[EM] STV district magnitude

James Gilmour jgilmour at globalnet.co.uk
Fri Jul 18 16:05:52 PDT 2003

I had said (> > ): 
> >Israel uses closed party list in one national district.  This is the
> >worst possible combination of all PR systems.  

James Green-Armytage replied (> ): 
> 	I agree that closed list is a bad idea, but I don't 
> agree that nationwide
> list is a bad idea, especially in a small country like Israel.

We shall have to disagree on that.

> >Any group that can secure
> >1/120th of the national vote will get a seat in the Knesset. 
>  This give
> >representation to very small groups which makes it possible for the
> >extremes of the political spectrum to gain representation. 
> 	This might be one of the main points that we disagree 
> on. Personally, I
> have no desire to exclude the "extremes of the political 
> spectrum" from
> having seats in the legislature, provided that they have no more seats
> than they deserve in terms of their proportion of the vote.
> I thought that that was pretty much the main purpose of 
> proportional representation: to allow minority political views into
> discussion at the highest levels of government.

There is more to effective representation and effective democracy than
maximised PR.  If the maximal PR has adverse effects, I am quite
prepared to see the PR restricted - though I prefer to see that done
through some logical determination of district magnitude rather than an
arbitrary threshold.

> 	I refuse to make the value judgement such that if a 
> political view is
> only supported by 1/120th of the people in a state, that view is
> automatically invalid, "extremist", or wrong.

I did make any value judgements.  No small minority view is "invalid" or
"wrong", though I may disagree with it profoundly, just as I may
disagree profoundly with a large minority view or the majority view.

However, no one can deny that the views of the very smallest groups
usually are "extremist", ie extremely different from one another and
usually extremely different from the majority or consensus.  That does
not make them wrong - just "extremist".

> 	Do you really disagree with this? This is more of a 
> value judgement than
> a factual or causal statement, but it is possible to discuss it if our
> disagreement is stemming from this point.

My problem is with the way most extremist groups behave.  In
parliamentary systems where majority government is expected, and the
governing coalition depends on such small, extremists groups, they
usually exploit the situation so that they exert power out of all
proportion to the support they have within the electorate.


> 	I have already expressed my confusion with and distaste 
> for parliamentary
> systems where coalition majorities need to maintain some kind 
> of formal
> cohesion lest the whole government come crashing down.

We have what we have and we have to make it work as best we can.  There
are quite different political cultures within parliamentary democracies
around the world.  Some expect single-party majority government.  Some
happily accept minority government.  Some expect majority coalition
government.  In some parliaments a single vote against the government
immediately produces calls for a formal vote of no confidence, which the
government must then win.  Some democracies have a more mature approach
and understand that the government need not win every vote on every
piece of legislation and policy it brings forward.  Unhappily for those
of us who live in the UK, we have one of the least mature parliaments,
despite its age.  Our political culture expects single-party majority
government and expects the government to win the vote on every issue it
puts to the House of Commons.

> (That  was in the
> July 16 STV district magnitude which got me into this thread 
> in the first
> place. By the way James, I would appreciate your reading that, if you
> haven't already, since it is really the same topic.) 

I had read it, and I have read it again.

> 	But instead of trying to squelch small parties, why not 
> change the system
> to allow for parties and individual candidates to vote 
> sometimes in the
> majority and sometimes in the minority, without having the 
> government fall apart. 

Fine, but when it comes to a vote of confidence, as it sometimes will,
the government must secure a majority or fall.  Then the very small
extremist parties really exploit the situation.  You must remember that
some of these groups hold such extreme views (ie extremely different
from the overwhelming majority of the electors in their country) and
hold those views so strongly, that would prefer to plunge their country
into chaos (and bloodshed) rather than to concede one iota of their own
extreme policy.  That does make democratic parliamentary government
rather difficult.

> 	In the absence of coalition-toppling threats, I would 
> argue that PR
> systems definitely *do* encourage small parties to "seek accommodation
> with those of less extreme views". (Or, to be less judgmental: 'more
> popular views'.)

I know of no evidence for this in most party list PR systems.  Certainly
there is plenty of evidence that closed-list party list PR has the
opposite effect.  Disaffected factions within larger parties do not seek
accommodation - they split off to form their own separate parties.

