[EM] PR-Squared, SMP, and related matters

Blake Cretney bcretney at postmark.net
Mon Aug 2 13:30:36 PDT 1999

election-methods-list at eskimo.com
Re: [EM] PR-Squared, SMP, and related matters

Wiseman, Julian wrote:

> Blake Cretney has written a good commentary on PR-Squared
> (http://www.jdawiseman.com/papers/electsys.html). In particular, I agree
> that supporters of SMP haven't reconciled the local and the national
> plurality requirements: this realisation was one of the inspirations of
> PR-Squared. 
> Blake Cretney's last point is most interesting. Three parties A B C, in
> which A supports some particular policy opposed by B and C. They split the
> vote 42:35:23. The people have voted 42:58 against the policy, yet A has
> majority required to implement it (squares are 1764 1225 529, giving A a
> minimal majority of 1764:1754 = 50.14%:49.86%). This seems like an
> objection, but isn't. 
> There are two possibilities. Either B and C disagree about other policies,
> or they don't. 
> If B and C disagree, then the people are choosing between portfolios of
> policies. If there are 10 yes/no policies, and many fewer than 2^10
> it is highly likely that some majority policies will not be favoured by the
> winning part / coalition. Inevitable in representative democracy. 

People's opinions on individual policies tend to be rather dependent
on each other.  Otherwise, political labels like liberal,
conservative, socialist would be meaningless.  I think, therefore,
that it is not necessary to have a party representing every possible
combination of opinions in order to allow a legislature which is
representative of the public, and will therefore vote much as the
public would, if the public had the time and ability to research every
issue fully.

Your argument seems to be that since some difference between majority
opinion and government action is inevitable, we should abandon the
expectation that there should be any connection.

Returning to my earlier example:

Percentage  Square  Party   Stand on Policy    
42          1764    A       For
32          1024    B       Against
26           676    C       Against

Let me point out that although I prefer to discuss in terms of
imaginary parties and policies, so that the discussion stays focussed
on the electoral issues, it is not the case that examples like the
above are uncommon in the real world.  An example occurred in Canada,
where the Conservative party favoured the Free Trade agreement, while
the Liberal and NDP opposed.  Although the election was campaigned
mainly on this issue, no one would mistake the NDP and Liberals for
the same party.  Often parties win majority governments to implement
programs which are disliked by the majority.  This was not a
particularly bad case, just a particularly obvious one, because the
election was campaigned largely on a single issue.

> But what if B and C agree on all or most policies. Then PR-Squared provides
> a massive incentive to form the inevitable coalition before the election,
> where it will be visible to voters, rather than after. It gives them a
> massive incentive to resolve their few remaining policy desputes before the
> election, rather than after, so that voters can see the choices. B & C
> should get on with it NOW, and if their coalition is deemed plausible by
> voters, to win by a storming 42:58 => 34.4%:65.6% majority. So much mroe
> democratic than have B and C sit down, post election, to negotiate egos
> versus polciies. 

Are you aware of an example of such a coalition occurring in a non-PR
country?  Of course, parties always represent coalitions of interests,
but this kind of pre-election strategic coalition appears to be very
rare.  I wouldn't count on it to ensure majority rule.


Blake Cretney

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