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Thread: Single Member District/Plurality method vs. Proportional Representation

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    Jul 2006
    The Vodka Belt

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    Default Single Member District/Plurality method vs. Proportional Representation

    In democracies, there are commonly two different methods to elect legislature or parliament, which often results in who get to run the government as the executive branch (but not always, as seen in the US). The two ways are the single member district (SMD) aka plurality method and proportional representation.

    The first one, SMD, is not too common among democracies, but it is present in big countries like the US, the UK and Canada. The essence of this method is that a country divides itself into several political districts, often referred to as constituencies, and then the inhabitants in each of the constituencies vote for the one they want to be represented by and the one who wins goes to the parliament/legislature. A person only need the most votes to win, not the majority of the votes.
    For instance, person A could get 40% of the votes, person B 35% of the votes and person C the last 25% of the votes. Even though person A didn't get the majority of the votes, she got the plurality of the votes and therefore wins the election of that constituency. The other persons lose and get nothing. Thus this method is sometimes referred to as the "first-past-the-post" method. Person A wins even though the majority didn't want her to represent them, they wanted someone else to represent them. Not very democratic, is it? Also, the votes for person B and C get thrown away. This often results in that supporters of minority parties can't be bothered with voting in their constituencies when they know that their vote won't mean a thing. If party A consistently has won the election in a certain constituency, what is the point of voting for party B when all those votes will be thrown away?
    It is seen that small parties often have no chance in countries which run their election through the SMD method, because the votes they get won't ever count since there always is a bigger party. That way, the smaller parties will never get to sit in the legislature and the country's politics ends up as a two-party stand off as seen in the USA; here you get, in practice, to vote for either the Democrats or the Republicans. If you don't believe in the far right policy, then that's tough, there is no alternative with any meaning. Any votes for a non-far-right party will simply be thrown into the bin.

    To sum the SMD method up in an example, we can see how the elections to the British House of Commons went in 1992:
    The Conservatives got 41,9% of popular vote and 51,6% of seats in the House of Commons.
    The Labour Party got 34,4% of popular vote and 41,6% of seats.
    The LibDems got 17,8% of popular vote and 3,1% of seats.
    All the other parties got 5,9% of popular vote and 3,7% of seats.

    A worst scenario could be found in a system like the one US has where there are only to parties capable of winning. If every constituency in the US had an outcome where the Republicans won 51% of the votes and the Democrats won 49% of the votes, then the Republicans would get 100% of the seats in the House of Representatives. Remember, this is just hypothetical.

    Not very democratic nor very representative of what the voters want.

    The other example, proportional representation, is a nation-wide system. Here a party's share/percentage of the votes is just as high as its seats in the legislature. If party A wins 55% of the nation-wide votes, it will get 55% of the seats in parliament. If party B wins 30% of the votes, it will get 30% of the seats in parliament. So on and so on with party C, D, E etc.
    Here the parties get what they deserve. It is highly democratic. This is the system that is most used today by democracies. It also is proven that proportional representation gives the most political participation by voters compared to the SMD system.
    Smaller parties also get a chance to have a say in the political arena as their votes actually count even though there are bigger parties. If you do not agree with the mainstream political ideas, you can vote for alternatives and your wishes have a opportunity to be heard and represented.

    So after the veeeeeeery long summary of democratic election 101, what is your opinion on these two methods and your country's use of one of them? Is a country truly democratic when using an SMD method?

    I probably forgot about a lot of things, but just ask and I'm sure someone can answer you. I also believe many here know all about this and you can just skip down here to the question.
    Last edited by RageAndLov; 12-18-2010 at 12:51 PM.
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