Sep 3, 2010

The crisis in governance in two-party systems

Our cozy political duopoly has run into trouble -- time for some new thinking on two party systems.

We Australians seem to like duopolies or quasi-monopolies.  From groceries (Woolworths/Coles), cars (Holden/Falcon), communications (Telstra), print media (News Ltd/Fairfax), arguably banks (cartel of top four) to political parties. As these examples show, such arrangements do not always deliver what is best for the nation or most people.

Now our cozy political duopoly has run into trouble. Thousands of words have been written on the uninspiring election campaign so it will not be revisited here, except to say that it reflected the near impossibility of crafting meaningful policy to appeal across the multicultural, geographically diverse complex organism that modern Australia is today. In reality only a multiplicity of parties can do that.

Free Trial

Proudly annoying those in power since 2000.

Sign up for a FREE 21-day trial to keep reading and get the best of Crikey straight to your inbox

By starting a free trial, you agree to accept Crikey’s terms and conditions


Leave a comment

20 thoughts on “The crisis in governance in two-party systems

  1. Don

    without analysing all the above, it seems to me the fundamental and very simple problem with the current preferential system, which if addressed may well largely fix the inequitities referred to, without introducing a very comples and entirely different system.

    and the problem i refer to is this. with the existing preferential system, a FULL VALUE vote flows down (is distributed) to the Nth level of preferences.

    this is manifestly mathetically & statically & logically untenable and ridiculous.

    the obvious mathetically and logical method would be to reduce the value of the vote for each time it was successively distributed.

    1/2 vote on 1st preference distribution (2nd preference), 1/3 vote on 2nd (3rd preference), 1/4 on 3rd (4th preference) etc

    this would give real meaning (and logic) – and real bite to preferential voting!

    (it could/should also be combined with optional preferential voting as well)

    and would give people a real and greater reason to put minor parties (they prefer) as 1st preference – knowing it would actually make a significant difference, instead of, in most cases now, people not voting for minor parties because they know under current system, it rarely counts or matters

    without knowing the history at all, it strikes me that the major parties quite deliberately set up preferential votinng in this manner knowing full well that at end of the day (or counting 🙂 it didn’t make any difference (in almost all cases) if voters put a minor party as 1st preference.

    i would be grateful is someone (antony are you there?) could estimate what the result/s might have been if we applied the the above concept/maths

  2. Down and Out of Sài Gòn

    Don: you say full preference flows are a problem, but you don’t say what’s wrong with it. “Mathetically & statically & logically untenable and ridiculous” is just meaningless verbiage. All voting systems can be modeled mathematically, including STV.

    You might as well say “I don’t like full preference flows”; at least you’re being direct and honest.

    There are several advantages to full value preference flows. One of the most important is that you don’t need all the calculator keys to tabulate all the preference flows – just simple addition. The winning candidate is then the person with the biggest bundle of ballots. It doesn’t matter if a paper passed though the Greens, Foetus First, or the Monster Raving Loony Party – each paper is simply added to the bundle. Scrutineers can also follow the process by counting. It follows that it is far quicker to count the ballot papers under the present system than under your reciprocal preferencing system.

  3. Gavin Moodie

    Thanx for this explanation. I wondered how preferences were distributed under the Hare-Clark system. I presume preferences can be optional under Hare-Clark.

  4. John Bennetts

    Thank your lucky stars that we do not vote via a first past the post system. That system may be smple, but that’s all that can be said for it.

