«Since the work of Maurice Duverger (1954), one of the most fundamental ideas in political science is that a party system is shaped by the electoral ...»
Both large parties would actually be hurt by a more majoritarian system, with the secondlargest party, the Liberals, being the worse off of the two. While the change in seats is less than a single seat per election on average, the actual election by election effects are more dramatic. Given the small size of the Tasmania legislature (only 35 seats), each single seat comprises approximately three percent of the legislature. SNTV would change which party governs in four of the ten elections, with the Liberals benefiting in three of the four.24 Given this switch in governmental office from the largest party to the second largest with the introduction of SNTV, the instrumental preferences of Labour are clear while that of the Liberals are not. Labour wants no movement towards a more majoritarian system. Its seat share would decline on average and it would lose three of the eight governments that it won under STV, with only one offsetting SNTV manufactured election. The Liberals tend to fare worse under SNTV than Labour, but typically only in years in which Labour already has a governing majority. A net gain of two governments in ten elections might be a reasonable incentive to change the system to SNTV.
In Ireland, the most expected result is that the largest party (Fianna Fail) would benefit from the SNTV electoral system. Looking at all thirteen post-war elections, in all but three elections (1957-1965), Fianna Fail would gain seats. What is not expected is that Fine Gael stands to lose almost three seats each election.25 It is also striking that the minor parties and independents (i.e., the "Others" column) would benefit from shift to a more majoritarian system. Likewise, it is odd that the third largest party (Labour) would only benefit by less than one whole seat each election.
The aggregate summaries in Table 2 confound two divergent trends in the Irish elections. The final two rows display the means for pre-1970 and post-1970 elections.
From 1973 to 1992 the results are as expected: the two parties collectively would be better off with SNTV (although Fine Gael is hurt by such a switch). Yet, before the 1973 election STV favors the two parties over a more majoritarian variant. Under SNTV both parties would lose seats and together they would give up three seats. This pre-1973 pattern also exists for Labour and the "Other" parties. Both Labour and the small independents benefit from a switch to SNTV previous to 1973 but are hurt by it after the 1973 election.
Why do these results differ from Rae's expectations? The case of the small parties (in the "Other" category) is easy to explain. The elections from 1954 to 1961 were contested by a number of small farmer and republican parties which had very centralized geographical bases of support (Gallagher, 1986; Mair, 1987; Coakley and Gallagher, 1993). Dating as far back as Duverger (1954), it has been pointed out that such parties would prefer majoritarian electoral systems in order to take advantage of their geographical concentration.
The lack of support for SNTV among the Progressive Democrats (1987-1992) is due to a difference in their support from that of the small parties of the earlier period.
The focus of the PD campaigns are national, rather than that of a small party that runs candidates in a number of concentrated geographical districts. In all three elections from 1987 to 1992 the Progressive Democrats fielded candidates in at least 31 of the 41 districts, displaying their national strategy.
The drop in Fine Gael seats with SNTV is unexpected. Since Fine Gael receives on average thirty-two percent of the first-preference vote, and as already seen, a small seat bonus under STV, one would not expect it to be penalized by a shift to a more majoritarian system. This seat reduction under SNTV would have cost Fine Gael its governing position in all four governments that it participated in during the time period under study (1954, 1973, 1981, Nov. 1982). The beneficiary in all four instances would be its rival, Fianna Fail.
Empirically, the results may be explained by coalition politics, but the argument is short of convincing. Labour and Fine Gael formed an electoral alliance in the elections from 1973 to the November 1982 election and pursued mutually exclusive strategies in all other elections. However, the pattern of the Fine Gael seat deficit during this period is not strikingly different from the pre-1973 elections. Fine Gael appears to benefit from the system whether it has a pre-election alliance or not.
What may solve the puzzle is the particular "Fianna Fail versus the Rest" characteristic of the Irish party system (Gallagher 1978, 1992; Mair 1979). These authors state that the party system revolves around a competition between Fianna Fail and its bid for a single-party government, and all of the other parties vying to be included in a coalition government. They have shown that Fine Gael receives a larger number of transfers than Fianna Fail from the remaining parties (Gallagher, 1978; Sinnott, 1995). In this manner, Fine Gael candidates who do not possess particularly high counts of firstpreference votes (and would not be elected with SNTV) can eventually be elected in later counts with STV. This pattern is similar to that of the Liberal and Country parties in the Australian House.
