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Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Proportional Representation

Hear Oh Israel has a couple of posts up that are critical of Israel's democratic parlimentary representative system. While the comments are from a definetly right wing perspective, the analysis of proportional representation is sound. For those of you unfamiliar with proportional representation, here is a good overview of how it works. In short, each party gets a percentage of seats based upon the percentage of votes it recieves in the election. This means that smaller parties have a much greater say in the governing process than they do in our winner take all system. I used to be in favor of proportional representation. It struck me as a nice way to make my vote 'count' and to better allow me to pick a party that more closely matched my personal preferences. Certainly the majority of Democracies have chosen this system. I have changed my mind on that however. The problem with proportional representation occurs when it is actually time to form a government, after the election is complete. Due to the diversity of parties a proportional representation system fosters, it is almost unheard of for any one party to gain a clear majority. In order to form a government, the party with the largest number of votes typically has to create a coalition with one or more smaller parties to gain the majority in needs (theoretically the party with the largest votes could be shut out of the eventual governing coalition, but I don't know of any cases where this has happened.) In forming this coalition the parties have to make compromises with one another, diluting the platform on which they ran on. These compromises may make the governing coalition radically different from anything that the voters were actually voting on. In our winner take all system the major political parties are 'pre-formed' coalitions of different voter groups. The Republican Party, for example, is primarily a coalition between social conservatives and traditional small government conservatives. They have compromised on a platform and a common ideology that neither side is fully happy with, but both are mostly willing to accept. A similar dynamic exists in the Democratic Party, although the number of 'voter groups' is greater there. The point is though, we vote for a particular person who has agreed to a public compromise. As a small government conservative, if I vote for a Republican I know that I am going to be furthering the interests of social conservatives, who I frequently disagree with. It is a compromise that I have to make to get what I want. I know though, that I am making this compromise and if, I decide that this compromise is not worth it I can with hold my electoral support. Primary elections further let me influence the nature of the compromise I will be making. I have come to greatly appreciate the fact that the ideological compromises are mostly made before, not after, I vote however. Yes, it means I don't get to vote for my 'perfect' candidate. It puts more work on me as a voter because making compromises can be difficult. It puts me in charge of this though, and that is very important. This is not to say that our system is perfect, I have spoken on Gerrymandering before and it is a serious flaw in our system. On the whole though, I think our two party, winner take all system is a lot more fair, and a lot more democratic, than the proportional representation systems.


Anonymous tsykoduk said...

Why then, when we set up goverments in other countries, do we usally set up "Proportional Representation" style goverments?

Just a question, no point there

6/22/2005 11:23:00 AM  
Blogger Dave Justus said...

Several reasons I suppose.

One is that a lot of countries are more familiar with this due to a legacy of British Colonialism.

Also, I expect we are trying to avoid mandating our system, and Proportional Representation is certainly the most popular form of democracy.

Lastly, and this my be entirely cynical, but many Politicians regard the flaws of proportional representation as a feature, not a but. Proportional Representation gives more power to the party and less to the people. It creates a more predictable government and responds very slowly to changes in the electorate.

That sucks if you are part of the electorate, but if you are an outsider having to deal with the other government predictability on their part is desirable.

6/22/2005 11:40:00 AM  
Blogger Random Gemini said...

What you have to say here makes sense. My American Civ instructor had this to say about our system of government. "Our government is far from perfect, but I still believe that no matter how imperfect, it's the best system there is in existence right now."

I agree with her.

6/22/2005 06:06:00 PM  
Blogger Patrick said...

I think our system is pretty good, I just wish we had instant run-off voting. I think the candidates would become much more interesting! Maybe you can do a post one of these days about your thoughts on instant run-off?

6/22/2005 08:19:00 PM  
Blogger Dave Justus said...

I haven't thought a whole lot on instant run offs. Gut feeling right now is that there is nothing hugely wrong with the concept, but it wouldn't be terribly useful either.

6/23/2005 06:12:00 AM  
Blogger Patrick said...

