Monday, October 17, 2011

Simulation of Ontario Vote Suggests Proportional Representation Has Merit

                                        Voting system affects outcome, simulation finds - Ottawa - CBC News

This experiment is fascinating. What I find most intriguing are the hypothetical outcomes in terms of both a percentage of the popular vote and seat distribution based on the actual results of out first past the post Ontario election:

                                                    Actual FPTP Election Outcome and Weighted AV and PR Vote Results
FPTP (Actual election outcome)AV (first preferences)PR
Liberal37.6 %33.6%32.1%

                                                    Actual FPTP seat distribution and estimated PR seat distribution

FPTP (actual election outcome)

Notice how radically different, in particular, the distribution of seats would be under an actualized PR system and how much of the power shifts to both the ONDP and the GPO away from the OLP and PCPO.
There is little doubt that PR is a more fundamentally democratic system of voting for the simple reason that it is more representative of actual voter participation and presumed intention. It does lead to an entirely different kind of governing structure involving much negotiation and many  trade-offs, true, but it is representational government at its most core level - which is why so many around the world use it as their voting system despite the challenges.
And our voting system of FPTP is certainly one but not the only reason for such profound voter indifference and apathy, especially from young and less educated voters, who feel  -  given that they think at all about an election - that  were they to take the time to vote, their vote would almost always be wasted unless they voted for the FPTP winner:  you vote for candidate x, but you don't see that vote reflected in the results in any way.  With a PR system, no matter for whom you voted, you do. It seems to me that this potential for real political participation is a very good reason to begin a serious public conversation about our voting system.


  1. What's missing here is an explanation of why AV wouldn't be effective, without completely giving up on trying to have actual representatives.

  2. Good Point, Jesse, about the omission. It's clearly a very good second choice system, but less democratic than PR in my view because it's a ranking system whereby your lesser choices can come into play. With PR, you choose x and you see that represented directly. In AV, you may not see x at all.

  3. PR is, of course, arguably more democratic. But democracy can include concerns beyond "pure" preference (for example, we put in place constitutional rights which detract from a Parliamentary majority's ability to do whatever they want).

    Two things I would highlight that AV brings along those lines are:

    1) Direct, actual accountability to a riding (as opposed to party only)
    2) Avoiding a situation in which leaders negotiate a coalition that is beholden to tiny special interest parties.

  4. I like 1), but there are other ways to make that happen, and there is no question the imbalance in the riding system itself in terms of real democratic representation is something that also needs to be worked on. As you know, rural ridings have considerable - unwarranted some would say - clout.

    2) This is a consistent fear in coalition governments that may come about as a result of PR, but, as I suggested, negotiations and trade-offs are part of the price. I think they're worth it, in our context, if it gets more people out to vote. Of course you could argue that AV might do that too.

    It's clear we need something other than FPTP, but how to achieve it is another question.

  5. I concur with your concern about the riding imbalances (and, personally, I think we need a lot more ridings).

    I think negotiations and trade-offs are great, but I think it's more democratic to have a system which pushes people towards big tents, instead of fracturing into small, but intense, groups. The first time we have a coalition government between Conservatives and the Christian Heritage Front, we're all screwed.

  6. The Big Tent: Exactly why I argued elsewhere on this blog for the potential necessity to bring the three opposition parties together - not that I'm holding out an ounce of hope.

    We're already screwed without the Christian Heritage Front.

  7. I don't understand this fixation on the left of PR. It is not a good system. It creates a whole bunch of problems within party structures.

    Under PR parties would have to create a hierarchy where the next in line would be added each time the vote for the party goes up.

    If PR is better than our current system then it is only better marginally. What we need is a "range voting" system with the current riding structure intact.

    It is far more democratic that proportional representation.

  8. First off, if you look at PR around the world,you'll discover it isn't only the left that likes PR.

    In some sense it is a hierarchy - a hierarchy by depth of representation within a party. It does indeed change the nature and practices of a given party, and to me that a good things.

    PR actually focuses power more on a given riding because all the votes in a given riding, no matter which party, count. Both the way candidates campaign and their allegiance to the riding would have a change. The results would be surprising no doubt.

    Maybe we can agree that some change has to happen to make representation more democratic than it currently is. I think we need both a voting system change and a riding structural change because, as they are now, ridings are not fully representational. For example, a rural riding with less population has an equal status with a deeply populated urban riding. That's dysfunctional representation.