It’s been election time south of the border again and that’s got me thinking about how parties go about trying to elected. I should be absolutely clear here – I don’t like political parties of any stripe. I have a hard time with any thing that encourages a group of people to stop thinking and just follow.
One of the things that I’ve noticed in Canada and the U.S. is the tone of the parties not in power. The tone has been the pretty similar, regardless of which group from whatever side of the political spectrum was in power or opposition. This got me to thinking. Is there something about how democracy works that creates some interesting incentives.
Let’s consider a basic voter who is going to making their voting decision based on who they believe will end up making them better off. Generally the party in power is going to try and convince people that things are pretty good and getting better – all pretty straight forward.
Things get really interesting when we start to look at the strategies available to the parties in opposition. One strategy would be acknowledging the achievements of the current government and then arguing that even more could be achieved under the party currently in opposition. Basically, this strategy amounts to saying things are pretty good but they could have been even better. Not very exciting.
The other possible strategy is not to acknowledge the successes of the incumbent and argue not just that things could have been better, but that things are currently bad. In order for political power to change hands a large number of voters have to be convinced that they are unhappy. Mad as hell and not going to take it any more (a la tea party) is best. What makes this really interesting is that we know that people respond more to potential loses than gains. This might be why the Republicans have managed to do so well this time around and the democrats before them.
So the nature of how parties in a democratic system compete for power may actually end up making people feel unhappy. Remember, the self proclaimed “happiest place on earth” (Disneyland) isn’t a democracy.