[Incidentally - in your earlier post you mentioned Italy and said its
parliament was elected by MMP.  This is a recent innovation.  For most
of last century, Italy used party list PR.  It had particular political
problems when the Communists repeatedly won 35% - 45% of the votes and
the seats, but none of the other parties would allow them into
coalition. However, PR cannot be wholly blamed for Italy's plethora of
political parties.  Before 1919 it used the majoritarian second ballot
and there were just as many small parties then.]

In contrast, STV-PR does have the effect of encouraging accommodation.
If coalition government is a likely outcome and there is divergence of
view within the potential coalition parties about the desirability of
forming a coalition, the supporters of those parties can send a strong
message about what they want by giving their higher preferences to pro-
or anti-coalition candidates as they wish.

The Dail 2002 election also presents some relevant results.  The Green
Party had fewer first preference votes than Sinn Fein, but the Green
Party elected more TDs because they picked up more transfers from
supporters of other parties.  Those voters were expressing very clearly
their views about where these two parties lay along the political

> 	My point is that there are different degrees of 
> representation. Is the
> winning candidate necessarily the first choice of 50% of the 
> electorate?
> Of course not. Do those 50%+ really agree with everything 
> that candidate
> does? Of course not. 
> 	Sooner or later, 50%+ of the ballots got transferred to 
> one candidate,
> but that candidate does not necessarily represent all of 
> those voters very
> well.
> 	There are different degrees of representativeness. There is
> representativeness that is rather vague, and there is 
> representativeness
> that is more specific.

This is all very fine in the abstract, but in real elections we try to
measure "representation" by numbers of whole candidates elected and
numbers of electors whose votes counted towards that result.

> >I don't see that the legislature has to be large. 
> 	My point was that, yes, district magnitude and locality 
> do pull in
> opposite directions, as you said, but *only* if you assume 
> that the size
> of the legislature is constant.

If you are working for voting reform of an existing legislature
(council, regional assembly or national parliament), the size is de
facto fixed.  There is little enthusiasm for increasing the numbers of
elected politicians anywhere.  And as a practical reformer, the fewer
things you want to change when promoting voting reform, the greater your
chance of success.

> >I am also
> >prepared to vary the numbers of electors per elected member, 
> in addition
> >to varying the numbers of members per district.  I know this 
> is greeted
> >with horror by many "PR purists", but I live in the real 
> world and know
> >what real people want, at least here in Scotland. 
> 	If you mean for example having one 10 member district 
> with 1,000 people,
> and another 10 member district with 3,000 people, then this 
> is obviously
> unfair, as the 1,000 people have three times more representation per
> person than the 3,000 people.
> 	I can imagine plenty of real people who would want to 
> vote in the 1,000
> person district, but any rational person in the 3,000 person district
> would prefer that they get 30 representatives rather than 10, 
> and it would
> be fair for them to demand this.
> 	I realize that this kind of disproportionality is 
> common in national
> governments, but in normative terms, I think that it is 
> obviously bad. 

While I agree that the starting position should be equality, quite large
differences are tolerated when historic localities are taken into
account.  For example, in Northern Ireland, Lisburn District Council is
divided into five (US electoral) districts, electing 5, 5, 4, 4 and 4
members each.  The average number of electors per councillor is 2,222,
but the actual numbers in the five districts vary from that average by
+23%, -5%, -16%, +17% and -19%.  "PR Purists" may scream, but it works
and is accepted  -  it is what the local electors want.

> 	The US senate for example, has 2 senators for every 
> state, even though
> some states have dozens of times the populations of other 
> states. For this
> reason, it is very hard for me to see the senate as a legitimately
> democratic governing body.

This raises a very different subject.  It goes into aspects of political
philosophy and culture that extend well beyond the voting system.  As I
understand it, it is intended to be a mechanism to protect the small and
to prevent the tyranny of the large majority.  The same arrangement
exists for the Senate of the Australian Federal Parliament, where each
of the States has 12 representatives irrespective of population.  The
reasons for these arrangements are almost certainly tied to the history
of the time when these institutions were created.  I leave it to others
to debate their relevance in 2003.  Here in the UK we have our own,
somewhat different problems in deciding how best to procure the members
of the second chamber of the UK Parliament!!


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