A party-centered electoral system is better than a candidate-centered system

In this thread, one objection raised to a (partial, limited) change to a proportional-representation electoral system for the Ontario Parliament is that the voters (WRT the small number of added seats) would no longer be voting for individual candidates, but for political parties. That is no objection.

In the U.S., we have gone perhaps further than any other country to a candidate-centered model, where the individual politician is in effect an entrepeneur, almost solely responsible for getting his/her name out there and raising his/her own funds, and, once in office, under no particular obligation to follow his/her party’s policy line. “D” and “R” are just brand-name labels, and it is possible for the Republican in a given race to be more liberal than the Democrat. The results are highly unsatisfactory.

One value of parties is that, in a well-developed party system, it is always clear what set of beliefs, values and policies a given party stands for – and that is really what most voters should want to vote for (or against). A candidate’s politics, after all, are really much more important, in terms of results, than his/her individual “character”; better to be well governed by sinners than misgoverned by saints.

A party organization can also potentially be the principal campaign funder; it’s much better situated to raise funds – and that also makes it much easier to keep the funding process open and transparent.

Certainly geographically based representation has some value – nobody really wants to give up pork-barrel – but there are forms of PR, e.g., the multi-member-district system (as distinct from the party-list system) which still retain a form of that. But in a well-constructed MMD system, you would get on (the top of) your party’s slate of proposed candidates for the district’s representative delegation because your party leadership had placed you there. That’s how it should be.

Arguing the benefits of one system over another doesn’t work unless discussing it in the context of a particular country and its culture.

The United States, with its culture that values individualism, risk-taking, and consensus building (admittedly, values at odds with each other) would not welcome a party-centered democracy, and it would likely fail here.

Wait. I thought one of the problems with the US (national level) election system was that there was a significant portion of the voters that voted based on the party system. (In other words, someone who refuses to consider, or vote, for a Democrat, for example.)

You don’t see this in US voters?

I r confused agin. Both the Republican and Democratic parties have most definately generated images in the average voter’s mind what the parties stand for:

Republican party claims strong national defence, family values, buisness friendly government policies, etc.

Democratic party claims civil rights strengths, standing up for the working man, and a stronger focus on certain domestic issues.

(Both claim to want to “clean up” Washington, fix education, and a few things like that.)

What an individual cndidate brings to the table (from a voters point of view) is: “Will this guy, or that guy, be the best negotiator (or leadership) and obtain these stated goals.”

Where am I misunderstanding something?

The OP makes some excellent points, but in terms of being effective in the legislature the candidate’s adherence to the party does certainly matter. Loose cannons who don’t pay much attention to the party hierarchy wind up serving on the subcommittee for the Congressional cafeteria’s menu.

How is that any different from Canada or, for that matter, the UK? Or any English-speaking “settler state”? New Zealand changed to a PR system in 1996, and it hasn’t failed there.

Sure I do. Problem is, our first-past-the-post system naturally produces two and only two major parties, which to be viable have to be “big tent” parties, which means each one encompasses such a broad range of viewpoints that the value of the party label, in terms of telling you exactly what you’re voting for (without doing some exhaustive research into that individual candidate’s views and record), is greatly diminished. The lack of party discipline just makes it worse. I wish Zell Miller had been expelled from the Democratic Party many years ago, but in fact there is no mechanism at all for doing so. David Duke is a Republican because he calls himself one and nobody can authoritatively say he isn’t.

A flaw in your analysis of the American system is that it fails to take into account two (interrelated) characteristics of that system: gerrymandering and primaries. Given that the overwhelming majority of electoral districts, at both the state and federal level, are “safe” for one party or the other, the true election in most districts is the primary. And (by and large), only true believers vote in primaries, so the likely winner in most elections is the one most ideologically “pure” - the one who most ardently advocates the “beliefs, values and policies” of their party. While the effect is (usually) less pronounced in the presidential race, the primaries definitely push the nominees closer to the pure core of their respective parties.

So, you get your party-centered system through the back door - and the result sucks.


The culture of the United States is different from the culture of these other places. And small differences in culture can produce big political differences.

I won’t say for certain that an American system wouldn’t have suited other countries, but a pure parliamentary system would not have served us well, IMHO. For one thing, those regional differences you referred to above were once so great they brought us to civil war. Early in our history they led to smaller rebellions, and after the civil war they perpetuated considerable injustices because they commanded a big voting bloc.

If you think these wouldn’t have transcended party, you’re kidding yourself. These already did - the South in its most unjust periods was a one party state, and that party committed itself to preserving the southern way of life as basically its only platform plank. At times when the Northern Democrats couldn’t abide the Southern Democrats, the Southern Democrats struck out on their own, in the Dixiecrat movement, the Wallace movement, and the aforementioned Civil War.

