Voter Apathy – The inevitable result of political parties and the “first past the post” system

The Problem of Voter Apathy – Looking To Form An Anti-Apathy Coalition

Democracy is NOT a spectator sport! On March 19, 2012 get out and vote!

First Reason For  Voter Apathy – Politics is Nothing But  a Party for the Parties!

The last few posts have been about the problem of political parties.  The political  process  is dominated  by the parties. (But, it doesn’t have to be that way.)

To be specific  the party candidates are loyal to the Party and not to the residents of the riding.   People tend to NOT be interested in people who  are NOT interested in them. Since the parties are not interested in the people, the people are not interested in the parties. Since the parties ARE politics, people are not interested in politics. That may be the reason why there is so much apathy in politics. The voting turnout in the last Ontario Election (October 2011) was as low as it has ever been.

Interestingly, there was much more interest in the 2010 Municipal election. All of the candidates are (at least in theory) independent. (Although the NDP continues to support its candidates in Municipal elections. Both Toronto Wards 29 and 30 are cases in point.) This does make the candidates more responsive to the voters.

A Second Reason For Voter Apathy – The First Past  The Post  System Does  Not Result In A Mandate  From The People

Although the political parties contribute to (and may well be the  reason for) Voter Apathy, there may be other determinants. One of these may be the method that is used to determine the winner. On March 19 the winner will be the candidate who receives the largest number of votes. This is true even if the largest number of votes is NOT a majority of the votes. It appears that we will have ten candidates on the ballot in Toronto Danforth. It is possible that the winner could win with under 20% of the vote. For example if 9 candidates got 9% each, they would total 81% of the vote. This means that if the tenth candidate received only 19% of the vote than he/she could win. Clearly winning with 19% of the vote is NOT to receive a mandate from the people. To put it another way, the winning candidate was not the choice  of 81% of the people.  This is dismal.  It  is generates cynicism and ultimately apathy.

What might be an alternative? There are many. But, one obvious solution would be to keep casting ballots until a candidate received not only the largest number of votes but a majority of the votes. This would work as follows: after each vote the candidate with the lowest number of votes would drop off the ballot. Votes would continue until a candidate received a majority. This might encourage more voter interest and participation. (This is how leaders  are  selected at political  conventions.) It would also ensure that the winning candidate (even if not the first choice of many) would actually receive a mandate from the people.

I found a very interesting article on this topic on the Elections Canada site. I commend it to you. One interesting excerpt that talks  about the relationship between political  parties and the  “First  Past The Post  System”  is:

With few exceptions since Confederation, the hallmark of Canada’s major “brokerage” parties has been to seek to accommodate social differences through the FPTP system. For the better part of Canadian history, coalitions have been built within Canadian parties rather than between, reflecting an incentive contained in the FPTP system for centrist, mainstream parties dedicated to minimizing inter-regional and inter-linguistic conflicts. It cannot be assumed that the same incentives for parties to broker social cleavages would be present in other electoral systems. It is conceivable that under a different electoral system parties and leaders would actually pursue less accommodative strategies and policies in an attempt to maximize their support from different, possibly less transnational, coalitions of regional and social interests than would be the case under FPTP. By virtue of the structural components of each and the way in which electoral preferences can be expressed, the non-FPTP plurality-majority systems (AV, BV, LV and TR) would be less likely than a more proportional scheme (proportional representation [PR], single transferable vote [STV] and mixed-member plurality [MMP]) to alter the coalition-building strategies that parties pursue at election time.


One thought on “Voter Apathy – The inevitable result of political parties and the “first past the post” system”

  1. The comment merely perpetuates the mythologies advanced by PR advocacy groups. We elect members of parliament, not parties, movements or prime ministers. The party system has become of a constraint on democracy since the introduction of registered political parties in the early 1970s. The party system needs reform, not the electoral system. In fact, one of the curious misconceptions of PR advocacy is the notion that voters waste their vote if their preferred party candidate does not win. The focus of PR is on party. In fact, one of the basic tenets of parliamentary democracy is the understanding that your representative serves all of the community – your community – and the country as a whole. Elected MPs serve the entire community, not just their supporters. PR is about parties, fptp is about people. We elect a parliament. The overbearing party discipline and hyperpartisan that follows from it when party is also a movement, as is becoming increasingly the case, becomes all the more under party voting through party proportional representation.

    One alternative might seem to be some form of preferential balloting. Where three or four or even five candidates are running, such systems have a strong appeal. But where the number of candidates is higher, as in this case with 11 candidates, the result is complex and frequently falls back on mathematical cheats where votes for candidates dropped off the ballot in successive rounds (with or more frequently without a second or third ballot) as proposed, for example, in the single transferable vote.

    No electoral system is perfect. But our system of constinuency based single member pluralities, referred often as first-past-the-post, is the most easily understood and it works, leaving little room for voter manipulation.

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