Converting votes into seats
Most controversy about electoral systems centres on the rules for converting votes into seats.
In a majority system, the candidate/s/ with the largest number of votes in a particular system.
•Simple plurality – ´first past the post´ system /UK, USA, Canada, India, New Zeland, South Africa/
Procedure: leading candidate elected on first and only ballot
•Absolute majority – alternative vote /´prefential vote´/ /Australia/
Procedure: voters rank candidates. Bottom candidate eliminated and these votes redistributed according to second preferences. Repeat until a candidate has a majority.
•Absolute majority – second ballot /France – presidential election/
Procedure: if no candidate has a majority on the first ballot, the two leading candidates face a run-off
In proportional system, by contrast, parties acquire seats in explicit relation to the votes they receive. Proportional systems are based on the more recent notion of representation, majority goverments are unusual and coalitions are the norm.
•List system /Israel, Scandinavia/
Procedure: vote is cast for a party´s list of candidates, though in most countries the elector can also express support for individual candidates on the list.
•Single transferable vote /Irish Republic, Malta, Tasmania, Australia/
Procedure: voters rank candidates. Any candidate over the quota on first preferences is elected, with the ´surplus´ transferred to the voters second choice. When no candidate has reached the quota the bottom candidate is eliminated and these vote are also transferred. These procedures continue until all seats are filled.
The social base of parties
Elections in liberal democracies are not fought afresh each time. They show enormous continuity in the parties which contest them and in the shares of the vote these parties obtain. Most parties have coresupporters, located in one segment of society, which provide the party with a secure base of support. Most often, parties represent a particular religion, class or language group. These links between parties and social groups usually develop at crucial points in a country´s history.
Three main waves of change have swept through Western societes over the centuries. Even after they recede, they leave their tidemark on the party system. These waves are:
1. The national revolution – original construction of the state as a territory governed by a single central authority. Though fought many centuries ago, the scars of these battles can still be seen in modern party systems. One reason for this is that state-building was often a violent process. Centralisin elites generally showed little mercy in imposin their authority on groups accustomed to greater autonomy, notably in peripheral areas and in the Catholic Church. The other aspect of the national revolution, conflict between state and church, proved equally influential in shaping party systems. As the modern nation-state developed, it came into conflict with the Catholic Curch which sought to defend its traditional control over ´spiritual life´.
2. The industrial revolution – this also affected party systems in several ways. First, it sharpened existing divisions between urban and rural interests. Secondly, industrialisation led later to the emergence of socialist parties, externally created, to represent the interests of the urban working class. Intimately linked with class is the growth of trade unions. As the industrial wing of the working-class movement trade unions could be expected to increase electoral support for the left.
3. The post-industrial revolution – westerns societes are becoming post-industrial. Increasingly, they are characterised by affluence rather than poverty, by service industries rather than manufacturing industry and by education rather than class.
Affluence and education produce more confident, outward-looking people, concerned about broad social issues. This is the basis of Inglehart´s theory of postmaterialism. Postmaterialists look for a new style of policits: more participatory and single-issue based than the approarch offered by traditional parties, whether of the right or the left.
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Elections and Voters
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