[EM] British Election and Duverger's Law

Russ Paielli 6049awj02 at sneakemail.com
Sat May 7 11:22:49 PDT 2005


Those are interesting questions you raise. To really answer them, I 
think you need to find out if the "minor" parties have a tradition of 
winning often in certain districts. If so, then perhaps those "minor" 
parties are actually one of the two "major" parties in those particular 

It would also be interesting to see how often those minor parties 
function as spoilers. That is, how often do votes for those parties 
cause the "greater of two evils" (from the perspective of their 
supporters) to win?

If you or anyone else has time to pursue such research, the results 
could be of interest with regard to the effectiveness of IRV in giving 
minor parties a fair chance to win. It is often pointed out that 
Australian IRV legislative elections provide somewhat more minor party 
representation than we have in the US Congress. But if a comparable 
effect occurs in British elections without IRV, maybe IRV is getting 
undeserved credit in Australia.


Alex Small alex_small2002-at-yahoo.com |EMlist| wrote:
> Long time no post.  I'm wrapping up the writing on my dissertation, but 
> I couldn't resist jumping in to post on the British election.
> The Liberal Democrats are putting in their strongest showing since the 
> 1920's.  What's interesting from the non-partisan standpoint of this 
> list is that Britain uses plurality voting from single-member districts, 
> and yet the LibDems got 22% of the popular vote at last count and 
> approximately 9% of the seats.  The usual rule of thumb is that 
> plurality voting from single-member districts encourages the formation 
> of a 2-party system.  That's certainly the case in the US, both 
> nationally and in the 50 states (which can be seen as 50 different units 
> to compare).
> The appeal of the LibDems is even more surprising when you consider that 
> it's a parliamentary system.  The stakes in a legislative race are even 
> higher, so at first glance I would think that there's even more of an 
> incentive to vote for one of the 2 major parties.  Finally, while most 
> of the other parties in the British Parliament are regional/ethnic 
> parties representing Wales, Northern Ireland, and Scotland, the LibDems 
> are more about issues and ideology rather than ethnic/regional identity.
> Now, it may be tempting to explain these results solely in terms of 
> current events:  Tony Blair has alienated elements of the left and 
> center, and the Tories are such an abysmal mess that even Gray Davis has 
> lost respect for them.  But the LibDems have persisted despite the fact 
> that they've been the third party in size for 80+ years.  I'm more 
> surprised by their persistence over time than I am by their current 
> popularity.
> Does anybody know why Duverger's Law has been so stubbornly resisted in 
> Britain for 80+ years?  I'd be genuinely curious to know.
> Alex
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