Party centered democracy can’t work without much more party discipline than we typically enforce here. But can such a fractious and argumentative people such as us enforce that? We’d have thirty thousand weak parties.

Better to have two strong ones with their share of mavericks.

I’d have to say the entire thesis is flawed from the start. Parties do not control governments. Not even in Parliamentaary systems. People do. I’d rather know whom I’ve voting for than run it half-blind on a party ticket. I want the primary and election process to be more brutal. I want the canidates to look upon holding high offices neccessitating constant work and innumerable demands on their time, mind, and sanity to be a relief after they get done with the election. I want them pushed to the brink of human endurance and I want them to SMILE as they do it. I want to know my legislators are damned tough and capable of taking an emotional beating on the order of Mike Tyson punching out a one-legged chicken for 20 rounds and then picking a fight with that chicken in the parking lot.

It seems to me that voting for parties rather than candidates puts an additional layer between the people and their representatives. There’s already too much of a cushion, adding a party who could shield (some of) its members from voter retribution would not help.

If the people want a representative who always toes the party line, they can vote for that sort of representative.

I’d love to see party elections. I hate to see canidates of any party chewing up their own compadres to get past the primary.
A party election can focus on issues, and because they aren’t speaking just for themselves, you have more confidence that they mean what they promise.

A parliamentary system is one where the executive is chosen by and answerable to the legislature – as distinct from a separation-of-powers system where the executive has an independent electoral mandate. That has nothing to do with whether the electoral system encourages the emergence or two parties or several or is “nonpartisan,” nor with whether the electoral process is party-centered or candidate-centered. Different discussion entirely.

Here’s a thought: for those who dislike the amount of money spent on Presidential campaigns, the answer is simple. Bring back the old “smoke-filled rooms” and let party bosses pick candidates.

Under the current system, people with famous names and/or lots of their own money are in the driver’s seat. Laws that curtail the amount of money that can be spent merely INCREASE the importance of a famous name. George W. Bush is president in large part because he had 100% name recognition before his campaign began.

If party bosses picked the candidates, money and famous names would no longer matter. You’d probably get stronger candidates.

BG, I would posit that we do have party discipline, only that discipline doesn’t function in the way that you or I would like. Committee assignments have already been mentioned, but parties also enforce discipline through earmarks, pork-barrell spending, monetary assistance for elections from the national committees, and endorsements from high-profile politicians. However, because our primary way of enforcing party discipline is monetary, that means that the issues that discipline is enforced on will be those that are near-and-dear to the biggest donors. Unless a significant portion of the population is against the big donors, then you’re not going to find politicians breaking away from their donor base. That seems to me to be a problem of campaign financing (and I personally think our campaign finance laws need a ground-up overhaul). But I don’t see how voting for parties instead of candidates is going to fix this problem.

Additionally, I feel that our two major parties have essentially become a 4th and 5th branch of government. They’re subsidized by the government, the government conducts their elections, and they have more or less a stranglehold on elections. Given that, I am unconfortable excluding people from either party. If it were easy for people to set up alternate parties and have them viably compete in the election system, and if our two major parties weren’t so intertwined with government, I’d be more amenable to the idea of exclusion. Your system would fix this problem somewhat, but I fear that instead of two parties intertwined with government, we’d get ten parties intertwined with government, and then those ten parties would work to exclude any newcomers.

The American public generally knows as much about the Presidential nominees as they’re ever going to know. But when it comes to the local head of the school board or the sheriff, they probably have no idea and simply vote along party lines.

In net effect, what this means is that, often, people who suck at their job in the low level positions will be able to hold it because he’s the nominee for the popular party in that area.

I certainly don’t see any advantage to voting for ‘D’ or ‘R’ when it’s a lot more important whether the person you’re entrusting with leading you can actually do his job competently.

And with a parliamentary system, which is about as close as you can come to a party-based voting system, you encourage a single party rule. That’s not necessarily bad. In the case of the UK it means that they have an easier time pushing legislation through that’s not conservative. But in the case of Japan it means that the government doesn’t need to feel indebted to the people at all nor care what they want done. And the prevalence of mass demonstrations in the UK seems to show that voting isn’t really seen as a way to get the government to bow to the voters there either.

I think some of the posts here are off the point (if not off the topic).

Where’s the virtue in having a political system grounded on personality rather than policy?

