The Futility Monster

He'll pointlessly derive more enjoyment out of your resources than you

FPTP: Frankly Pathetic; Totally Preposterous

Posted by The Futility Monster on April 12, 2010 @ 18:12

We Lubs Disproportionate Results!

One of the great defences of our shit electoral system is to say that it is “simple” for voters to both understand and to use. Just get your ballot paper, smear it with a cross (or a smiley face; Returning Officers are very tolerant!) in the appropriate box, and you’re done. Later, we count them up, and whoever gets the most votes wins. Easy!

Proportational representation fans are sometimes flummoxed by this assault. We let the other side get free-hits by saying things are so complicated they have to be counted by computers, and that explaining the counting process is impossible without a degree in mathematics.

But we do ourselves a disservice.

First Past The Post may make it easy to cast a vote, but it is blunt. It allows no nuances, and it certainly doesn’t care how many candidates are in the race.

Voting is something a lot of people take a lot of time over. They umm and ahh about who they should go for, often proceeding on a least-worst option. How can I hurt the candidate I don’t want to win the most? Which one of these candidates do I hate the least? Their preference can change daily.

But in the end, if you have FPTP, none of that thinking matters. You get one chance. If you’re not thinking like everyone else, your vote could be wasted.

So you go back to the drawing board. You try to think like everyone else. You see where the zeitgeist is headed. Which national party has the big momentum. You balance all of these factors, and you end up with what psephologists call tactical voting.

Tactical voting. It doesn’t sound very democratic, does it.

That’s because it isn’t. FPTP limits your choice. It forces you to try to think like everyone else. It squeezes you into a box. It doesn’t allow you to express your real preference, because you don’t want to be one of those wasted votes, do you? It’s a two-horse race, don’t forget.

Tactical voting, and its associated thought processes, actually make FPTP one of the most difficult electoral systems. The poor voter is left with a multitude of factors to weigh up, and that’s assuming they even know what the result was last time. Not everyone knows that you can get the result from last time in seconds off Wikipedia. And then there is the prospect of local parties spinning different election results in different ways to try to prove that they are “the only alternative”. Lib Dems, I’m looking at you…

The culmination of all this is utter confusion, a muddled mess that we expect each and every voter to have to work through in their heads. A purportedly democratic system that only allows people the choice they actually want if they fortunate enough to live in a constituency that allows it. The rest of us live our lives in glorious perpetual safeness, never feeling that joy of being part of a campaign that really could decide the future of the country.

A preferential system, on the other hand, would give everyone the chance to have their vote be worth something. And not only that, they really could express a truly democratic choice, of having their vote fully reflect their beliefs.

So the next time someone says First Past The Post is “simple”, why not remind them just how difficult the choice actually is for the average voter…

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One Response to “FPTP: Frankly Pathetic; Totally Preposterous”

  1. Neil Craig said

    That people are voting tactically, with significant success, in a big way proves that we are very much more sophisticated than our corrupt electoral system rather than less so.

    Your graph shows 100% of votes being cast for the 3 parties – that everyone born alive is either a little Liberal or else a little Conservative or a little Labourite. In fact it looks like 10%, possibly more, of the electorate will vote for other parties in the full knowledge that they are thus being almost completely robbed, but presumably preferring that to being completely robbed by the Triumvirate.

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