Friday, July 15, 2016

The Irrationality of Third Parties

If we lived in a community where a political party can get representation even though it gets only five percent of the vote, then it makes sense to vote for a candidate that will likely only get five percent of the vote.

However, we, in the United States, do not live in that type of community. We live in a community where representation requires getting a plurality of votes - more votes than any other candidate.

This fact of our political system explains why we have two parties and can only have two parties. In a "winner takes all; loser gets nothing" system the rational thing to do is to form a coalition that can get a majority of the vote. A losing coalition is politically impotent and practically worthless. There is room for two near-majority coalitions. That is all.

In a "winner takes all; loser gets nothing" political system, third parties have two effects.

First, they provide a political advantage to the major coalition that least represent their views by weakening their opposition. By giving the opposite side such an advantage, it permits them to adopt more radical positions - there is less of a chance that a more radical position will be politically costly.

Second, they give the major coalition closest to their views motivation to abandon the positions they share with the third party and adopt, in its place, some of the positions of the opposing major coalition. They need to replace the votes that the third party takes from them, and the most fruitful source of votes are people from the opposing major coalition.

The closer coalition could try to get votes back from the third party. However, this requires that two conditions be met.

(1) Members of the third party have to be willing to defect back to the major coalition. If they are not willing to do so, they are telling the major coalition that pursuing their vote is a waste of effort.

(2) The major coalition has to be able to attract members of the third party without losing an even larger number of members of their coalition to the other major coalition.

And what is this for anyway?

If the third party wants to actually win elections (rather than throw elections to the major coalition furthest from their views), then they have to becoma a major coalition themselves - able to win elections. To do this, it has to form a coalition that is potentially attractive to the majority of voters.

How can they do this?

The third party fantasy - and it really is a fantasy - is that the voters will see the third party's superior wisdom and immediately swarm to them in worshipful frenzy in numbers large enough to win elections, thus creating a revolution that will sweep aside opposing coalitions.

This option denies the reality that many people are rather fixed in their beliefs, preferences and interests. Societies are not made up of 51% empty-minded idiots looking for somebody to give them the first good idea they have ever heard.

The alternative option is to try to attract additional voters by appealing to their existing beliefs, preferences, and interests. However, this makes the third party indistinguishable from major coalition that is nearest to their views - an organization trying to appeal to enough people to be able to win elections.

In a "winner takes all; loser gets nothing" political system, third party activities are completely irrational.

This may be taken as an argument against having a "winner takes all; loser gets nothing" political system. It may be taken as an argument for adopting a system whereby representatives of local minorities have representation in the legislature. In fact, that is one of its implications. However, UNTIL we replace the "winner takes all; loser gets nothing" political system it is irrational to pretend that it did not exist.

This also feeds into my argument that, if one lives in a region where one political party dominates, then, regardless of one's political views, one should join the dominate party. This way, one can actually have influence on elections. It is as irrational to remain in a political coalition that, locally, can never muster a majority as it is to support a third party. One simply renders oneself politically impotent and allows the dominant party to become move further away from one's own views.

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