About those Proportional Representation Seat Projections…

Electoral system reform played a small but meaningful role in the 2015 federal election, from the promises for change; to the numerous strategic voting organizations of varying effectiveness and integrity; to the post-election projections of “what would have been” if the election was run under a proportional representation system.

These projections were being made at the same time as the actual results were being reported, and continue to be reported even up to today in the Vancouver Sun: http://www.vancouversun.com/news/would+seat+count+look+under+proportional+representation/11458907/story.html

These projections are an interesting hypothetical but for those interested in how electoral systems work, they should not be relied upon to accurately show what would happen under a proportional representation system. You simply can’t take the votes cast under a single-past-the-post system and apply them to a proportional representation system accurately. Here are a few reasons why the comparison does not produce an accurate projection:

  • Strategic voting likely played a role in the way a significant number of electors voted. If the electoral system was different, we can assume that many people would have cast their ballot for a different party;
  • It is wrong to assume that people who voted for the candidate of a particular party would vote for the same party under a PR system. Some electors may vote for a particular person, instead of supporting the party generally. They may not vote for the party under a PR system, especially if it is a closed list system.
  • The results produced by a PR system depend largely on the details. Is it an open or closed list? Is there a minimum threshold required to win seats? Does this threshold apply nationally? All these little details will affect who is on the ballot, and how the seats are awarded.

The bottom line is that an election under a proportional representation system is completely different than an election under first-past-the-post. It is all in good fun to speculate what the results of a PR election would be, but there are no reasonable and scientific grounds to use the results of a first-past-the-post election to predict the results of a PR election.

To add even more speculation about electoral system reform, political scientists are already starting to question whether the Liberals will make reforms as promised, as reported by the CBC here: http://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/british-columbia/trudeau-proportional-representation-voting-system-1.3280995

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