War and Peace: Two Views of an Election

To listen to the opponents of Proportional Representation, this new form of election will mean the end of democracy as we know it. More to the point, the way they like it. So it is useful to project how the political landscape might shift following a change.

There are two ways to look at an election system: by the actions of the voters and by the actions of the political parties. Both are instructive in order to decide which system is best.

  1. Under FPTP

Both sides take the same approach. It’s a battle, you do anything you can (polite or fair doesn’t count) to win and you take your chances. At least, that’s how the willing participants act. The ones who think they have a chance to win.

Then there are those whose main function is to be collateral damage. When the fighting starts, your best bet is to take your family and your stock and run for the woods and hope the armies don’t choose your hayfield for their battleground. In election terms, that means keeping your head down and ignoring it all, hoping that nothing too terrible happens and nobody too nasty wins. As far as voting, forget it. Your vote doesn’t mean anything, anyway, because the same two parties are going to win, no matter what you do.

This attitude is far more prevalent than anybody likes (except the usual winners), and voting rates have been dropping over the past few decades. People who feel helpless don’t vote. If they do start voting, it won’t be for the elite parties that have been keeping them out of the loop. Hence the reluctance of the governing parties to want change.

2. Under a Proportional System

Voters Listen and Vote.

They know that even if their vote for the local candidate loses, their second vote, the one for the party, counts on a provincial level. So they vote. And people who intend to vote listen more carefully to what allthe parties are saying. This is crucial to how the parties act.

For example, a FPTP vote is for the person and the party, both.  No choice. But there are a whole lot of people who vote for their local candidate on the basis of personality, not party. Under a proportional system, they are quite likely to vote for the person they want on the first half of the ballot and a completely different party on the second half.

Political Parties Clean Up Their Act

To be successful, politicians have to change their approach. If only 50 or 60 percent of your power in the legislature comes from FPTP candidates who win, you have to find a way to attract those crucial votes on the second half of the ballot.

This sounds pretty scary to traditional legislative pugilists who are used to bullying their way to the top. Now they have to start listening to what everyone in the general population wants.

Attack ads? Forget those. Last thing you want is for voters to think you’re a nasty party.

Question Period in the Legislature? That changes, too. Instead of posturing for their supporters, politicians must constantly be aware of how all the voters perceive them. Committed supporters love a grandstander: nobody else does. Politicians will score points by asking intelligent questions and giving thoughtful answers. What a change!

A New Landscape

So the overall result of a change to Proportional Representation system of voting is that politicians tend to discuss issues instead of attacking other politicians or parties. Voters tend to pay more attention to those issues, and more of them vote.

Somehow it doesn’t sound like the end of democracy quite yet.


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