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

Blake Cretney bcretney at postmark.net
Wed Aug 4 12:32:40 PDT 1999

Wiseman, Julian wrote:

> Yes, I am aware of such a coalition in a non-PR country. 
> One is called the Labour Party. This UK coalition includes hard-left
> anti-American militants, centrist christian-democrat types, and
> ideology-free individuals motivated by power. 
> Another is called the Conservative Party, this being a mixture of
> Hayek-style free-marketeers, centrist christian-democrat types (again),
> faded imperialists still mourning the Empire, neo-Imperialists disliking
> American prosperity and seeking power in Europe. 

You're right that parties in non-PR countries, and to a lesser extent
in PR countries, are coalitions in the sense that they represent
different ideologies.

The point I was making was that if a non-PR country has more than two
major parties, there is good reason to expect that majority voter
preference will not become government policy, to a greater extent that
if PR was used.

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

One way out of this problem would be if parties (B and C in this
example) formed strategic coalitions before elections, which I felt
you suggested was a possibility in your original reply:

> > > 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.

This just doesn't happen, at least I can't think of an example.  Of
course, after enough election defeats, party C might disapear, and
party B might represent this ideology as well.  This would be a kind
of coalition, and it is clear that this does happen.  However, where
more than two parties persist, the above problem will exist, and we
cannot expect this kind of planned strategic coalition to solve the

I think the obvious conclusion of your line of argument is that the
best possible result for a non-PR country is a permanent,
institutional two-party system, as they have in the United States.  Of
course, that would have problems as well, and might be more difficult
to achieve than PR.  Where do you stand on this possibility?

> From time to time, the UK electorate deems one of these coalitions to be
> non-viable (Labour 1983, Conservatives 1997) and turfs them out. 

Most people vote for the party leader whom they would most like to
have as Prime Minister.  I doubt you could get more than 1 in 100 who
would say that they voted for a particular party because they saw it
as the most viable coalition.

> (Nice feature of SMP and PR^2: governments can be completely turfed out.)

I can see how many people might derive a psychological benefit from
seeing governments completely turfed out, but I wonder if you have
some reason to believe this actually provides better government.

Blake Cretney

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