  5. Don

    dear down & out.

    sorry. i thought it was (very) self evident what was wrong with a full value vote being endlessly distributed. and as for “meaningless verbiage”, each of those adjectives, sorry adverbs, was actually meaningful, and accurate in my view.

    if i can try it to put it simply. your 4th preference vote should not be equal in value to my 1st preference vote. that is manifestily inequitable. sorry if you don’t find that self-evident.

    it seems to me, mathematically, statistically, and logically (more verbiage) inituitive, and dare i saw obvious (and i speak as an (ex) statistican), that as votes ‘flow down’ they should be worth less

    obviously (i thought), people manifestly preference candidates in a certain order based on how much they like, or dislike, the person, or the party, or their policies, or all three.

    and the reason this concept should be combined with optional preferences is that many people don’t/wouldn’t want ANY part of their vote going to certain parties or people, let alone a FULL vote (hence greater informal votes)

    diluting the value of a vote with each successive distribution recognises that the simple inescapable fact that the person voting liked that party or candidate LESS than the preference/s above it

    really the current method and what you are supporting/suggesting, is saying that the voter likes all parties and canditates EQUALLY because they all get the same value vote when distributed (not ‘all’ exactly as someone actually wins at some point . but you see the point?)

    as to calculating, well, if the hare-clark can be calculated, so can this. that is what we have calculators and indeed computers for, and indeed what they are already being used for in every election. and this calcualtion is actually extremly simple to calculate and collate.

  6. Norman Hanscombe

    Michael R. james tells us:

    “First, the most obvious counter-example is of most European countries which have long had governments formed from multiple and changing party affiliations.” It’s understandable that he’s then very careful to mention only one,Germany, and omit other European nations, because many have terrible records re musical chair governments. A wise decision on his part?

    “Second, minority state governments — point to the fact that such governments can be stable despite initial expectations.” Again true, although the claim re “initial expectations” (whatever Dr James’ expectations were} didn’t apply to all observers.

    His “Third” item is at least amusing in its implications re the negative effects of an “extreme” rightwing group, the Tea Party, while he remains sanguine about the even greater influence the Greens have had on Australian politics. Could it be right influence bad, left good? This is as non-sensical as another True Believer mantra, right good, left bad.

    His True Believer status is reflected in the “brief history” claim which shows he’s blissfully unaware of the logical error he’s committing with the assumption that whatever he genuinely believes can be used to support what he wants to believe. On the other hand, since he’s an ‘academic’ Research Scientist, should we exempt him from normal logical restraints?

    He’s spot on pointing out that, “The last decade of government — has shown paralysis on some critical issues from climate, land management, energy, water, public transport and urban planning.”
    There’s no shortage of suggested “solutions”, of course, but two problems are i) many of the ideas more popular among True Believers (of all stipes) are at best unattainable, at worst gobblegook, and ii) the major Parties, which are actually capable of implementing meaningful changes, know from experience that articulate fringe dwellers will back their opponents as soon as any hard decision is made.

    He could have made the reference to the Hare-Clark system easier for mainlanders to understand if he’d said it was basically a more sophisticated variety of the P.R. system used for the Senate. In Tasmania it has helped elect more footballers and Greens than anywhere else in Australia; but it also has helped ensure neither major Party was able to enact policies supported by the majority of the supporters both those major Parties, and the majority of the Tasmanian voters. That can be good news for a minority, but — ?
    The Doctor is suggesting a move to proportional representation will change politics. On that, clearly he’s correct. Whether, however, it ensures an improvement (no matter how confident its proponents are they know what’s ‘best’ for the rest of us) clearly is far from established.

  7. David Hand

    Another factor that should be considered in the UK experience is the massive tactical voting that occurs. If you are a Tory but you think the Lib Dem will run second to Labour, you vote Lib Dem. Likewise a Labour voter will vote Lib Dem to stop a Tory favourite if the Lib Dem looks more electable than Labour. Lib Dems will vote Labour or Conservative based on getting their least hated major party candidate elected. So applying the actual FPP vote to other systems does not recognise the probability that voters will change their vote under a different system.

  8. Michael R James

    @NORMAN HANSCOMBE Posted Friday, 3 September 2010 at 4:27 pm

    Thanks for a considered reply. I should probably let others speak but it being Friday afternoon etc….

