2014 Ontario Election: Much to lose, little to gain for the NDP
I once wrote about what I called the "n-party problem", how movements of various parties on a political spectrum is much more complicated when n, the number of political parties, is greater than two, analogous to the complicated orbits of n-body solar systems for n greater than two.
The positioning of the parties in the 2014 Ontario election is very strange, one of the stranger campaigns I have seen recently. The Liberals ran quite a bit to the left of where they have typically been, infringing on the NDP - almost daring them to reject their budget. The Conservatives, in contrast, decided to go quite a bit further to the right than they had in past elections. And the NDP, squeezed by the Liberals, has released a plan not much further left than the Liberals with a lot of centre-right leaning rhetoric. It is all a bit bizarre.
In a two party system, like the US, much of this complicated jostling for positioning doesn't happen. As societal views change, the parties move somewhat in tandem through the issues. The amount of political space between the parties varies a bit, but in general if one party moves to the one side (on, say, healthcare) the other party follows it just with a certain political distance away. For instance, in the 90s Republicans proposed something similar to what Obamacare is as an alternative to the public option proposals of the Democrats. When Obamacare was implimented it was too the right of the Democrats from the 90s and the Republican position similarly shifted right.
A high variance position for the NDP:
Because of the strange positioning of the parties, there is a lot of variance in the potential outcome. If the Liberals are reelected, they will have done so on a platform quite a bit to the left of their recent ones. Members of the NDP are taking to calling the Liberal budget an NDP-inspired budget. This should not be seen necessarily as a loss for the NDP. While they didn't get elected, their policies managed to get centre stage and hopefully implemented in the future. The net effect of having the NDP in this scenario is a leftward pressure on the governing Liberals.
If the Liberals lose to the PCs, however, they will be replaced with a government vastly to the right of the current Liberals. The NDP will be entirely responsible for this both in the short sense that they forced the election, and could instead have chosen to implement the left leaning budget, and in the longer term sense that it is largely Liberal/NDP vote splitting that gives Hudak the chance to win in the first place.
Finally, there is the relatively low probability outcome: an NDP win which would create a small leftward change given currently positioning.
By forcing the election, the NDP is making a move with high variance. If the election goes to the Liberals (or the slim chance of the NDP), the effect of the NDP is a small but meaningful leftward force. If the election goes to the Conservatives, the effect of the NDP is a large rightward force.
I have no problem with taking a high variance gamble - I am a poker player, after all - when the net expectation is positive. That is, there is a risk of losing big and of winning big, but if you could run the election 100 times you would end up winning on average. However, when the potential reward (a bit to the left) seems about as likely as the potential loss (a big step to the right), the net expectation is negative. The NDP shouldn't have taken this risk.