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How PR systems work and their effects

How PR systems work and their effects

 What is proportional representation?

•Proportional representation describes any electoral system that converts votes into seats in a broadly proportional way.

•There are several electoral systems used in the UK.

•These include the Single Transferable Vote, the Additional Member System and the Closed List system.

•Majority systems are similar to PR systems in that they attempt to add greater legitimacy to the winner by ensuring that the winner receives as near to 50% of the vote as possible.

•For these reasons, it is acceptable to describe the Supplementary Vote a “majoritarian” system that “delivers more proportional results than FPTP”.

STV and the effects

 •This is the most complex system.

•Voters are represented by more than one representative. There are “multi-member” constituencies.

•Voters rank candidates in order of preference 1,2,3 etc. (It’s as easy as 1,2,3).

•Winning candidates are elected by reaching a quota VOTES ÷ SEATS + 1.

•So if 100 people voted and there were five seats on offer, the winning candidate would require 21 votes.

•When a winning candidate reaches a threshold, their second and subsequent preferences are redistributed (transferred) among the remaining candidates.

•The process repeats itself until all the seats are filled.

•It is used for elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly and for Scottish local elections.

Effects: STV  has propelled (pushed) the more extremist parties into power in Northern Ireland (the DUP and Sinn Fein) but this ironically got the two sides talking again; it has broken the link between a single representative and their constituents; it favours smaller parties; it confused voters in Scotland in the 2007 elections, which were held on the same day as elections to the Scottish Parliament (which uses AMS).

Regional list and the effects

•Perhaps this is the most simple PR system and the most proportional.

•Each party submits a list of candidates.

•There are closed list systems (voters can only choose a party) and open list systems (voters can select a party and a candidate).

•Only the closed list system is used in the UK – for elections to the European Parliament.

•The country is divided up into regions.

•The number of seats a party wins is proportional to the share of the vote it receives.

•Thus, if a party wins 30% of the vote in South East, then 30% of candidates on that party’s list are elected.

Effects: The link between representatives and constituents has been virtually destroyed; it is difficult to find many voters who know who their MEP is – London alone is represented by 8 MEPs; the closed list allows parties to dominate which candidates are selected; the 2014 elections to the European Parliament produced broadly proportional results (UKIP received 27% of the vote and received 33% of the seats; UKIP now has more seats in the European Parliament than any other UK party, despite the fact that it wants Britain to leave the EU; extremist parties such as the British National Party did not win seats in 2014, but did win a seat in 2009;

AMS and the effects

•AMS is not strictly speaking a PR system.

•It is a “hybrid system” – a mix between First Past the Post and Closed List.

•Each voter has two votes – one for a party and one for a candidate.

•Each constituency elects one candidate (using FPTP). Two-thirds of the seats are re-distributed in this way.

•The parties who fare poorly under FPTP then have their seats “topped” up (closed list).  One third of the seats are distributed in this way.

•The system is used to elect the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. It is also used to elect the Greater London Assembly (GLA).

Effects: The SNP are now running the government in Scotland, as a minority government – this means the party does not have a majority of seats; Labour are running a minority government in Wales – this means that they are the largest party but still do not have over 50% of the seats so they need to get support from other parties to get measures through the assembly; AMS has lead to a rise in nationalism and independence movements – Scotland is now run by a party that wants independence from the UK; both Labour in Wales and the SNP in Scotland are finding it difficult to get things done, as AMS denies parties a large majority of seats; there are two types of representative – a constituency representative and a party list representative; the party list representatives have taken on leadership roles more easily because they have fewer distractions (like constituents) to contend with; smaller parties such as the Liberal Democrats have participated in government; coalitions have been relatively stable; they have produced real policy differences – tuition fees were not introduced in Scotland and prescription drugs are free for the under 25s in Wales; UKIP won its first seats to the Welsh Assembly in 2016; AMS has therefore not prevented anti-immigrant parties from gaining representation; AMS has led to a Tory revival in Scotland with the party finishing second ahead of Labour in the 2016 Scottish Parliamentary elections.

Supplementary Vote and its effects

•This system is used to elect the London Mayor.

•Each voter gets two votes – a first and second preference.

•There are two rounds of counting.

•In the first round, the first preference votes are counted.

•If no candidate gets of 50% of the first preference votes, then a second round of counting begins.

•In this second round, all candidates apart from the leading two are eliminated.

•The second preference votes for the eliminated candidates are then transferred to the candidates still left in.

•In the 2016 election for London Mayor:

•Sadiq Khan received 44% of the vote in the first round of counting:

•Zaq Goldsmith received 35%

•In the second round, once second preferences were included:

•Khan received 57%

•Goldsmith received 43%

•The winning candidate usually received a majority of First and Second preference votes

•It ensures that the least hated person / most acceptable wins

•The winning candidate is the one who wins the most first AND second preference votes combined. 

•This is why Sadiq Khan won


•Fewer votes are wasted than under FPTP.

•Even Green voters knew that their second preference vote might count even if their first one didn’t.

•The system promotes a two-horse race. The Green candidate, Sian Berry, was eliminated because she received only 5.8%% of the vote.

•Alliances with other parties are critical. Sadiq Khan won many second preference votes from Green votes.

•UKIP won 94,000 votes in the 2016 mayoral election but non-moderate parties have little chance of winning under SV.

•This is because SV ensures that the “least hated” candidate  wins.

•Why? By having a second preference voters are able to choose a candidate “they don’t mind”. This is why the BNP could never win, because very few people would say “they don’t mind” the BNP. 

How important is the Cabinet in British politics?

How important is the Cabinet in British politics?

Is it time for PR?

Is it time for PR?