Post No.: 0076
To follow on from Post No.: 0032, the problem of spoiler candidates in General Elections is that relatively similar political parties can take votes away from each other e.g. two or more relatively liberal/leftwing political parties or two or more relatively conservative/rightwing political parties. This problem has arguably affected major voting outcomes before and is a problem with certain voting systems, especially the plurality voting system. Most political parties aren’t ‘rightwing’ or ‘leftwing’ in every single way – most have a mix of what are considered ‘rightwing’ or ‘leftwing’ policies – but the range of parties that are overall considered extreme rightwing to extreme leftwing and every party considered in-between don’t always balance out in real life on a ballot paper to cancel each other out equally.
In a simplified scenario – imagine if 54% of the electorate were relatively liberal/leftwing, and the remaining 46% were relatively conservative/rightwing. Now imagine that there are 3 leftwing parties and only 1 rightwing party on the ballot paper. If everyone voted then that single rightwing party will receive 46% of the total votes and it could feasibly be the case that the 3 leftwing parties will receive 18% of the total votes each. Therefore, that single rightwing party would receive the most votes for a single party and, depending on the country’s specific system, gain the upper hand in negotiations when it comes to a hung parliament and when running a minority government or coalition. The majority of the electorate would therefore fail to receive the overall outcome they would’ve preferred i.e. a predominantly liberal/leftwing government.
Some voters may employ tactical voting as a result, to stop their first-choice candidate from taking votes away from and spoiling a candidate with similar policies but isn’t their first choice, in order to ultimately stop a very objectionable party from winning. In other words, it’s better to have one’s second or third-choice candidate win than one who’s even less preferred. This does require a high degree of confidence in knowing that one’s first-choice candidate has no real chance of winning though.
Other voting systems can reduce or eliminate this problem e.g. being allowed to state one’s second choice party or maybe being able to vote for as many parties as one wants (just to name a couple of possible alternatives out of many). Meow.
I also would like to remark that extreme-stance parties that receive a lot of publicity can make not quite as extreme but still reasonably extreme parties seem relatively moderate and palatable in their policies, thus skewing the electorate’s perception of what is ‘central’ or truly moderate. Unsure voters probably won’t vote for an extreme party but for a relatively more centralist or moderate party, but their perception of what is ‘central’ or moderate becomes skewed by extreme parties that receive a lot of publicity for their extreme policies (e.g. voting for a party with harsh immigration policies, but not one quite as harsh as the harshest proposed by a party). This is somewhat similar to but not quite the same as the ‘decoy effect’ in behavioural economics, where one option is (advertently or inadvertently) only presented to make another option seem better by comparison.
Gerrymandering is basically manipulating geographic constituency boundaries in order to maximise a party’s total number of constituency seats during an upcoming General Election. Whether a candidate for a political party wins in their constituency by a landslide or by only a handful of votes doesn’t matter – they’ll get that seat in the lower house of parliament. So by carefully shifting geographical constituency boundaries so that a constituency, that was projected to be a loss for a party by just a few votes, can grab some of a neighbouring constituency’s excess votes – both constituencies can be won by that party. Periodically reviewing constituency borders must be done in order to account for changing population concentrations in a country over time, and this can present opportunities for gerrymandering.
A proportional representation system should stop this problem because each vote would then truly hold equal weight in the entire country wherever it comes from i.e. there’ll be no wasted votes. But a problem with proportional representation comes from the potentially weakened geographic link between Members of Parliament and their constituents.
I have tried to write generally about these issues but they of course depend on your own furry country’s particulars, and I’d encourage you to explore whether or how these issues may affect your specific country?