(Hey, we get great comments here, too -- no offensive to the regulars, and thanks for your comments).
Next...my main interests in the election have been (1) the entertainment value, which I have to say it delivered on pretty well; and, (2) the first-past-the-post/PR debate and other questions in democratic institutions, parties, and representation. I posted about that before the election, and Hedrick Hertzberg, p.r. supporter, responded by giving a stripped down version of his case for proportional representation. As I said originally, my position is mostly neutral, and cautious (and this morning I saw David Butler, the British political scientist, make almost the exact same case on the BBC; as he said, all such systems have their strengths and weaknesses).
What I really don't understand is how proponents of proportional representation -- and multiparty systems -- get around how problematic post-election maneuvering to form a government can be. Of course, the two are not identical, as shown by not only yesterday's results but the general failure of any UK party to reach 50% for a long time. Still, first-past-the-post does, usually, yield a two-party system and therefore majority governments, while proportional systems tend to yield multiparty systems, with no party able to organize government on its own.
Which results in a situation such as the one now in the UK, or the one now in Iraq -- election over, votes are counted, and all that's left is for the elites to bargain with each other about, well, who gets to be a winner and who gets to be a loser. Obviously, it's not as if the voters had no say in the whole thing, since their votes do set the stage for the current process. But after that...well, as far as I can see, the election results could yield any number of things about which I've seen speculation:
- A Tory minority government;
- A Tory-LibDem coalition government;
- A Labor-LibDem coalition government;
- Or, an all-parties government.
And that's not the only trouble with proportional systems, just the one that strikes me as particularly problematic. There's also the potential for minor parties to hijack the system (the Israel problem), the potential for serious instability (the Italy problem), and one I'll include just for Matt Yglesias -- the complexities of voting when it's not a binary choice between the "ins" and the "outs." (Of course, the American system, as Yglesias never hesitates to point out, manages to make such distinctions impossible even with only two parties). But none of those really bothers me; it's the post-election negotiating that I just can't work my way around.
Once again: I'm not arguing that single district, simple plurality electoral systems are necessarily better; they have their problems, too, and as I've said, I'm agnostic about how the relative strengths and weaknesses balance in the abstract, and so my inclination is to be hesitant about change. I just, really, don't understand why enthusiastic proponents of proportional systems don't see post-election coalition formation as deeply problematic as far as democracy is concerned.