This is the fifth in the Whoa!Canada: Proportional Representation Series
For years I didn’t understand that mysterious phrase “The Popular Vote.” The popular vote numbers never seemed to have any connection to the number of seats a political party won. I just assumed the numbers seemed like gobbledegook since I’ve always been something of a mathphobe. So imagine my surprise when I learned it was the system that was skewed, not my grasp of the numbers.
The popular vote is the number of valid votes Canadians cast. If we look at the results of the 2015 election, we see
6,943,276 votes translated to 184 seats for the Liberal Party, 39.5% of the votes won 54.4% of the seats in parliament while
5,613,614 votes translated to 99 seats for the Conservative Party, whose 31.9% of the votes only won 29.3% of the seats.
The Liberal Party formed government by winning a much larger percentage of seats than it earned in votes, while the Conservatives won fewer seats. This is disproportional representation. As you can see from looking at the percentages across the entire election, with the Liberal Party being the biggest beneficiary of the disproportional results. Every other party won a substantially higher percentage of votes than seats.
Our American friends have an electoral system as unfair ~ or perhaps even more unfair than ours. The Americans scrambling to vote in presidential primaries may come to nought because the actual votes Americans cast ~ the popular vote ~ can be over ruled by their Electoral College. (And no, I don’t understand why!)
The Language of Elections
When most Canadians first stumble into discussions about electoral reform, the incomprehensible jargon makes it hard to understand what people are talking about. But it gets worse. Not only are there are many different voting systems we’ve never even heard of, some have more than one name. And worse still, most of the people talking about it use acronyms, so it is a considerable challenge just to follow the conversation. It isn’t that electoral reformers are intending to confuse us, it’s just that many electoral reformers have been thinking and talking about the intricacies of electoral reform for years.
You don’t have to be a rocket scientist to understand electoral systems, but nobody can keep up without some idea of what the words in this specialized language mean. Since Canadians have been promised electoral reform, it is important for us to have a basic understanding of the choices available so we can let our representatives know which we prefer. As I’ve had a few years head start, I’ve been working on a basic Electoral Reform Glossary.