Thursday, April 07, 2011

Papua New Guinea doesn't use the Alternative Vote

We keep hearing the mantra repeated that only three countries in the world use the Alternative Vote - Australia, Fiji and Papua New Guinea. Invariably the focus has been on the first of these three, where data, studies and commentary is most readily available. Of the other two, Fiji has its problems that are rather more deep seated than the voting system, and Papua New Guinea appears misreported.

Papua New Guinea adopted the Alternative Vote in the past but switched to First Past The Post in the mid 1970s. In 2003 they changed the system again, but contrary to much casual reporting they didn't adopt the Alternative Vote.

Instead they adopted the Limited Preferential Vote - see Papua New Guinea Electoral Commission - Limited Preferential Voting for the official description on it.

Now I'm sure many of you are wondering what the difference is. Well under LPV a voter can only indicate preferences for a limited number of candidates. Rounds of transfers follow. A version of this system is actually used in the UK for Mayoral elections, albeit with voters allowed only two choices and the second round involves only the candidates with the two highest first preference totals.

The Limited Preferential Vote displays many of the same issues as the Supplementary Vote and neither of them really qualify as the Alternative Vote. Hardly any AV campaigners in the UK hold up the Supplementary Vote as an example of AV, and the Limited Preferential Vote isn't one either.

So that's two countries that use AV then...

Sunday, April 03, 2011

Extremists and AV - Australia's One Nation

As the Alternative Vote referendum approaches the debate's heating up and the argument has turned on how extremists like the British National Party will do under the system. With so few countries using AV there aren't that many comparisons out there, but there's one Australian party with a record to look at - One Nation.

One Nation was founded in 1997 by Pauline Hanson, a sitting federal MP, David Oldfield and David Ettridge. Hanson was originally nominated as the Liberal candidate in Oxley in the 1996 federal election but between nominations and polling day she was expelled from the party after she gained national fame from calling for the abolition of government assistance for indigenous Australians. However it was too late to nominate an alternative candidate or even remove "Liberal" from her place from the ballot paper. She went on to win the hitherto safe Labor seat. The following year she joined with Oldfield and Ettridge to form One Nation and the party had some successes, particularly in Queensland at the 1998 state election.

However the major Australian parties responded to One Nation by both trying to undercut its vote base and encouraging tactical voting against it, with Hanson defeated at the 1998 federal election. One Nation was also riven by splits with most of its elected members leaving the party and the New South Wales branch went solo (with the farce of the "One Nation" name in NSW being used by one group for state elections and another for federal elections) and losing its sole elected member as well. Some members founded breakaway parties like the City Country Alliance or the New Country Party; these parties also went nowhere.

Psephos - Adam Carr's Election Archive has all the election results from this period and shows the outcome. So without further ado:

Federal 1996 - House of Representatives in Queensland

Federal elections are conducted under the compulsory preference version of AV in which a voter needs to indicate preferences for all candidates in order for their vote to count at all.

(For the pedants out there, there were two minor exceptions at the time, though one has since been eliminated. If a voter numbers all but one candidates in order the blank space is taken to be a last preference and their vote is counted. There was also a provision in the law that if a voter numbered candidates but either skipped or repeated a number then their vote would be counted up until the "error" and then no longer transfer or "exhaust". There was a campaign in the early to mid 1990s to get voters to take advantage of this error overcoming mechanism to get de facto optional preferencing - see Langer vote for more - and by the 1998 election the provisions in the Electoral Act were changed so such votes are now invalid.)

As mentioned above Hanson was nominated as the Liberal candidate in Oxley but between nominations and polling day she was expelled from the party but it was too late to nominate an alternative candidate or even remove "Liberal" from her place from the ballot paper. Compared to the Liberal performance in 1993 she nearly doubled the first preferences to take 48.6%. Following the elimination of three Independents and the Greens she took enough transfers to get over 50% (although the majority transferred against her). Though not necessary to determine the winner, the elimination of the Australian Democrats saw transfers in her favour, pushing her to 54.7%.

Queensland 1998

One Nation won eleven seats in this election, which used the optional preference version of AV in which a voter need only indicate a single preference to be valid and which the UK will be offered. In none of the seats did they get 50% of first preferences. The seats broke down as follows:

Most first preferences but under 50% and won
  • Barambah (43.5%)
  • Burdekin (33.1%)
  • Lockyer (39.8%)
  • Maryborough (42.6%)
  • Tablelands (42.0%)
Second on first preferences but won on transfers
  • Caboolture (29.9%)
  • Hervey Bay (33.8%)
  • Ipswich West (38.6%)
  • Mulgrave (31.0%)
  • Thuringowa (34.9%)
  • Whitsunday (30.7%)
Most first preferences and defeated on transfers
  • Burnett (36.4%)
  • Crows Nest (39.5%)
  • Gympie (29.2%)
(None of these seats had separate Coalition candidates from the Liberal and National parties)

Crudely translating first preferences only into First Past The Post results would have given One Nation 8 seats under FPTP. Instead they won 11 under AV.

