"All things are wearisome, more than one can say." - Ecclesiastes 1:8

Monday, April 04, 2011

AV and minority parties

In a previous post, Norm rightly argued that AV can't make it easier for minority parties to get elected because the hurdle required by this system is higher. Now with this post he addresses the question: what if it did?
"But if your commitment to democracy means anything, is an electoral method to be rejected just because it accommodates results which you don't like? What's the difference between this and simply outlawing the party whose influence you don't wish to see grow? What I'm asking is, how much weight should we give, anyway, to the consideration that an electoral method might increase the influence of a party or parties we judge to be pernicious?"
It's a reasonable point, although I would have thought the difference between banning an extremist party and simply having a system that makes it difficult for it to flourish was fairly obvious. But I'm not happy with Norm's choice of words. It's not a question of what parties I don't want to see flourish; the concern with some voting systems is that they can allow extremist parties to exert disproportionate power and thereby produce situations that the majority, by definition, did not want. I don't quite see how taking this into consideration is indicative of a shallow commitment to democracy.

But this isn't, in any event, the issue with AV when it comes to the question of extremists. It is right to suggest that it will almost certainly be more difficult for minority parties to win under AV but their second preferences will matter more. They must matter more simply because at the moment they don't matter at all, as FPTP has no mechanism to record them. What I'm not clear about is why people are so convinced that they should matter. This is not confined to the issue of redistributed BNP votes, although I think this is a legitimate concern. Why is a potential situation where parties of the right might vie for these and where a winning candidate could easily get less first preference votes than the person who comes second so obviously superior to what we have now?
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