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Monday, December 09, 2013
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Did ILP really split the vote?
If the Independent Liberal Party (ILP) did not “split” the vote—as is the prevailing interpretation of the local government elections results go—instead of winning eight of the 14 corporations, the People’s National Movement (PNM) would have won seven of the 14 corporations. That’s right. Even if all 102,814 votes cast for the ILP in the local government elections were added to the People’s Partnership (PP) total, the PNM would still control the Por-of-Spain, San Fernando, Arima, Point Fortin, Diego Martin, San Juan/Laventille and Tunapuna/Piarco Corporations today.
Those who have emphasised that the PNM failed to win a majority of votes cast do have a valid point. In many cases—17 districts to be exact—a PNM candidate was elected councillor when a majority of people wanted someone else.
The fact that a candidate can win with a plurality, rather than a majority, of votes is considered by many to be a major flaw in the first-past-the-post (FPTP) electoral system, which can only be cured by strategic voting or conversion to another electoral system such as a run-off system or proportional representation (PR). The concept of the split vote is simple. Suppose 40 of 100 voters prefer candidate A, and the other 60, while opposed to candidate A, are split 35-25 in support between candidates B and C. In the FPTP system, supporters of candidate C must choose between voting for their preferred candidate “to make a statement,” or voting for candidate B to avoid candidate A from winning. Such a vote for the “lesser of two evils” is called “strategic voting.” Of course, strategic voting requires accurate pre-election measurement (polling) and a sophisticated and informed electorate. A two-round “run-off” voting system solves this problem by allowing voters to choose the candidate or party of their preference on the first ballot, and then return to the polls to chose between the two front runners in cases where no candidate wins a majority on the first ballot.
This system ensures that the winner is elected by a majority vote, and still allows the preferences of the electorate to accurately reflect in the results of the first ballot. So what happened in the local government elections? How would the results have differed if voters were able to chose between two candidates, without the impact of a confounding third choice? It is very difficult to decipher voter intent without asking them directly (in other words a poll), but we can look for hints in the data we have. When compared against the 2003 local government election results, which were nearly identical to this year’s results in terms of the district-level outcomes, the PNM lost 11 points from 53.3 per cent in 2003 to 42.2 per cent this year. The United National Congress (UNC)/National Alliance for Reconstruction (NAR) accommodation lost 12 points from 46.4 per cent to 34.5 per cent this year for the PP. This means that each party or coalition contributed roughly equally in terms of historical supporters to the ILP’s 23 per cent support in 2013.
However, there is no question that the ILP) performed better in historically UNC areas, than historically PNM areas. There is a very strong positive correlation between the ILP vote and the UNC vote, and a very strong negative correlation between the ILP vote and the PNM vote. The ILP did best in Chaguanas and Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo and worst in Port-of-Spain and San Fernando.
It takes some tricky analysis to see how the two can be true at the same time. The answer is that in PNM-dominated areas the ILP took most of their votes from historical PNM supporters, in UNC-dominated areas the ILP took a large chunk of votes from historical UNC supporters, and in battleground areas such as those in Siparia and Mayaro/Rio Claro, the ILP actually performed quite poorly. In 42 competitive three-way races, defined as districts in which no candidate won a majority, the People’s Partnership won 23, the PNM 17 and the ILP 2. Of those 42 seats, 11 were won by the PNM in corporations that the PNM would have won anyway, and 18 were won by the PP in corporations that the PP would have controlled anyway.
For example, nine of these “split-vote” seats fell in PP-dominated Couva/Tabaquite/Talparo Corporation, and the PP claimed eight of these nine. In other words, the analysis shows that there probably already is a fair degree of strategic voting in the population. Everyone wants their vote to be counted, and nobody wants their vote to be “wasted.” In terms of turnout, there is a great correlation between the districts where there is significantly larger turnout, and the districts where the ILP did well. Of the top one-third of districts with greatest increase in turnout over the last local government elections three years ago, the ILP captured 25 per cent of the vote, compared to 21 per cent in the districts where turnout was marginal higher or stagnant. This compares with a vote difference of +2 per cent for the PNM and -7 per cent for the PP in districts with the highest increase in turnout. This hints that the emergence of the ILP had some impact on creating the record-breaking voter turnout this year. While the evidence suggests that vote “splitting” did not affect the overall result of the local government elections, there were some areas where it did. Two of the most fiercely competitive three-way races were in San Juan East and Valsayn/St Joseph. These are two of the four districts that intersect with the parliamentary district of St Joseph that votes today. Valsayn is particularly friendly to third-party candidates where Congress of the People (COP) candidate Gillian Lucky actually captured more votes than her two competitors in a losing effort in 2007.
This article was written by Nigel Henry of Solution by Simulation, a private firm that uses computer modelling to provide insight into political contexts. Solution by Simulation accurately predicted the outcome of the Tobago House of Assembly election, published in our January 14 edition.
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