While listening to the Liberal Party of Australia disintegrate under the weight of a ‘leader’ who hasn’t read Machiavelli and a bunch of old white guys who think that they were elected for their scientific opinion, I began to think about Simpson’s Paradox.
It’s pretty cool. Take the 1998 Federal Election. The Howard Government had a twelve seat majority in the Lower House (so more than 50% of the seats) but only got 49.02% of the two-party preferred vote (so less than 50% of the votes).
It’s easy to see why this might happen. Imagine two political parties — the Optimes and the Populares — are attempting to be elected into a parliament with only twenty seats. For each seat, there are one hundred voters who are all very good people and do not lodge invalid votes.
Imagine that the Populares win their seats with 100% of the vote for those seats (that is, for each Populares Party seat in the parliament, 100 votes were lodged for the Populares Party). Also imagine that the Optimes Party only win their seats by one vote (that is, for each Optimes Party seat in the parliament, 51 votes were lodged for the Optimes Party and 49 were lodged for the Populares Party).
After a gruelling televised broadcast probably involving Koshie and some sort of Eureka Tower of Power, the Optimes Party gains eleven seats of the twenty and so forms government.
There were 2,000 votes cast in this election (20 x 100). The Populares Party scored 1,439 of them (9 x 100 + 11 x 49).
That’s 71.95% of the total vote and yet they won’t form government. Yay, democracy! Let’s spread it across the Middle East!
When we add more parties to the mix (as we end up doing in the Senate due to the extremely nonsensical process by which we ‘elect’ senators), we can end up with situations where a person who has the support of fewer than 10% of the votes in their district can block the plans and designs of parties with greater support.
In the last election, it was a Ruddslide in favour of the ALP. This included their plan for an ETS. The ALP attempts to bring an ETS into fruition. Minor parties who do not have the broader support of the voting public block it. Yay, democracy! Let’s spread it to the Middle East!
Sure, the ETS is probably a bad idea. Its reasoning seems to run along the lines of ‘We need to do something; this is something; ergo, let’s do this.’ This post is not attempting to justify the ETS — and I’m rather against attempting to use market mechanisms to deal with pollution — but it does show that we have somehow transformed ‘Democracy: it’s the rule of the people’ into ‘Democracy: it’s the rule of whoever won an arbitrary game with no necessary connexion to the needs or desires of the population.’