Post by David Farrell (September 17, 2011)
Today’s Irish Times editorial draws attention to the preliminary findings from the Irish National Election Study (reported here) that Irish citizens appear to hold a very different view to most of our party leaders (and most prominent media commentators) about our single transferable vote electoral system.
In the last election, all the talk was of electoral reform, with many of the parties setting out what they wanted for their shining new electoral system. The view was that we needed an electoral system that would reduce the excessive constituency emphasis of our TDs and ministers; that we should tone down the over-emphasis on what is often referred to as ‘constituency linkage’.
Based on the INES data, most Irish citizens would appear to disagree. They actually quite like having TDs who live in their constituency and carry out constituency work on their behalf: in short Irish citizens would appear to want current levels of constituency linkage to continue.
Are our political leaders in danger of being out of step with the citizens on this matter? Possibly so, though in fairness, we shouldn’t over-emphasize the findings of this one-off snapshot survey of Irish citizens. The respondents were not given an opportunity to reflect on the implications of their answers, to inform themselves of the complexities of the issues being raised, of the trade-offs that might underlie them. It’s possible that with more information and an opportunity to debate and deliberate opinions might shift on this matter.
It’s interesting to see how Ireland’s debate compares with international trends. Comparative research shows (for a sample, see here [scroll down to panel 26]) that in recent years the tendency in many countries has been to make reforms that, if anything, increase the constituency linkage, to make electoral systems more ‘personalized’. Were Ireland to make the electoral reforms called for by many of our leading politicians and commentators then we’d be going against this trend.
The editorial in today’s Irish Times reflects a wider sense of concern that political reform seems to have gone off the boil of late. Six months into office and apart from the low hanging fruit of relatively minor reforms (see here for a summary), the recent announcement of the Abbeylara referendum (discussed here) and the odd nod and wink about bigger things to come (note the vague references to promised announcements after the presidential election) the reform agenda is starting to show worrying signs of dissipating. We can only hope that it picks up again.