Thursday, January 26, 2023

Do Elections Guarantee Mandates?

Many politicians have claimed to have a mandate to execute various policies.  What does a "mandate" mean?  My opinion is that a true mandate means they have been enabled by the will of the people to execute particular acts. 

Elections do determine the candidate winners who get to take decisions on your behalf.  If you actually voted for the winner you can be happy your vote helped.  If you didn't you could have stayed home.  At least that is what our current First Past The Post system offers.

In practice many politicians are claiming mandates with less than 50% of actual voters (and even lower among all eligible voters).  In practice many do not vote, not only because of apathy, but with the feeling that their vote would not make a difference.  It would not give anyone power or would not be needed.

 It is true that one powerful person can get more done than any collective, but question whether it is in the best interest of everyone.  No one person really understands the concerns of everyone and many of them seem and are very unreasonable.

Strategic voting in effect means not voting for a candidate or policies, but against.  In effect the voter chooses their second or third preference.  In a small way that is also a distortion of the will of the people. 

Candidates usually lay out their priorities during the election campaign.  If nobody gets a mandate, what next?  Compromise and persuasion.  The will of the people:   One could also say that non voters have failed to give their blessing or not?    In reality there are more than one option for most issues, but if one possibility cannot gain a plurality it is easily ignored by those set on a different path.

Voters seem to accept a candidate with less than 50% making laws that are not desired by over 50% of the voters and nobody is sure about the non voters.  At some point this could cause a rebellion.

The idea behind Proportional Representation is that every vote counts for something.  If no candidate reaches 50% of the vote there is apt to be an overlap of interests and a willingness to make compromises.  In these negotiations the elected official demonstrate their respect for the voters.

There are many variations of proportional representation, but the basic idea is that every vote counts towards a a set of party policies.  The voter chooses the candidate or party that best reflects what they believe is in their best interests (including beyond their local concerns).  No need for strategic voting.

Why isn't Canada  trying to implement a proportional representation system?  One big reason is that politicians with power are satisfied with the current system that gave them their power.  Many of them did not require a majority, only a plurality.  They could concentrate their efforts with specific voters who form enough support to win a plurality.  On a national scale large segments can be ignored or at least receive less attention.  With a proportional system a candidate can build many groups and avoid neglecting many who might be persuaded.  When the election is decided in order to get anything done it is necessary to negotiate with others and usually considering many different viewpoints.  The necessity to negotiate encourages civilized discourse.

I would be the first to agree that the majority is not always right.  The goal of anyone who wants to advocate an unpopular idea is to build up support.  Examples include seat belts, smoking, climate change, anti racial and homosexual restrictions, etc..  In some cases we have reached majority support amongst voters, but the First Past the Post system still slows down the will of the people.

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