When Canadians Learn about PR with CGP Grey
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
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.
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.
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.