Sown In The Nature of Man

As, immediately post the Australian election, our elected representatives wrestle over the spoils of power in a satisfyingly ineffective way, my mind turned to the partisan diversity we see in this parliament. We still have two large blocks of Labor and Coalition, plus the much ballyhood four or so independents, and a Green, in the lower house alone. Its worth remembering the Coalition itself is fractured in an increasingly complex and regional way. It is actually a coalition of four parties: Liberal, National, the NT’s Country Liberal Party and Queensland’s LNP. In the Senate, due to statewise proportional representation, we have an additional Green block plus Family First members going in and DLP members going out.

It seems, all in all, a rather nice demonstration of the inverse relationship between ideological homogeneity and faction size. Australian parties have extraordinarily strict whips. Voting against the whip can easily result in loss of preselection or even ejection from the party. An unwhipped vote is such a rarity that it has its own jargon – the conscience vote. According to the aforelinked McKeown and Lundie paper, in federal parliament only 32 bills or issues have gone to conscience vote between 1950 and 2007.

For a quick comparison, in US Congress, there were 858 non-party unity roll call votes. In 2007 alone. In that year, around 90-95% of members voted with their party on roll call votes, and that is historically high. Comparisons with British parliament also quickly show rebellion rates of up and above 40% for particular members.

This should be quantifiable and visualisable, using techniques like Fleisher et al’s or the striking graphs on informal voting Stubborn Mule produced for this election. A bit of munging together the different data sets would be needed though.

The latent causes of faction are thus sown in the nature of man — James Madison, Federalist No. 10

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