[EM] Criterions for party-list PR systems

Juho Laatu juho.laatu at gmail.com
Sun Sep 6 06:16:13 PDT 2015

> On 06 Sep 2015, at 12:10, Vidar Wahlberg <canidae at exent.net> wrote:

> I'm not entirely convinced that candidate methods are superior to
> party-list methods. I do agree that they give greater freedom, but
> they're arguably more likely to turn the election into a popularity
> contest where who the candidates are become more important than their
> policies. Party-list systems won't fully remove the popularity contest
> either, but they help shift the focus away from the candidates to the
> policies of the party the candidates are representing.
> Shifting focus away from charisma to ideology/policies I would argue is
> an important goal in political elections, albeit it's not an easily
> measurable goal as opposed to the voting system criterions.

Some discussion on properties of list and candidate based methods follow.

Some people don't like party lists because they don't like parties in general, and they think using a method that does not use the party structure at all could help in reducing the power of the parties (or their main offices) somehow.

Party lists at least seem to force candidates to represent a fixed policy. This is however more related to the ability of parties to nominate the candidates.

Party affiliations make it more difficult to the candidates to collect votes by telling different stories to different audiences. This is one key reason why party affiliations can be seen as a central feature supporting voters in making sensible decisions. I mean that one key problem of the concept of democracy is that most voters do not follow politics vary much and do not have time to evaluate all the candidates and their opinions. Therefore they will benefit of having some clear groupings that represent some typical policies that voters might want to support. The true opinion of the voters can be measured better this way.

Party lists (and other methods that support groupings) make it possible to have a large number of candidates (more than the voter wants to handle when filling the ballot). It is easy to indicate support to a named grouping, or allow a vote to an individual candidate to benefit also the related party / grouping.

One problem of pure party list methods is that they do not measure second preferences. This makes it difficult for small parties or other groupings or individual candidates to run. The voters feel that their vote is wasted if they vote for a small grouping that will not get any seats. This problem could be alleviated by some tricks (e.g. by allowing second preferences to be indicated by voters (or by parties)).

One problem of pure candidate based methods is the above mentioned problem of handling numerous candidates. This problem could be alleviated by allowing voters to name parties / groupings.

As you say, candidate based methods allow some populist candidates, or candidates that are well known for other reasons, or just pretty to look, to win seats easier that candidates that are good but without such vote collecting features. Also open lists have been criticised because of this possibility. Closed lists are not immune to this problem either since parties tend to nominate popular candidates also on the closed list. I don't think the number of candidates that are very popular for other reasons but poor politicians is very high anywhere. And on the other hand pretty faces and deep voices help everywhere. Note also that allowing voters to decide freely this way fights another possible problem, namely the ability of the party offices to favour the inner circle and candidates that are most loyal to it. What is the best balance between allowing the parties to decide which candidates will be elected vs. allowing the voters to freely decide (including the ability to elect some pretty and popular faces)? Note that the dividing line may be more already between open and closed party lists, and not between party list and candidate based methods.

(I'll skip the influence of primaries. They would just make the discussion more complex without adding much to it.)

I have sometimes promoted also methods that allow party internal groupings to be named. This would help voters in making decisions, and this could help implementing party internal proportionality in list based systems. Some parties may not like this approach since they want to promote uniformity within the party (maybe to be stronger and to promote their key values in an uniform way, or maybe to emphasize the role of the central office of the party and to eliminate any risk of opposition or even party fragmentation).

If one wants to avoid party internal groupings (fro the aforementioned reasons), one could still allow candidate ranking within the party. This is one way of trying to capture the best parts of both list and candidate based methods. (This would work specially in countries that already are list oriented. In countries that are candidate based method oriented, one can approach the same problem by introducing groupings to the candidate based methods.)

There are thus benefits and problems on both sides. Some mixtures of the properties of both sides could make some good methods.


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