Saturday, August 11, 2007

MMP : The Truth About FPTP - False Majorities

Wikipedia defines representative democracy thusly:
Representative democracy involves the selection of government officials by a majority of votes by the people being represented. Representatives may be elected by a particular district (or constituency), or represent the entire electorate proportionally proportional systems, with some using a combination of the two. Some representative democracies also incorporate elements of direct democracy, such as referendums. A characteristic of representative democracy is that while the representatives are elected by the people, to act in their interest, they retain the freedom to exercise their own judgment as how best to do so.

Keep that definition in mind as we progress.

I've heard that one of the strengths of FPTP is that, in most cases, governments elected in this system are majority governments. Is that true?

Well, that is true. But, it's called a false majority.

A false majority is when representatives of one political party form a clear majority in the legislature, but were elected with a minority of the popular vote.

Surely though, it's rare for a political party to win a minority of the votes but to take a majority of the legislature. Right?

That's not right. In fact, that's the most common result in FPTP. It is rare for a political party to actually obtain a majority of the popular vote. Even advocates for the FPTP system acknowledge this.

For historical purposes, the last time an Ontario election resulted in a political party forming government receiving a majority of the votes was in 1937, when a coalition of the Liberals and Liberal-Progressives took 51.6% of the popular vote. They took 65 of 90 seats (72%).

But, FPTP just says that a party has to take the most votes to form government. So, FPTP always ensures that the party with the most votes forms government. Is that true?

That is most certainly not true.

  • In the 1998 Quebec general election, the separatist Parti Québécois took 42.87% of the popular vote compared to the Liberal Party which took 43.55%. Yet, the PQ formed a majority with 76 of the 125 seats.
  • In the 2006 New Brunswick general election, the Liberal Party took 47.1% of the popular vote compared to the Progressive Conservative Party which took 47.5%. Yet, the Liberals formed a majority with 29 of the 55 seats.
In short, FPTP cannot even guarantee that the party that forms government actually has achieved a plurality of the votes!

FPTP could be called "Second Place Forms Government Sometimes, Too".

Isn't it undemocratic to have a minority of the population electing a majority of the legislature?

It most certainly is, but supporters of FPTP will tell you this is the most desirable form of government.

Up next, politics as usual.

Note: My apologies if this is a duplicate. Once again, I'm having posting issues.


Erik said...

Excellent post, well explained.

Aaron Ginsberg said...

Results of the 2006 Swedish General Election:

Social Democrats: 34.99%
New Moderates: 26.23%
Centre Party 7.88%
Liberal Party: 7.54%
Christian Democrats: 6.59
Left Part: 5.85%
Green Party: 5.25%

Guess who formed the government under this Mixed PR system? If you said the New Moderates, you would be right. Losers win in all systems, it's only a matter of how.

Jim (Progressive Right) said...

You failed to mention that the Moderate Party, The Centre Party, The Liberal People's Party and The Christian Democrats campaigned as a coalition, called the Alliance for Sweden.

The Alliance formed government with a majority of the votes and a majority of the seats.

The fact that the Alliance formed between four parties shows that such a coalition is possible.

The fact remains, under FPTP, a second place party can form majority government rule.

Lord Kitchener's Own said...

Yes Aginsberg, but it's significantly different for a NUMBER of losers to align TOGETHER to form the government. In FPTP, a second place party can form a majority government ALONE, with no coalition with smaller parties, and not just fewer than 50% of the votes, but fewer than a PLURALITY of the votes.

In Sweden, the second place party was only able to form (part of) the government by aligning with other parties to form a coalition which represented more than 50% of the popular vote.

It's apples and oranges.