The following is from a 1924 pamphlet on electoral reform by the Fabian Society. The context involves the Labour Party replacing the Liberals as the UK’s main opposition to the Conservatives. The pamphlet itself is about proportional representation, but this excerpt is from a section called “The Alternative Vote.” It is interesting to compare the attendant circumstances with some that now obtain in American nominating primaries.
The method is suggested as a safeguard against minority seats. It is true that the successful candidate would be able to boast of a mathematical majority as proof of his representative quality. But this mathematical majority would not be a majority in the English political sense of the word, i.e., a majority of positive supporters [emphasis in original]. The candidate would be returned partly by the votes given to him to keep other candidates, considered as less desirable, out; and this is no morally decent basis for a Representative Assembly. Moreover, as it is likely that within 15 years the Liberal Party will be electorally defunct, we shall then be troubled with fewer of such multiple-candidate contests. It would be the height of political unwisdom to introduce a new and vicious element into the constitution to counteract a temporary ill.
Three things strike me now about American national politics. One is the importance of the Senate for blocking policy change. Another is the Senate’s narrow partisan division. Then there are Missouri and Nevada, where the ranked-choice movement now heads.
This post suggests that one way to save the Republic — by which I mean create a Senate that can block policy change, should the next few elections not go very well — is to get Democratic voters to help elect anti-populist Republicans in key states.
In turn, that could require state Democratic parties to stand down in the respective elections — basically what we have seen in Alaska.
I am not saying that this strategy is good or bad. Nor am I commenting on long-term implications for democratic practice. It may be that there is no other choice.
I am reproducing here a Tweet thread from last week:
I expect a two-serious-candidate equilibrium, with ballot exhaustion driven by the supply of hopeless candidates.
The basic logic comes from Cox (1997). Winning-minded elites will be thinking about the IRV round when deciding whom to back in the “final five” round.
That means we need to think about the strategic context of an IRV election, which will ‘contaminate’ the first round.
What does a winning-minded-elite do in an IRV election? They get together with other winning-minded-elites and coordinate on the person most likely to win.
It turns out that humans have routinized such coordination. The general term for this is “political party.”
It follows that ‘resources’ will not flow to hopeless candidates, leading us straight back to two-party equilibrium. Or, in lopsided districts, two-faction equilibrium.
I covered these issues in my Apr. 2021 review of The Politics Industry. That review included discussion of ‘nonpartisan IRV’ in a two-party-competitive city (Cleveland, 1913-19). TLDR: lots of ballot exhaustion, no independents elected.
People (like me) who oppose Final Five are aware of the dynamics above. Our worry, I think, is that all we’ll have done is weakened political parties even more.
You can’t get parties out of politics… but you can confuse voters in the short term…
…and we don’t know what the world would have looked like if all these nonpartisan elections had never been adopted. Small changes have big consequences… even if parties adapt to nonpartisan elections.