When Canadians Learn about PR with CGP Grey

Electoral System Roundup

Go to "Entitlement"Canadians Deserve Better -Proportional Representation - on Canadian Flag backgroundThis is the tenth in the Whoa!Canada: Proportional Representation Series

Electoral Reform is a complex subject, and worse, one Canadians don’t have a lot of experience with, so misinforming us is far too easy.

To understand Proportional Representation, and a lot of people start with C.G.P Grey’s “Politics In The Animal Kingdom” video series on voting systems.  His videos are engaging and easy to understand.  I would recommend

Part I: The Problems With First Past The Post Voting, Part III: Gerrymandering, and Part V: Single Transferable Vote to anyone, but I have issues with the other two videos.

Part II: The Alternative VoteKing Murray

CGP Grey says, “any problem Alternative Vote has, First Past The Post also shares.”

But this is not entirely true.  To start, Alternative Vote raises the threshold to be elected from simply getting the most votes to a requirement for 50+1%.  This has the unfortunate effect of making it even more difficult for women and minorities to get elected.   This is why, much as I dislike FPTP, given a choice between keeping what we have and moving to  AV (Alternative Vote) I would choose FPTP (as the United Kingdom Did).

Then Mr. Grey goes on to note both winner-take-all systems:

  • allow gerrymandering
  • are not proportional
  • can’t guarantee a Condorcet winner
  • prevent political diversity and trend toward a 2 party system

These disadvantages are all true (and why we need Proportional Representation).

But then Mr. Grey tells us that Alternative Vote has one huge advantage over FPTP: No Spoiler Effect.

Spoiler Effect: When there are more than two parties in a winner-take-all election, small party candidates can earn votes that would otherwise go to a big party, preventing it from becoming the winner when the other big party would not have become the single winner otherwise.

Since the spoiler effect tends to result in election outcomes people don’t want, many voters resort to “strategic voting.”  This has become an increasingly accepted necessary evil embraced by Canadians in an attempt to game our broken system.  Canadian citizens who support small parties are constantly urged not to vote for the candidate they believe will best represent them, but rather to vote for a candidate/party they don’t really like to prevent a candidate/party they really hate from being the winner.

And yet in any election, there is always a possibility — no matter how slight — that a small party might win a majority (if it has enough candidates). The Canadian reality is you can never be absolutely certain which party is the “spoiler,” as we saw during the 2011 Election, when the Liberals urged everyone to vote for their candidates.  But it was only after the election that we learned the Liberal Party had actually been the spoiler preventing the NDP from forming government.

“Using the Alternative Vote, citizens can help support and grow smaller parties they agree with without worrying they will put someone they don’t like into office.”
CGP Grey, The Alternative Vote

The main source of Alternative Vote data is Australia, the only country that has stuck with Alternative Vote for any length of time.  AV was adopted in 1912, but even there, although they continued to use this winner-take-all system in their House of Representatives, in the 1940’s Proportional Representation was implemented in their Senate.  And what we do know from Australia is that even though strategic voting is more difficult with a preferential voting system, far from eliminating strategic voting, Australia’s political parties have institutionalized the process.  They hand out “how to vote” cards so their voters know precisely how they must mark their ballots to achieve their strategic objectives.

It is important for anyone watching the C G P Grey video to be mindful that Alternative Vote:

(a) raises the bar (from plurality to majority) which places women and minority candidates at greater disadvantage,

(b) doesn’t eliminate the spoiler effect, and can result in the institutionalization of strategic voting,and

(c) although AV makes it safe to vote for who we want, if we don’t support the big parties, we are no more likely to actually elect who we want.

And even if our second choice might help elect someone else, nothing in the world will make a second choice equivalent to a first choice. I’m already a second class voter, I don’t need a new electoral system that does the same thing.

All of which suggests that AV is likely even worse than FPTP.

Part IV: Mixed Member Proportional

The problem with the CGP Grey MMP video is that it presents Closed List MMP as the way to do MMP.  This is indeed how it is done in New Zealand, but there are many ways to accomplish Mixed Member Proportional Representation, and MMP needn’t have Closed Lists at all.

The way in which lists are handled in MMP can make a huge difference.

For Ontario’s electoral reform referendum in 2007, the Citizen’s coalition tasked with studying different systems settled on Mixed Member Proportional. But because they were pressed for time, they were not up to speed on the List issue, so they chose Closed List MMP.  There were many factors in the failure of the 2007 referendum, but because the system on offer was Closed List MMP, many electoral reformers voted against it.

