Divided parties don’t win elections. There is no truer maxim.
The reason is simple. Behavioural risk studies show clearly that, given the option of:
- a) paying 40p for one can; or
- b) paying 70p for an even chance of being given one can, two cans or three cans;
people almost universally choose a).
Logically, clearly, it’s the inferior option – on average a) yields a price of 40p/can, and b) of 35p/can. Yet human beings, as they are, will take the safe option – because that way they know precisely what they are getting.
It’s the same when they go to the polls. They may well have the choice of:
- a) a united party, albeit one which offers only 40% of what they want; or
- b) a divided party, some of whose candidates offer 25%, some 50%, and some 75%.
Again, the chances are that a candidate from the united party a) will offer less of what the voter wants than the candidate from the divided party b). But voters, being human, will take the safe option – again, because they know precisely what they are getting.
That is why divided parties lose elections.
The inevitable consequence is this article by Jason O’Mahony, and particularly Points 2 and 3 – they apply universally across both Irish jurisdictions, but also pretty much everywhere in Europe where there’s a link between voter and person (as opposed to where people vote for party bloc).
When candidates put forward different ideas or radical proposals (admittedly usually not quite as radical as opposing one of your party’s core objectives and one of your party’s most prominent policy positions, as one SDLP candidate recently did repeatedly), they will generally be lauded by academia for their bravery.
But they will inevitably create divisions within their party; and thus, as a consequence of the above, ensure their party gets stuffed at the polls by the voters – most of whom are far removed from academia, have only a passing interest in politics, and are thus concerned only about knowing (without much effort) precisely what they are getting when they cast their ballot.
Thus, as some will soon learn, electoral politics is no place for fresh thinking and innovation – that’s what think tanks are for, which is why Northern Ireland desperately needs them…