The overall result was Labor 44, the Nationals 23 & the Liberals 9, One Nation 11 and Independents 2. In theory One Nation could have held the balance of power but one of the Independents agreed to support a Labor government. Subsequently a One Nation MP resigned from the parliament and Labor won the resulting by-election, gaining an outright majority. The remaining One Nation MPs split with half forming the City Country Alliance and the rest going independent.

Federal 1998 - House of Representatives in Queensland

One of the biggest problems for de facto independent one member parties is that boundary changes can often undermine their electoral base. Changes at the 1998 election nominally made Oxley an Labor seat and Hanson contested the new Blair constituency, taking in parts of Oxley.

With competing Liberal and National candidates in the field plus more independents, Hanson topped the poll on first preferences with 36.0%. However Labor and the Coalition recommended preferences to each other. The Liberal candidate started in third place but overtook Labor on National preferences, then took the bulk of the Labor preferences to defeat Hanson 53.4:46.6. Note that Hanson still picked up 10.6% or over 7000 votes in preferences.

Queensland 2001

Most first preferences but under 50% and won
  • Lockyer (28.3%)
  • Tablelands (36.0%)
Second on first preferences but won on transfers
  • Gympie (25.7%)
Most first preferences and defeated on transfers

There don't appear to have been any such cases.

Once again the crude comparison is FPTP 2, AV 3.

The overall result was Labor 66, the Nationals 12 & the Liberals 3, One Nation 3 and Independents 5. This time One Nation was a little more coherent and managed to lose only 1/3 MPs in the parliament.

Queensland 2004

Most first preferences but under 50% and won
  • Tablelands (47.0%)
...and none of the other cases so no crude comparisons are necessary.

One Nation was now in heavy decline and riven by splits. Its sole MP here basically functioned as an Independent.

The overall result was Labor 63, the Nationals 15 & the Liberals 5, One Nation 1 and Independents 5. For once One Nation ended the parliament with all the members it started with.

Queensland 2006

Over 50% of first preferences
  • Tablelands (50.4%)
One Nation only ran four candidates in this election; the other three secured tiny results of less than 5% each.

The overall result was Labor 59, the Nationals 17 & the Liberals 8, One Nation 1 and Independents 4. Once again One Nation managed to keep its only member for the full parliament.

Queensland 2009

The regular scourge of Independents and minor parties, boundary changes, abolished Tablelands. One Nation ran only two candidates including their sitting MP in the new Dalrymple constituency but she came second on both first preferences and final transfers. Their sole other candidate got just 2.9%.

The overal result was Labor 51, the now merged Liberal Nationals 34 and Independents 4.

Other victories

Between 1998 and 2001 One Nation also won seats in the federal Senate and the state upper houses in New South Wales and Western Australia (Queensland doesn't have an upper house); however these are all elected by Single Transferable Vote. For what it's worth all their NSW and WA elected members left the party as well, with the NSW branch going solo and losing its sole elected member as well. Yet another breakaway party was formed by two WA members, called the New Country Party.

So overall what do these results tell us about AV and extremists? Well Pauline Hanson's defeat in 1998 despite getting the most first preferences is easy to zoom in on as she was the party leader and in the federal parliament; however it's worth remembering that it was under compulsory preferencing and she would have had a stronger chance under the optional system the UK is being offered. On the other hand One Nation had 16 victories in Queensland under optional the very system the UK will vote on; the crude FPTP comparison would have given them 12. If anything that suggests optional AV was marginally in their favour.

It's also clear that other parties declaring One Nation to be pariahs did not mean every single other voter followed those parties. And whatever voting system is used this alone will not decide the fate of extremist parties; it's how the political mainstream responds to voters' concerns that has the greatest effect, along with the propensity of small parties to disintegrate into squabbling fractions.

The BNP may have decided to oppose AV but the above figures show that a far right party has done better under AV than it likely would have under FPTP. Nick Griffin may well have miscalculated.

Saturday, April 02, 2011

The real Citizen Smith

From a pale imitation to the real thing, here's the intro from Citizen Smith:

That's how to do it Lembit!

Citizen Smith itself was a fun series, though I'm not alone in feeling the fourth season was one too many.

Oops, does that mean that I'll be first up against the wall when the revolution comes?


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