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Proportional Electoral Systems Cause as Many Problems as They Solve

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Submitted By GregOxley
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A proportional electoral system is a system which produces a close fit between votes and seats. A formula is used to match the percentage of seats won by each party to the percentage of votes they won. Simply put; the number of votes that the party receives determines the number of seats in parliament they achieve. Examples of a proportional electoral system included the Additional Member System as used in Wales and the Single Transferable Vote as used in the Republic of Ireland. There are however alternative systems that don’t use proportional representation – these include First Past the Post – a system which means the winner only needs 1 more vote than its closest rival – not an absolute majority and the Alternative Vote where if no candidate secures an absolute majority of first preferences, the lowest placed candidate is eliminated and the second preferences of his or her voters are transferred to the remaining candidates. The purpose of this essay is to discuss both the advantages and disadvantages of proportional electoral systems as well as systems that don’t use proportional representation to come to the conclusion as to whether Proportional electoral systems cause as many problems as they solve.
One example of a proportional electoral system is the Additional Member System ; this is where the elector casts two votes – one for their favoured candidate in a single member constituency and one for their favoured party from a party list in a multi member constituency. Additional members are allocated on a corrective basis to ensure that the total number of seats for the party is proportional to the number of votes they won.
Another example of a proportional electoral system is the Single Transferrable Vote as used in the Republic of Ireland. Voters indicate their preference by writing 1, 2, 3 etc by their preferred candidates. To be elected, the candidate must achieve a quota – if no candidate achieves the quota on the first count, the lowest placed candidate is eliminated and their second preference vote is transferred.
There are several advantages to proportional electoral systems, these include; the Additional Member System balances the desirability of constituency representation with that of fairness in election outcomes therefore making it a fair and effective system. Voters also have a greater choice with the Additional Member Service – the split ticket system means that constituents vote to support a candidate from one party and their list vote to support another – this ensure there is a wide range of parties represented. Another advantage from a proportional electoral system, this time the Single Transferrable Vote is that only a party or a group of parties that wins more than 50% of the popular vote can form a government therefore ensuring that the government is being run by a party which won the majority of votes. The Single Transferrable Vote also means that voters can choose between a large range of candidates, including different candidates from the same party meaning that they can vote for the politician they believe will best represent their needs in parliament.
Despite there being advantages to Proportional Electoral Systems there are also several disadvantages which go some way in proving the statement that “Proportional electoral systems cause as many problems as they solve” One disadvantage caused by the proportional electoral system Single Transferrable Vote is the fact that it is likely to produce a coalition government that may be unstable and give disproportional influence to minor parties that hold the balance of power. A key example of this is the 2010 general election whereby there was a hung parliament which resulted in the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats entering into a Coalition government- a government made up of more than one party. Issues from the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Coalition government include both parties having to compromise on their ideologies thus letting down their supporters. Another disadvantage from the Coalition Government of 2010 is that conflict within governance due to differing ideologies makes for a fractious government whilst also weakening government.
It is clear that Proportional Electoral Systems create both advantages and disadvantages and do create as many problems as they solve. There are other methods that whilst they don’t achieve proportionality; they don’t create as many issues. An example of a system that isn’t proportional representation is the First past the post system – a simple plurality system in which the winner needs one more vote than their closets rival – not an absolute majority. Advantages of this system include it is simple and easy to understand and operate. The ballot paper is simple – electors can only vote once and counting the votes is straight forward. Voters are familiar with the system. First past the post also promotes a strong and stable government – by favouring the main parties and giving the winning party an additional bonus of seats FPTP produces a strong government. Single party governments with working majorities exercise significant control over the legislative process. They can fulfil their mandate by sticking to the policy commitment made in their manifestos and act decisively in times of crisis. The Alternative Vote is also a non proportional electoral system which has its advantages. Voters have to put 1 by their first choice, 2 by their second choice and so on. If no candidate secures an absolute majority of first preferences, the lowest placed candidate is eliminated and the second preference of his or her voters are transferred. Advantages of this system include the link between representatives and their constituencies is retained and the winning candidate is broadly supported.
In conclusion, I agree that proportional electoral systems do create as many problems as they solve ; despite balancing the desirability of constituency representation with that of fairness in election outcomes therefore making it a fair and effective system and he system also meaning that voters can choose between a large range of candidates, including different candidates from the same party meaning that they can vote for the politician they believe will best represent their needs in parliament it also creates just as many problems such as coalition governments which results in parties compromising their ideologies and weakening the government. I also believe that proportionality itself isn’t perhaps a desirable outcome due to the problems it causes.

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