[EM] Re: alternate proportional method

James Gilmour jgilmour at globalnet.co.uk
Fri Jul 25 16:29:18 PDT 2003

I had written:
> >PR of political parties is obtained only to the extent that 
> the voters
> >vote the parties' tickets.  When the voters do this, party 
> PR results.
> >But when the voters are motivated to seek PR of something 
> other than the
> >parties, party PR does not result.  Thus PR of political 
> parties may be
> >an outcome of STV-PR, but it is never the objective.

Olli asked: 
> I'm not sure I understand the practical significance of this. How is 
> politics different in, say, Ireland, Malta, Northern Ireland, which 
> have used STV for a longish period, from the Scandinavian countries 
> which have used list PR at least as long?

I cannot comment on Malta as I make no attempt to keep up with Maltese politics.  I also think it is
very difficult to make a direct comparison between the political effects of two voting systems by
making that comparison between two countries, especially such different countries as the
Scandinavian countries on the one hand and Ireland and Northern Ireland on the other.  There are so
many other factors that are confounded with that comparison that, at the very best, we should make
it only with great caution.  You must also remember that for all of the recent STV period, Northern
Ireland has been "province" within the UK, with at best, limited devolved powers and for much of
that time, no local powers at all at provincial level.  Bombs and bullets also confound the
political comparison.

At one level you could say the different systems make very little difference.  As most voters mark
most of their highest preferences on a party basis, the general outcome is primarily PR of political
parties in all these countries.  The assessment of other aspects of representation is difficult
because we rarely have any other tags that would allow us to assess the proportionality of anything
other than political party.  Of course, a further caveat with STV-PR is that we don't KNOW that
every first preference vote for a candidate of party A can really be counted, in party terms, as a
"vote for party A", because we don't know why that voter voted for that candidate.

But I do have personal experience of seeing voters in Northern Ireland give high priority to PR of
something other than party.  In one Assembly election some years ago, when party A's leading
candidate was elected with more than a quota of first preferences, a large proportion of his votes
transferred not to the second candidate of the same party, but to the leading candidate of party B.
Party A and party B were in the same part of the political spectrum, but the large number of
transfers away from party A caused great concern to the managers of that party (to put it mildly!).
The reason for this non-party behaviour on the part of those voters was, I discovered, that the
elected candidate of party A and the candidate of party B who received the large number of transfers
were the two of the best known and respected citizens in their local town in a largely rural
constituency.  Those voters were saying that PR of their locality was more important to them than
strict ("pure") PR of their preferred party.  I don't how you might see this reflected in the
politics of the country, but it seems clear to me that this does matter to the electors (because we
see what they do when the voting system gives them that opportunity).  Similar factors (eg locality)
may operate in open-list party list PR when voters mark their one preferred candidate, but the
voters would not normally have the opportunity to vote across party lines to express this

STV-PR does emphasise the accountability of the elected members to their local constituents because
each is elected as a result of receiving a personal quota of votes.  This tends to make the elected
members more attentive to their local constituencies than they are typically in countries where
party list systems are used.  Because of this, some Irish politicians want to abandon STV-PR to
loosen that link so that they can concentrate exclusively on national politics.  Of course, we must
be careful to take into account some other factors that might make the virtue of a strong local link
into a problem, eg the inappropriate small size of many of the electoral districts in Ireland, and
the fact that a significant number of TDs have traditionally also been local councillors.   There
have been two referenda in Ireland to drop STV-PR in favour of FPTP (single-member plurality), but
on both occasions the people voted against the government and forced them to keep STV-PR.


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