Well, a Demcraticly-slantd example would be the '00 elections. In instant run-off, people that voted for Nadar would have had Gore as their second choice. Once Nadar was taken out of the running, the final outcome would have put Gore in the lead.

Now, I don't like it just because it would have kept George Bush out of office. I like it because it embraces that fact that politics (and choices of politicians) aren't "A or B", but rather, like most things in life, much more of a gray scale. By having everyone rank their preference, I think the person with the greatest mindshare wins, which feels very democratic to me.

6/23/2005 08:54:00 AM  
Blogger Random Gemini said...

That's an interesting argument that you make there Patrick. I imagine, if a run-off election had been held here in Washington like that, Gregoire wouldn't be in office.

That.. in my mind, would be a very good thing. But we're stuck with her now. *sigh*

6/23/2005 10:27:00 AM  
Blogger The probligo said...

"One is that a lot of countries are more familiar with this due to a legacy of British Colonialism"

Not right, Dave. The "Westminster system" is FPP, always has been and still is. It does not prevent multi-party elections or the need for coalition governments.

NZ changed 12 years back from FPP to MMP based upon the "German" system with both electorate candidate and party votes. Interestingly the only party having problems with it has been sitting to the right of centre.

Personally, I am a firm supporter of MMP for no other reason than the fact that it expands the range of interest and outlook within the parliamentary system. That in my opinion can only be a good thing.

6/23/2005 05:06:00 PM  
Blogger Dave Justus said...

With a bit more research, I stand corrected on the British System.

I was aware that New Zealand had moved to a MMP system, but I thought it had done so from another Proportional Method, not from a single district representation method.

6/23/2005 05:31:00 PM  
Anonymous Chris Rasmussen said...

Israel exhibits the very worst merits of the pr system: a policy supported by less than 20% of its citizens can be pushed through just because you need a coalition.

I do, however, think a 3rd party's future success is somewhat inevitable: the barriers to entry for fundraising and finding fellow supporters have decreased w/the INET as the Dean campaign showed. The next third party candidate need not be a Ross Perot: money can be raised as long as their enthusiasm -- and enthusiasm will be there if the two parties continue to select uncharismatic candidates.

I'd be interested in your thoughts re: whether the British model (Prime Ministers removed by their own party and elected from their own party conferences, Question Time, six-eight week long campaigns, etc...) is preferable?

6/23/2005 09:37:00 PM  
Blogger Dave Justus said...

Heh, as should be obvious by my other mistake, I am probably not qualified to comment on the British system.

I like direct election of Presidents as opposed to the Prime Minister system, but that could be just because of what I am used to. I do tend to prefer divided government though, with one Party in the executive and another party in control of Congress on the whole, so that is a plus with our system to me.

I believe that while they have an official election season of 6-8 weeks, in truth they are, just like our politicians, always campaigning. Our 'official' election season isn't much longer than that, from the Party Conventions until the election is usually 8-12 weeks or so.

6/24/2005 09:23:00 AM  
Blogger Greg said...

Thx for siting several of my posts as a basis for this debate. As you may have expected, I prefer the two-party system. As for proportional representation, I too, used to be in favor of it. Now that I've seen the wonders of having Arab parties, Communist parties, parties in favor of legalizing pot, and far-Left parties all participating in the Israeli election process I realize it has many setbacks.

Although I, myself am no authority on the subject at hand(it is Professor Eidleberg of Yamin Yisrael rather than myself who's responsible for the articles you've linked)just going on what I've been seeing take place before my very eyes, e.g. the vote on disengagement from Gaza and Northern Samaria, I can conclude that Israeli politics have a lot of catching-up to do.

The question is whether we need to catch up to the U.S. or our own heritage. In other words (and I'm leaving this open for debate) is it more important to have a Jewish Israel or a democratic Israel? As many of you are aware, Israeli politicians accross the board claim Israel is a Jewish, democratic State. Not so if one is to ponder democratic ideals as compared to Old Testament law.

6/28/2005 10:13:00 AM  

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