals and if they don’t work the advocates can be booted out. We did eventually get rid of all the nationalised industries. Unfortunately both parties are wedded to the NHS (so far) but a third party would be too.

  27. >can the electoral votes go to the candidate for one of the smaller parties, rather than the majority winner.?
    This is down to the states (which is why the conversation keeps circling back to them). While in principle the electors can vote for whoever they like, and if at least 270 of them decided that, instead of the person they said they’d vote for, they would vote for Count Binface, then Count Binface would be the next American president, in practice the states have the power to disqualify them as electors, void their vote, and keep sending a new elector until someone actually does vote correctly.

    While all the states have the power to do this, most don’t. There’s a map at https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Faithless_elector

    I would presume that, were the USA to be a more-than-two-party system, each state would have its own laws saying who you can and can’t vote for after saying you’d vote for X.

  28. @BiS
    Each state gets multiple voters in the electoral college, roughly proportional to their population (actually = number of Representatives + number of Senators). You have to go back to Wallace in ’68 to find a third party candidate who won a state, but it would be an interesting theoretical proposition.

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