Friday, September 21, 2007

A Hack's Guide To Distorting Mixed Member Proportional

The challenge: Could I manipulate the mixed member proportional system so that a party with less than 50% of the vote could still form a majority government? The answer is a surprising yes, and this article describes how. However, please note that this article is neither pro or anti MMP. It is simply one political hack's obsessive interest in doing things he should not be able to do.

Okay. Let's suppose I am a backroom hack for the popular Ontario People's Party (OPP). The OPP can usually count on between 40 to 45% support. They have historically been the dominant party and usually win a majority government, with between 2/3 to 3/4 of the seats, even though in their history they have never received a majority of the vote. (Sound familiar?) These majority governments with less than majority support have been achieved because of the dynamics of the first-past-the-post system. However, with MMP they should only receive 40-45% of the seats. But there is a way to circumvent that.

First, a sister party to the OPP is created - the Ontario Canada Party (OCP). The OCP shares all of the same principles and platform of the OPP except that they are more hardline federalists. Essentially, the die-hard federalists of the party have created their own wing of the party and branched off. They represent about 1/3 of the party. As such, they have about 13 to 15% of the general population. Their campaign is focused primarily on die-hard federalist issues.

The second step is that the OCP decides they will not contest a single local riding. Instead, they will only run province wide for the list candidates. As such, an acceptable alliance can be formed between the OPP and their new "sister" party the OCP. Indeed, the OPP encourages its supporters with OCP leanings to vote for OPP local candidates but to cast their second vote for the OCP, for reasons that will become apparent later.

The results. For the 90 local seats up for grabs, the OPP wins their typical 2/3 to 3/4 of the seats. Lets say they win 63. The OCP did not win a single local seat because they did not contest any of them. However, they received 15% of the vote and are therefore entitled to 15% of the 39 list seats. That gives them six seats. In the legislature the OCP caucuses with their sister party, the OPP, and they form a majority government with 69 of the 129 seats. They are able to form this majority government even though between the two of them they have less than 50% of the vote.


Mark Greenan said...

Of course, this would depend on Ontario voters not being shocked by this cynical attempt to manipulate the electoral process and vote en masse for other parties.

Not to say that I even think your scenario will happen (has it happened in Germany or New Zealand?).

Mixed Member Proportional said...

You're right. Political manipulation could never happen here.

Wilf Day said...

This news is old news. The Citizens' Assembly discussed this already. See footnote 61 on online page 10:'%20Assembly's%20MMP%20System.pdf

"61 In rare cases in MMP systems, a party has attempted to manipulate the system by splitting into two parties — one party runs local candidates only and the other party runs list candidates only. This is sometimes referred to as a “decoy list.” Decoy lists result in an inflated seat total for the parties because their seat shares are calculated separately, even though they are really one party. It is very unlikely that this would occur in Ontario, given the political culture. Decoy lists have not been attempted in the four jurisdictions examined here (Germany, New Zealand, Scotland, and Wales). If there was a concern that parties might manipulate the system in this way, the practice could be prohibited by law."

Some of us know this as the "Berlusconi trick" since Silvio Berlusconi used it to sabotage an attempt by Italy to introduce a type of mixed-member system. If there was any hint that someone in Ontario would copy this trick, it certainly should be outlawed -- although neither Germany, New Zealand, Scotland, nor Wales have found this necessary (yet.)

Anonymous said...

You can't outlaw something like this. The federal Liberals are allied with the federal Greens to help their party defeat the Conservatives in the Green parties ridings. The whole point of MMP is to encourage more alliances and cooperation in politics. You can be guaranteed that the scenario in the post WILL happen in Ontario if we're dumb enough to adopt MMP.

Wilf Day said...

The brutal version could easily be outlawed: the Chief Elections Officer would be authorized and directed by law to treat as one party any two associated parties who run local candidates under one party label and list candidates under another.

The tactical version, where one small party runs only token local candidates, does no harm: the party vote determines what share of seats each party will receive. If two medium sized parties formed an electoral alliance and tried running some token candidates, that can happen under FPTP too, but mechanisms have been proposed to cap the party votes counted for parties with too many token local candidates. We're a long way from needing them: no MMP jurisdiction ever has.

Andy said...

Of course, it doesn't need to be an official arrangement. If I'm voting under MMP for the PC Party and I know it's going to win a massive victory at the riding level, I'm going to look to give my party vote to whatever small party is closest to the PCs. So will lots of other people. The parties don't have to collude to achieve this result. With numerous small parties now being able to toss their hats into the electoral ring as list-only parties (without the expense of running costly riding elections), there should be lots of small parties for big-party voters to coalesce around when it becomes apparent that under MMP casting a party vote for a leading party is just a "waste" of a vote.

Also, as I've pointed out repeatedly on my own blog, under MMP 50% of the party vote will almost never be required to win a majority of the seats, because the cumulative vote of parties receiving less than 3% of the party vote doesn't count toward the distribution. Thus, if 6 fringe parties win 4% of the party vote among them, MMP will award a majority to any party receiving (100-4)/2 of the party vote (i.e. 48%). If small (<3%) parties took, say, 10% of the party vote (which I don't think is beyond the realm of possibility), MMP will award a majority to a party with 45% of the party vote. As I've noted, it is not impossible that MMP would award a majority at a sub-50% vote level to a party that wouldn't have won a majority under FPTP.

Anonymous said...

Your math is actually flawed on this one. Sorry. You stated that the OPP picks up 40-45% in order to win roughly 3/4 of the seats (63/90 as you put it = 70% of seats). The FPTP seats would continue to pick up this 45% of the vote + the 15% the OCP requires to win its 6 seats. You're right that technically no single party would have a majority (we call that a minority in FPTP) and would need to form a coalition in order to govern, but together they would represent 60% of the vote. This would total 53% of the seats. So in fact, by the numbers you give, the government would form with a greater percentage of the popular vote than the number of seats - obviously an insensible strategy for any vote-maximizing party.

Anonymous said...

I know this is long and done, but the math of the post is not wrong as described above. Anonymous assumes the math is 45% + 15% = 60% and therefore these two parties actually have 60% of the vote. That's not the scenario described. The scenario is that together these two parties have 45% of the vote but a splinter party, representing 15% of total voters split off. This splinter party does not run any local candidates and instead votes for the main party, giving them 45% of the vote and winning 2/3 to 3/4 of the local seats. Their splinter party, having received 15% of the vote, would receive 6 list seats to give them balanced representation. The main party had 30% of the vote but wouldn't receive any list seats because of their 'unbalanced' number of local seats. And in fact this IS used in a variant form in Germany - with the splinter party being a regional party (Bavaria). Guaranteed it would happen in Canada!

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Anonymous said...

"It is very unlikely that this would occur in Ontario, given the political culture." Too bad this debate took place before some of the Harper aggressive tactics and continuous surfacing of an NDP/Liberal strategic alliance to prevent the Tories from winning a majority. Not only COULD this occur in Ontario similar things HAVE occurred and this will only get worse. And as mentioned in a comment above, the Germany MMP already has a splinter provincial party running in Bavaria. The citizens committee had their head in the sands on this one. And how do you ban a party because it's existence strategically benefits another party? That would certainly be ruled unconstitutional. The very idea of banning a political party in Canada is almost unheard of. Thank goodness MMP was defeated, and soundly so!