Should the left back the alternative vote in the UK?

by Chris Bertram on February 17, 2011

So, we are to have a referendum in the UK on the alternative vote system. Tempting though it might be, I suppose I shouldn’t decide my view on the basis of my desire to stick it to the vile Nick Clegg. The fact that AV (like the French two-ballot runoff system) requires MPs to secure (eventually) a majority in each constituency certainly has _prima facie_ attractions, and it is troubling that most MPs are now elected on a minority vote. (In 1951 and 1955 only 39 and 37 seats in the Commons were held without a majority, so things have changed.) So on the plus side, there’d be more work work for candidates to do in more constituencies in order to secure election. On the other hand, AV can get you dramatically non-proportional outcomes (worse, in fact than FPTP). This will be familiar to Australians from (for example) the 1977 elections where the Liberals managed a majority of seats with considerably fewer first preferences than Labour and where the coalition of which the Liberals were part got two-thirds of the seats (a landslide) with only a minority of the vote.

I’m culling these facts from Vernon Bogdanor’s 1984 book _What is Proportional Representation?_ Bogdanor (David Cameron’s tutor at at about that time, incidentally) believed the system would hurt the Tories on the grounds of the their geographical distribution. John Curtice, on the other hand, “thinks”:: that Labour would suffer. Any more reliable indications out there? Psephological guidance please.


by John Quiggin on February 17, 2011

A recent report on a poll finding that a majority of Republicans (that is, likely primary voters) are “birthers”, with only 28 per cent confident that Obama was born in the United States has raised, not for the first time, the question “how can they think that?” and “do they really believe that?”.

Such questions are the domain of agnotology, the study of culturally-induced ignorance or doubt. Agnotology is not, primarily, the study of ignorance in the ordinary sense of the term. So, for example, someone who shares the beliefs of their community, unaware that those beliefs might be subject to challenge, might be ignorant as a result of their cultural situation, but they are not subject to culturally-induced ignorance in the agnotological sense.

But this kind of ignorance is not at issue in the case of birtherism. Even in communities where birtherism is universal (or at least where any dissent is kept quiet), it must be obvious that not everyone in the US thinks that the elected president was born outside the US and therefore ineligible for office.

Rather, birtherism is a shibboleth, that is, an affirmation that marks the speaker as a member of their community or tribe. (The original shibboleth was a password chosen by the Gileadites because their Ephraimite enemies could not say “Sh”.) Asserting a belief that would be too absurd to countenance for anyone outside a given tribal/ideological group makes for a good political shibboleth.

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Just listened to an interesting bloggingheads exchange between our Henry and Robert Farley on Egypt and zombie international relations.

Two responses: Robert Farley reads a WSJ piece on Egypt and suggests, in effect, that the effect of internet social networking might not be to allow for more connections between protesters – ‘just connect’, as the slogan might be – but to enable aggregate overwhelming of the security response; which, in the end, couldn’t be quite ‘dexterous’ to be in enough places, with enough force, at once. I have no idea whether this is right or not but, as a thesis, it deserves a name, which will obviously be ‘Denial of Service Attack’, DoS for short. Denial of Security Service, that is.

Then they are on to zombies, and Drezner’s book. Farrell and Farley consider whether there is a history of supernatural approaches to political theory – Marx and vampires and a certain amount of para-zombie theory of the market, so forth. Any good Soviet-era socialist zombie political theory? They miss an important data point which, in fact, all historians of the zombie film, and zombie literature have also missed. The ‘modern’ zombie genre does not start with Romero, in 1968. It starts with one of my pet favorite sf films: the 1936 Menzies/Wells film, Things To Come. And it starts as emblematic political theory allegory. You read that right, kids: the modern zombie film genre was born as an explicit exercise in pedagogically illustrating the strengths and weakness of IR realism. [click to continue…]