[EM] Re: PR not representing median voter

Alex Small asmall at physics.ucsb.edu
Wed Jul 23 22:00:20 PDT 2003

Kevin Venzke said:
> On any issue, you could arrange the voters (i.e., the people being
> represented by the legislature) in a spectrum.  Without the median voter
> you can't have a  majority position on that issue.
> Thus if the electoral method produces a legislature that enacts policies
> that aren't supported by the median voter (that is, "median" on that
> particular  issue), I don't think that legislature is particularly
> legitimate.

Well, say that the breakdown of the voters is

40% left
40% right
20% center

These are just general proclivities.  They aren't guarantees for how
people will feel about every single issue.  There could be some issues
that have support from left and right but not center.  This would indicate
that, on particular issues, center isn't really center.  On those issues,
there's still a median voter and median legislator, so a legislature
elected by PR is always enacting policies supported by its median
legislator (who hopefully represents the median voter on that particular

So a legislature doesn't need to over-represent the median voter to get
policies that satisfy a majority of the electorate.  At least not in

Still, I understand the desire to over-represent the median.  Here's a
modest proposal for a legislative body:

Each constituency (geographic, demographic, virtual, whatever) elects N+1
representatives.  N of them are elected by PR, with a system that
generally respects a quota of 1/(N+1) (I can never remember whether that's
a Droop quota or Hare quota).  The remaining legislator from that
constituency is elected by a single-winner method (pick your favorite, and
debate amongst yourselves which method best represents the "median

This system is still pretty darn proportional if N is, say, 9, but it
ensures a certain guaranteed representation for the center.  Since the
center will tend to be a stabilizing force, this will (hopefully) be
conducive to compromise.

> Well, I don't think you understood the idea.  But there are worse ideas
> in the archive...  There was a fellow who wanted to take the vote away
> from the rich...

Democracy means a lot of things to a lot of people.  To some paranoid
types on the right it means "50.1% of the electorate can enslave the other
49.9% if they so wish".  (These paranoid types are responsible for
websites that rant about the difference between a republic and a
democracy.)  To others it simply means any system in which the government
is accountable to the people via free electoral processes.

To me, the best version of democracy is one in which a policy needs at
least a simple majority of the voters to be enacted, but in some cases
needs more, and then there are some policies that can't be enacted at all
(e.g. a law violating the Bill of Rights).  Saying that majority support
is necessary but not always sufficient leaves a lot of leeway.


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