The Popular Vote

Working for DemocracyWhy Don’t We Have PR Already?

Canadians Deserve Better -Proportional Representation - on Canadian Flag backgroundThis 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.

Graph shows Liberals 39.5% translate to more seats (54.4%), Conservative 31.9% votes translate to fewer seats (29.3%)

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, you’ll see the Liberal Party is the biggest beneficiary of the disproportional results by virtue of being the winner.  Every other party won a substantially higher percentage of votes than seats.
This graph illustrates the disproportionality between votes cast and seats won

Our American friends have an electoral system as unfair ~ or perhaps even more unfair than ours.  The votes cast by Americans 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.

Why Don’t We Have PR Already?

Working for Democracy
Proportional Representation For Canada series so far:

• Proportional Representation for Canada
• What’s so bad about First Past The Post
• Democracy Primer
• Working for Democracy
• The Popular Vote
• Why Don’t We Have PR Already?
• Stability
• Why No Referendum?
• Electoral System Roundup
• When Canadians Learn about PR with CGP Grey
• Entitlement
• Proportional Representation vs. Alternative Vote
• #ERRÉ #Q Committee
• #ERRÉ #Q Meetings & Transcripts
• Take The Poll ~ #ERRÉ #Q
Proportionality #ERRÉ #Q 
• The Poll’s The Thing 
• DIY Electoral Reform Info Sessions
• What WE Can Do for ERRÉ
• #ERRÉ today and Gone Tomorrow (…er, Friday)
• Redistricting Roulette 
• #ERRÉ submission Deadline TONIGHT!
#ERRÉ Submission by Laurel L. Russwurm
• The Promise: “We will make every vote count” #ERRÉ
FVC: Consultations Provide Strong Mandate for Proportional Representation #ERRÉ
PEI picks Proportional Representation
There is only one way to make every vote count #ERRÉ
Canada is Ready 4 Proportional Representation
Sign the Petition e-616
#ProportionalRepresentation Spin Cycle ~ #ERRÉ
• International Women’s Day 2017 ~ #IWD
• An Open Letter to ERRÉ Committee Liberals

and don’t forget to check out the PR4Canada Resources page!

3 thoughts on “The Popular Vote

  1. There are so many things wrong with our electoral system, I cannot begin to list them here.
    First; An “Absolute Majority” is completely incompatible with the concept of Democracy.
    -There is no chance that a political machine could represent the interests of all citizens, if that party has the ability to over-rule the objections of all other parties combined. In our Multi Party politics, there is no reason to not have a “Fail-safe” mechanism which could send a dominant party back to the drawing board.
    Absolute Majorities are dictatorial as we saw with the “Harper Government”.

  2. The “national vote” is completely irrelevant in our system. It’s not a single election, it’s 338 general elections that happen to occur on the same day. So it matters not how many votes a party gets nationally, it matters only how they do in each and every single riding. Therefore the Liberals are not “over-represented” — they rightfully won 184 ridings. The Greens won in only one. I don’t care if people think they might prefer a PR system, I just ask that we stop misrepresenting our current SMP system.

    • While you are absolutely correct that we held 338 general elections during our General Election, that fails to prove the point you are trying to make.

      If we look at the individual elections at the local level, what do we find? Well, in Kitchener-Centre, we can see Raj Saini was elected in 2015 — even though 51.2% of Kitchener voters voted for someone else. Of course Mr. Saini unseated an entrenched incumbent, Stephen Woodworth an MP who was himself likewise elected without majority support in 2011 — when 57.61% of Kitchener voters voted for someone else!

      Although some few MPs are elected with majority support, this is hardly the norm. But even in the odd case where an MP does win a majority, far too many citizens are left without representation. The Kitchener Centre electoral district has never managed to provide representation to even a slim majority of its voters in any of the three electoral cycles occurring in the course of its’ existence.

      The truth of the matter is that electoral districts are simply a way to break a large area into manageable chunks. Although we held 339 elections in 2015, there were only 308 in 2011 because electoral districts are fluid segments of the geographic national entity we call Canada. Far from being immutable, electoral boundaries change as needed in an effort to provide citizens with fair representation in Parliament.

      Sometimes boundary changes are undertaken in a deliberate attempt to advantage a particular political party — there’s even a word for it: gerrymandering.

      Nonetheless, such institutional malfeasance tends not to be a feature of Canadian politics. In fact I’ve noted apparent effort expended in an attempt to create somewhat homogeneous electoral districts with a view to providing as many citizens as possible with representation. The problem is that the diversity reflected among Canadian citizens extends far beyond the single metric of geography.

      Any winner-take-all electoral system leaves far too many citizens without representation in Parliament. It isn’t a partisan issue, its about fairness. The point of meaningful electoral reform is not to advantage political parties, but to provide citizens with representation. And representation is a cornerstone of democracy.

      [And just so you know, the Canadian general election period is not confined to a single day.]

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