The truth is that New Zealand and Germany are both happy with Closed List MMP.  But Canadians are very resistant to giving extra power over elections to political parties.  Mr. Gray points out this problem, but his video makes it seem as though this is a necessary part of MMP.  But it isn’t.  Canadians are much more likely to choose Open Lists that allow voters to vote for specific candidates on the party list side of the ballot, or even a listless system, where the party side MPs are chosen from the candidates with the greatest number of votes who did not win constituency seats.

It’s also possible to use AV or STV instead of FPTP to elect local candidates, but the point is there are *many* different ways MMP can be achieved, but Mr. Gray’s excellent video makes a case for the form of MMP most electoral reformers believe Canadians are least likely to accept.

Mr. Gray’s series of videos is very good, but it is important for Canadian learners to be aware of these issues.
a horizontal border of red graphic maple leaves

I had hoped to have my Glossary finished for today, but as I am still editing the PR vs AV video, there simply wasn’t time. I hope to manage to get both finished by the end of next week.

Electoral System Roundup

Go to "Entitlement"
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!

8 thoughts on “When Canadians Learn about PR with CGP Grey

  1. I don’t quite understand your point about Australian tactical voting. Under a FPTP system, people ‘tactically vote’ by voting for a party that wouldn’t necessarily be their first choice to defeat their least preferred option.

    In Australia, ‘how to vote cards’ have a quite different purpose. They are designed by leaders of smaller parties to direct their preferences to one or the other major parties. There is no obligation on voters to follow this. While it may be ‘strategic’ for a voter for a minor party to give lower preferences to their preferred major party, the disadvantage of strategic voting under FPTP (the need for voters to abandon their first preference for their vote to have an impact on the main contest) is avoided.

    • There is no obligation on voters to strategically vote for something they don’t actually want under FPTP, either.

      Strategic or tactical voting is the process of voting for what you don’t want in order to game the system in an attempt to trick it into getting what you do want.

      The fact a cheat sheet is required indicates voters can’t just vote for what they want. A good system is one in which voters can vote for what they want because there is a reasonable chance they will get it.

      • “There is no obligation on voters to strategically vote for something they don’t actually want under FPTP, either.”

        No obligation, sure, but people have to choose between making their vote count by voting for the lesser of two evils or voting for their first preference. That’s the key issue with FPTP, and the one Grey identifies. Under AV, people can vote for what they want with their first preference, and use later preferences to defeat the candidates they prefer least. The cheat sheet is not necessarily required; many voters do not follow how to vote cards, and are able to rank the candidates in the order of their preference.

        If you view any requirement for a voter to not be able to receive their first preference as a need to ‘tactically vote’, then, yes, AV requires tactical voting. However, Grey’s definition of tactical voting is the more generally accepted one.

        • If you have to vote for the lesser of two evils the system is broken. Having to do anything besides vote for what you want is “strategic voting.”

          All voters are entitled to representation, including voters who have different interests than you do. In a good democratic system most votes count.

          • On that basis, I don’t see how you can defend MMP (which does not represent all voters, as most systems have a vote threshold) or STV (which transfers the votes of lower polling candidates to their later preferences, like AV). All electoral systems require some voters to vote for someone other than their first preference, or have their vote not count in seat allocation.

            • As a matter of practicality, it is virtually impossible for all voters to be represented with Representative Demeocracy. You need direct democracy for that. The idea is to get as many represented as possible. Even so, I very strongly disagree with your contention that,


              All electoral systems require some voters to vote for someone other than their first preference, or have their vote not count in seat allocation.”

              BTW, MMP doesn’t actually require a threshold; I’ve recently heard a good argument why MMP should have no thresholds at all. (Hoping to get a guest post explaining the argument, which I found compelling.)

            • It is a true statement, is it not? Even in the most proportional country in the world, South Africa, some parties are not represented, and the votes for them are ‘wasted’: therefore, the people who voted for them should have voted for someone else, if they wanted their vote to count in seat allocations. I am well aware MMP doesn’t require a threshold: some MMP systems, such as Scotland, don’t have one. However, only five MPs are elected in each region using the party-list. It is generally considered that a threshold is desirable to keep party fragmention down.

              • No, I don’t believe it is a true statement. As I’ve already mentioned, without direct democracy not every voter can be represented.

                Democratic voting is not intended to benefit parties, but to secure representation for voters. In a disproportional system, only those who vote for the top few parties are likely to get representation. In the election we just had, it took around 40,000 votes to elect a Liberal candidate, and it took in excess of 600,000 votes to elect a Green candidate. This kind of imbalance triggers strategic voting.

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