AV, SNTV, STV AND PR IN COMPARISON:
QUALIFYING RAE'S PROPOSITIONS
Tasmanian Labour also benefits from transfers from smaller parties and would lose important governing seats if the system was more majoritarian.
Also of importance is that two of the above parties are the second-largest in their party system and the other two are the third-largest. Thus it is the largest-party that should want electoral reform, even though it is already the strongest party! This result seems paradoxical (and unexpected) since none of the four party systems have undergone any substantial reform since adopting the current electoral system. Preliminary evidence that the implications of my simulation coincide with empirical events can be seen in the history of national referendums in Ireland. The Irish voters have twice (1959 and 1968) rejected referendums seeking to replace STV with single-member district, plurality elections, both of which were instigated by Fianna Fail, the largest party, when it controlled a majority of parliamentary seats (Sinnott, 1992).
Treating each possible move as a separate case (i.e., one more majoritarian and one more proportional), Rae's predictions are borne out in 15 of the 22 possible cases (68 percent). This result is graphically displayed in Figure 3. Rae accurately predicts the incentives for all the parties in the Australian Senate, as the large parties would not benefit from PR but the third parties would. In regards to the other party systems, Rae's predictions are realized in 11 of the 18 cases (61 percent). The Labour Party in Tasmania is troubling since it is the largest party, but it clearly does not prefer a more majoritarian system. The reluctance of the Country Party in the Australian House to prefer PR coupled with the Australian Labour Party's incentive to introduce PR is unexplained by Rae's propositions. In Ireland, only Fianna Fail consistently agrees in practice with Rae's theories.
If I use the party as the unit of analysis, and leaving out the Australian Senate because of the lack of a majoritarian example, only five of the remaining eleven parties (45 percent) have an incentive to behave in the manner that Rae predicts, and two of these are in the residual "other" category encompassing very small parties and independents.
The remaining three parties are Fianna Fail (Ireland) and the Liberals (Tasmania and Australian House). Three of the four Irish parties deviate from Rae's predictions, as does Labour in Tasmania and Labour and the Country Party in the Australian House.
CONCLUSIONThis examination of four different party systems in the post-war period confirms the continued validity of Rae's argument that large parties, no matter the electoral system, benefit at the expense of the smaller parties. However, this work specifically casts doubt on the generalization of Rae’s work to voting systems with a transfer of votes, and/or small sized districts. Rae's predictions of the incentives of large parties to favor majoritarian systems over proportional systems have not consistently been borne out.
This essay finds that with the Single Transferable Vote or Alternative Vote electoral systems, vote transfers may work to a particular party's advantage, creating an incentive for such a party to maintain the current electoral system. Such a party is in an equilibrium position that the previous research has not identified.
challenges researchers to identify the mechanism by which vote transfers accumulate onto certain large parties, creating the equilibrium position. This would involve not only a detailed understanding of the formal workings of the system but also an understanding of the incentives the system offers voters. Second, it refocuses research back onto an analytical approach to understanding electoral systems. Much post-Rae work benefits from an abundance of data, but all to often merely plots associations of variables without clear causation. This article illustrates how a closer examination of specific propositions leads to new questions and hopefully greater understanding.
Falling into a Niche: Institutional Equilibrium Between Plurality
Scholars of electoral systems (e.g., Duverger, 1954; Rae 1967) argue that a combination of electoral system and district magnitude provide the strategic incentives for political party competition. All electoral systems reward large parties with a disproportional seat bonus, with this bonus being more pronounced in plurality/majority systems. Thus, large parties invariably wish to compete in majoritarian systems while smaller parties seek a proportional system of seat allocation. This paper shows that an institutional "niche" develops in some party systems where the second-largest party prefers the current electoral system over either a more proportional or more majoritarian system. Specifically, I illustrate how parties in Irish, Tasmanian, Australian House and Australian Senate elections occupy such an equilibrium. Vote transfers create a seat bonus that does not exist in either more proportional or more majoritarian systems (e.g.,
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