    I only had space to mention Germany because it is the most conspicuous success. I notice that you have not given any contra-examples? In my first draft I had a list that would include the Scandinavians, Netherlands and others. But I also wrote this (that didn’t make the final version):

    “On Monday night’s ABC QandA former PM Malcolm Fraser pointed out that the post-war Italian government has usually been perceived as dysfunctional—with 41 PMs in 59 governments in 64 years, though it has to be said for most of that time one party elected by proportional representation—yet Italy has the ninth largest economy in the world and has performed better in manufacturing than the UK. One could make similar remarks about Japan—48 PMs but from essentially one party, in the postwar period.”

    The point is that many of us (once that would have been me) confuse this overt jockeying between multiple parties after an election result (the Dutch one is still going on …after several months if I remember), or indeed the musical chairs you mention, with “bad”. That it is a given is all over the media. But the facts do not jibe with that simplistic view. In fact as a geneticist I now interpret the so-called horsetrading, or argy-bargy, in a multiple party PR system, in direct Darwinian terms. It is entirely honest (why would a part misrepresent itself in such negotiations when they will be tied into whatever policy is being argued? and is presumably the point of differentiation from other parties)–in fact it legitimizes the whole process. During such tortuous negotiation, and in the aftermath, many of the participants actually do change their positions, sometimes on fundamental points, in a sincere manner. Listen to those 5 state premiers; most of them were speaking like born-again true democrats–discovering democracy instead of the brutal winner-takes-all that most Australian politicians have been habituated to. Two parties simply cannot either contain the diversity of the electorate or the diversity of “solutions” or even perceptions of the challenges, so it is appropriate and constructive that a Darwinian process applies, first at the election then in the immediate post-election period in forming a working government. The nonsense that our two monolithic parties are “a broad church” is manifestly not true in how they operate, but true in that they are both close to exploding from the impossible internal stress (Malcolm Turnbull one hand, the far-right from Sussex street and centre-left of Labor etc.)

    The point about the Tea Partiers is simply that this tiny minority (1% of one party) is able to tear apart both major parties. The loudest least democratic ranters are taking over the asylum. In Europe they would simply have their own minority party that would almost certainly fade away after one election or so.

  9. Norman Hanscombe

    Doctor James, I didn’t give “any contra-examples” because anyone familiar with the effects of proportional representation would know its effect.

    It may be that, as you say, “Italy has the ninth largest economy in the world and has performed better in manufacturing than the UK”; but are you sure that even IF the musical chairs approach to parliaments (via P.R) is appropriate for the fractured nation Italy is, this should be the goal Australia sets itself? Nor am I as enthusiastic as you seem, that the post war Japanese solution (manipulated so successfully as it was for minority over-representation) is anything to boast about.

    I accept that you don’t see the sort of “jockeying between multiple parties after an election result — or indeed the musical chairs (I) mention (as) bad”. Why, I even accept that you believe, “as a geneticist” you can interpret horsetrading, or argy-bargy, in “direct Darwinian terms”. Some of us, however, aren’t convinced that this sort of Social Pseudo Darwinism is an adequate argument for adopting a law of the jungle, anything goes mentality. Perhaps we’re simply too soft?

    You tell us “Two parties simply cannot either contain the diversity of the electorate or the diversity of ‘solutions’ or even perceptions of the challenges–.” Wow!!! What a discovery!!! But I’m sure you can’t really believe the diversity of beliefs found in the population as a whole can be covered by even the most proportional of practical voting systems, so on what basis will you decide WHICH of these many (as you call them) ‘diversities’ you deem worthy of inclusion?

    Finally, I now appreciate your reaction to the Tea Party. It can hardly be merely you object that “this tiny minority (1% of one party) is able to tear apart both major parties,” because the major Parties are anathema to a ‘progressive Darwinist such as you anyway. It seems not unreasonable to suspect then, that when you complain about them “taking over the asylum” YOU want to be the one who choose swhich minority takes over the asylum?

Share this article with a friend

Just fill out the fields below and we'll send your friend a link to this article along with a message from you.

Your details

Your friend's details