Admittedly, Mr. Moto addressed this:

Party discipline was a lot higher in the 1950s: one crossed the chair of the Ways and Means at one’s peril. The primary system for selecting US Presidents only was introduced in the early 1970s. Mr Moto seems to think that our current political configuration is an outgrowth of the US character. I think that a lot of it is simple historical accident.

The rough number of parties is a predictable consequence of the electoral system. First past the post systems (US,UK) produce 2-3, with the third party being rather weak if it exists. Pure proportional representation systems (Israel, Italy(?)) lead to many weak parties. Modified PR systems (France, Germany) produce a handful of parties.

It’s the electoral system that matters, not the predispositions of the populace.

No to the first and why do you think a candidate’s politics match his party’s to the second. In some parties they have to vote “along party lines” for everything, in others it’s not required to be a match every time.

Spain has a mixed system. Most elections are “closed list,” the exception being Senators. For National Parliament, Regional Parliaments and City Hall, it’s closed list; so, if a party gets three seats in Parliament from a specific province, the people who were in the top three spots in that party’s list for that province get the jobs.

For senator, we get a big sheet of paper with all the candidates (grouped by party) and can mark as many candidates as seats our province has. My province has three seats, so I can mark 3 Xs. Each X counts as a vote for that particular individual. I can and have marked people from different parties because I happened to know and trust the specific person (I don’t believe in party discipline and vote for parties which do not have it). There’s small parties who can’t get the funds and people for a complete list in every demarcation and level of government, who present reduced lists to the Senate - and we’ve had Senators from those parties.

Some of our lists are “permanent coalitions.” CiU, which ruled Catalonia for the longest time, is actually two parties: Convergéncia Democràtica de Catalunya and Unió Democràtica de Catalunya. Izquierda Unida (“United Left”) is an umbrella including all kinds of leftist, non-independentist groups. The party system means that if you want to negotiate with PSOE you have to speak only with one office (they do have party discipline, although sometimes there’s “diverging currents” who aren’t shy about throwing rotten tomatoes at each other in public); the existence of parties without party discipline and of permanent coalitions means it’s not always that easy.

Closed lists means that if you like the people who are #2 and 3 in a list but used to work with #1 and know him to be a pig, you can’t get 2 and 3 elected without giving 1 a job.

There’s a local politician, independentist and about as far left as you can be without falling off the map, who has been described by many people as “she does a great job when she remembers she’s from here and a horrid one when she remembers what party she’s with.” Many people would vote for her but not for her party.

Me, I’d like to have something similar to our senate system for other levels. Knowing what party a candidate belongs to gives you a lot of information about their ideas, the programs are for each party rather than for individual candidates… but if a party’s voters think that #2 is actually a better candidate than #1, they can vote for #2 directly.

I agree. We need to get rid of gerrymandering somehow (and don’t ask me how) because it is the largest reason why there is no competition in congressional elections.

Look at Palm Beach County, FL congressional districts. I don’t have a link, but we are about as varied as you can get, we have rich, poor, black, white, hispanic, asian, illegals, jews, christians, catholics, new yorkers, new joiseys, redneck FL natives, you name it we have it.

You would think that our three congressional races would be VERY competitive!

No…they carve the outer barrier islands where the rich white people live for (what was supposed to be) a safe GOP district for Clay Shaw. Ron White won because of the DEM tide in 2006. Shaw had won for 18 years before that and it was safe.

The next district snakes its way like a river through the poor, ghetto sections. It elects the former impeached federal judge Alcee Hastings by wide margins. By rights, this guy shouldn’t be elected “The guy who buys the beer” at a party, but he wins a landslide for Congress every year because his entire constituency is poor and ignorant.

And next, we have my district in the Western part of the county, we have Robert Wexler. He is a white DEM who caters to senior citizens on everything. Why? His district is filled with them in their 55+ communities.

Now, if we just drew these lines east to west instead of north to south, we would have THREE very competitive races. But whoever runs the FL legislature sees the best way to get the best guarantee for their party out of Palm Beach County and gerrymanders it to death.

You hit the nail on the head there…

(bolding mine)

France doesn’t us PR for National Assembly elections. France uses single-member districts with run-off elections. The French Senate is elected by electoral colleges consisting of local, departmental, & regional councillors. I’m not sure what system is used for local elections.

Thanks alpha!

jtgain: a system of approval voting could resolve Gerrymandering problems. Toss out the districts and have each voters in each state* check off the candidates that they approve of from a long list. The candidates with the most votes win.

  • Smaller states would have one slate of candidates. Larger states like Florida, Texas, California, etc. could be divided into contiguous regions (whose lines are divided by county) that would each choose 7-15 candidates say. Such a scheme would leave less scope for gerrymandering.