Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Flaws of proportional representation redux

"This electoral system is so distorted!" many NDPers, Greens and other proponents of proportional representation likely screamed as the results solidified the evening of September 27. Fair Vote Canada was one of these groups, and they demanded New Brunswick forthwith implement the New Brunswick Mixed-Member Proportional (NB MMP) system advocated by the Commission on Legislative Democracy.

But if we had NB MMP in place, we might well have heard others screaming the same thing.

In 1947, Winston Churchill said "democracy is the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." You might easily substitute in our specific type of democracy, first-past-the-post.

I re-ran the 2006 election results through the NB MMP model a while back, and explained why I didn't think PR proponents would care much for the result.

Running the 2010 results through NB MMP and comparing it to 2006, raises even more problems.

Here is what the results would have looked like if you apply the 2010 election results through the model using the same assumptions I used in my 2006 analysis.

2010 actual resultsProjected NB MMP seats
Seats% voteRidingRegionalTotal
PC4248.927229
North946.9617
Central1353.0808
Southwest1351.7808
Southeast744.2516
Lib1334.491019
North538.6325
Central129.9134
Southwest129.6134
Southeast639.1426
NDP010.4055
North012.1022
Central07.7011
Southwest011.9011
Southeast09.6011
Green04.5033
North01.6000
Central05.2011
Southwest04.8011
Southeast06.8011


Here you do actually largely achieve what PR proponents want - a seat share for each party relatively close to their vote share. But it also shows for all the distortions this particular brand of PR eliminates, it creates many of its own.

This is the second election we've run through NB MMP where a party that gets less than 50% of the vote still wins a majority government, something that PR proponents view as the most cardinal sin of first-past-the-post.

Also troubling for PR types is that under NB MMP, the NDP didn't win any seats with 5.1% of the vote in 2006, but the Greens won 3 seats with 4.5% in 2010. Talk about a distortion! And another distortion is that while the NDP polled 130% more votes than the Greens, they would only have gotten 67% more seats.

No electoral system is without flaw. And NB MMP certainly has its fair share.

I think that Chris Baker may have had the most succinct analysis of PR here.

UPDATE:

My earlier analysis ignored the fact that under the NB MMP model, parties that get less than 5% of the province-wide vote are not eligible for seats. Therefore, the Green Party would not have won any seats under NB MMP if they got the same share of the vote as they did last night.

Here is a revised projection of the results under NB MMP:

2010 actual resultsProjected NB MMP seats
Seats% voteRidingRegionalTotal
PC4248.927229
North946.9617
Central1353.0808
Southwest1351.7808
Southeast744.2516
Lib1334.491120
North538.6325
Central129.9145
Southwest129.6134
Southeast639.1426
NDP010.4077
North012.1022
Central07.7011
Southwest011.9022
Southeast09.6022


Under this model, the Greens lose their Central seat to the Liberals and their other 2 seats to the NDP. This to me presents even greater problems. The Greens, while breaking 5% in two regions of the province and nearly hitting 5% province-wide are shut out.

A question has been asked, even though NB MMP is imperfect, is it better than the status quo? I would argue it is not. To move to NB MMP you give up a large degree of local representation and create two classes of MLAs. In exchange, you are supposed to get more parties represented and prevent parties who don't receive a majority of the vote from winning a majority government. This delivers partially on one point and not at all on the other.

8 comments:

Jeff J said...

"When people thought the Earth was flat, they were wrong. When people thought the Earth was spherical they were wrong. But if you think that thinking the Earth is spherical is just as wrong as thinking the Earth is flat, then your view is wronger than both of them put together"
- Isaac Asimov

Alvy Singer said...

The McLaughlin Commission's report also included a 5% threshold for getting any "list" seats - so in fact the Greens would have been shutout.

Although if the voters knew that their vote could contribute to a list seat for a party, then I suspect that the Greens would have cleared the 5% threshold (and the NDP would have done much better in the popular vote as well). Simply laying the FPTP results over the MMP model doesn't work.

Also - the relevant question shouldn't be whether or not MMP is perfect. The question should be whether or not it is preferable to the status quo.

nbpolitico said...

You are right, Alvy I apologize. I will re-run the numbers.

Brideau said...

I must admit that I'm a bit disappointed by the level of analysis you have used in forming your argument.

You've effectively erected a man of straw by taking a tenet that is held by only some proponents of PR (that of a majority government being held by a party that got a minority of the popular vote) and discredit the MMP form of PR almost solely on that basis. There are countless other basises from which one can build an argument for PR, yet none of them so much as get a brief mention in your article.

I would also recommend you look into research regarding whether or not local representation has any real benefit to constituents on the whole. I suspect you will be surprised.

If you have the time, I recommend you pick up the books "The Politics of Voting" by Dennis Pilon and "The Wisdom of Crowds" by James Surowiecki. The former goes into extensive details on many of the above topics I mention, and the latter gives a very strong case for why more diverse groups of people consistently produce ideas of greater quality in contrast to a homogenous group.

DL said...

You are also ignoring the possibility that if there was an MMP system - it would have an impact on how people would vote. All of a sudden there would be no more fear that voting NDP or Green would be "wasted votes" so its quite possible that the level of support for smaller parties would go up considerably.

Here And Now Kind Of Guy said...

Maybe we need to consider our own "Made in New Brunsiwck" model for proportional representation?

For those who are interested, here's an idea to consider: https://sites.google.com/site/berepresentedinnb/

Tim said...

A question about the analysis - if the PC's get 49% of the vote, they only get 2 regional seats. Wouldn't they get 1/2 of the proportional seats given they got 1/2 the vote?

nbpolitico said...

Tim - The way the model works, is that the regional seats are used to balance out the riding seats. In an extreme scenario, a party winning a relatively small share of the vote could win all of the regional seats if they won few or no riding seats.