- Date published:
2:22 pm, November 5th, 2009 - 25 comments
Categories: electoral systems, First Past the Post, labour, MMP, national - Tags: FPP, proportional voting systems, Supplementary Member
These data, taken from the Elections NZ site, show election results since National’s inception up until the last First Past the Post (FPP) election in 1993. I think they show fairly clearly why National is so keen to dump our proportional electoral system in favour of FPP or its drag cousin Supplementary Member (SM), which is really just FPP with a bit of proportion-flavoured lipstick.
First thing to note is the difference between the percentage of votes each party won (the equivalent of the Party Vote in the MMP system) and the percentage of seats in the House allocated by FPP. In MMP of course these two values are always pretty much identical. But under FPP it’s not uncommon for there to be consistent, sometimes quite large, differences between the nation-wide proportion of votes a party gets and the proportion of seats in the House it’s allocated (which is the real measure of how much parliamentary power a party wields).
You’ll see in 1954 National won 0.2% more votes than Labour (which under MMP would have meant the same number of seats for both parties), but because of the vagaries of the electorate based seat distribution system at the core of FPP, this translated to National getting just over 15% more seats in the House. Now it’s true that in FPP, all you need is one more seat than your opponents to form a government, so in one sense the disproportion is immaterial. It’s also true however, that a party that rules with a one seat majority is far less inclined to indulge in maniacal policies than a party that enjoys the safety of a 15% margin.
More importantly on that note though, are the 1978 and 1981 elections. Both those went to National, despite Labour actually winning more votes than National on both occasions.
Now if it was all just swings and roundabouts such that sometimes National was advantaged and sometimes Labour then it wouldn’t be such a problem. But under FPP, National enjoyed a disproportionate distribution of seats (7.1%) almost twice that of Labour (3.6%). An electoral system that systematically advantages one party over another is a serious kick in the teeth for democracy whichever way you look at it.
The other obvious point to note is the fates of the other (OTH) parties during that period. The minor parties had an average disproportion disadvantage of 10.7%, and unlike National and Labour, there were never any disproportion advantages. Between 1978 and 1984 the minor parties won around 1 in 5 of every vote yet were awarded only 1 in 20 of the seats in the House. In 1993, when other parties did better than they’d ever done before during that same period, the ratio was even worse: 4% of the seats from 30% of the vote!
Believe me, if you think multi-party government is better than single party government, or you think a multi-party Parliament is better than a two party Parliament, you don’t want disproportional systems like FPP or SM. The way FPP works means a county’s party system inexorably move to effectively a Two, or Two and a Half, party system. Minor parties never get a chance of holding bugger-all power, and they eventually wither away.
I don’t have space here to mention how MMP encourages a more diverse and representative House, or how MMP makes the gerrymandering that was once rife under FPP largely redundant, but next time I’ll talk about how the FPP system produces these inquities and how it always disadvantages parties supported by geographically concentrated populations.
Just remember for now that the non-proportionality of FPP systematically favoured National and drastically disadvantaged all minor parties. Funny that.