Proportional representation: Wikis


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Proportional representation (PR), sometimes referred to as full representation, is a type of voting system aimed at securing a close match between the percentage of votes that groups of candidates obtain in elections, and the percentage of seats they receive (e.g., in legislative assemblies).

PR is often contrasted to plurality voting systems, such as those commonly used in the United States, where disproportional seat distribution results from the division of voters into multiple electoral districts, especially "winner takes all" plurality ("first past the post" or FPTP) districts.


Methods of proportional representation

There are different methods of proportional representation which achieve either a greater degree of proportionality or a greater degree of determinate outcome[1].

Various forms of proportional representation exist, such as party-list proportional representation, where the above-mentioned groups correspond directly with candidate lists as usually given by political parties. Within this form a further distinction can be made depending on whether or not a voter can influence the election of candidates within a party list (open list and closed list respectively). Another kind of electoral system covered with the term proportional representation is the single transferable vote (STV), which, in turn, does not depend on the existence of political parties (and where the above-mentioned "measure of grouping" is entirely left up to the voters themselves). Elections for the Australian Senate use what is referred to as above-the-line voting where candidates belonging to registered political parties are grouped together on the ballot paper with the voter provided with the option of "group voting" a semi-open party list/individual candidate system.

There are also electoral systems, single non-transferable vote (SNTV) and cumulative voting, all of which offer a variant form of proportional representation.


Party list system in a multi-member constituency

The parties each list their candidates according to that party's determination of priorities. In a closed list, voters vote for a list, not a candidate. Each party is allocated seats in proportion to the number of votes, using the ranking order on its list. In an open list, voters may vote, depending on the model, for one person, or for two, or indicate their order of preference within the list.

Additional-member system, mixed-member system

Main articles: Additional Member Systems - mixed member proportional representation and parallel voting; alternative vote and alternative vote top-up

Mixed election systems combine a proportional system and a single seat district system, attempting to achieve some of the positive features of both of these. Mixed systems are often helpful in countries with large populations, since they balance the mechanisms of elections focusing on local or national issues. They are used in nations with widely varying voting populations in terms of geographic, social, cultural and economic realities, including Bolivia, Germany, Lesotho, Mexico and the United Kingdom.

Single transferable vote in a multi-member constituency

This method of proportional representation uses a system of preferential voting to determine the results of the election

A constituency elects two or more representatives per electorate. Consequently the constituency is proportionally larger than a single member constituency. Parties tend to offer as many candidates as they most optimistically could expect to win: the major parties may nominate almost as many candidates as there are seats, while the minor parties and independents rather fewer. Voters mark their ballot, allocating preferences to their preferred ranking for some or all candidates. A successful candidate must achieve a quota, being the total number of votes received divided by the number of candidates to be elected plus one; i.e. in a nine member constituency the quota would be (the number of votes divided by 9) +1. Only in a few cases is this achieved at the first count. For the second count, if a candidate wins election her/his surplus vote (in excess of the quota) is transferred to her/his voters' second choices; otherwise, the least popular candidate is eliminated and her/his votes redistributed according to the second preference shown on them. If there are more than one candidate who can not get enough votes after the transfer of votes of least popular candidate, she or he will be eliminated too (as they could not avoid it on the next round under any circumstance).

This process continues for as many counts as are needed until all seats are filled either by the required number of candidates achieving a quota and being deemed to be elected or until there are only the number of candidates remaining as there are number of seats. Although the counting process is complicated, voting is clear and most voters get at least one of their preferences elected.

All deputies are answerable directly to their local constituents. Some political scientists argue that STV is more properly classified as 'semi-proportional' as there is no assurance of a proportional result at a nationwide level. Indeed, many advocates of STV would argue that preventing nationwide proportionality is one of the primary goals of the system, to avoid the perceived risks of a very highly fragmented legislature.


The schoolmaster Thomas Wright Hill is credited as inventor of the single transferable vote, whose use he described in 1821 for application in elections at his school. The method, which guarantees proportional representation, was introduced in 1840 by his son Rowland Hill into the public election for the Adelaide City Council. Unlike several later systems, this did not allow for party-list proportional representation.

A party-list proportional representation system was first devised and described in 1878 by Victor D'Hondt of Belgium. The procedure, known as the D'Hondt method, is still widely used. Victor Considérant, a utopian socialist, devised a similar system and described it in an 1892 book. After some Swiss cantons (beginning with Ticino in 1890), Belgium was the first country to adopt list-PR for the 1900 elections to its national parliament. Similar systems were implemented in many European countries during or after World War I. Single Transferable Vote was first used in Denmark in 1857, making STV the oldest PR system, but the system used there never really spread. STV was re-invented (apparently independently) in Britain, but the British parliament rejected it. It was, however, then used in Tasmania in 1907, and has spread from there. In the last Irish elections to the UK Parliament in 1919, STV was used in one constituency (University of Dublin: two Independent Unionists were elected). After Irish independence, the first General Election to Dáil Éireann in 1923 and all subsequent ones have used STV.

Proportional representation is actually used by more nations than the plurality voting system, and it is the dominant electoral system in Europe. It is in place in Germany, most of northern and eastern Europe, and is also used for European Parliament elections: all of the members of the European Parliament, or MEPs, including those elected from constituencies in Britain, are elected by proportional representation. Proportional representation is also used in many European countries. In France, proportional representation was adopted at the end of World War II, discarded in 1958, then used once more for parliament elections in 1986 and terminated immediately afterwards.

While first-past-the-post is commonly found in countries based on the British parliamentary system, and in Westminster elections in the United Kingdom, a form of proportional representation known as the mixed member system is now being used in the United Kingdom to elect the members of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh National Assembly, after being adopted by New Zealand in 1993. Although once an unknown system, proportional representation is now gaining popularity in Canada with five provinces—British Columbia, Ontario, Quebec, Prince Edward Island and New Brunswick—currently debating whether to abolish the first past the post system, and at the federal level, a Parliamentary Committee explored the issue in 2005.

Proportional representation does have some history in the United States. Many cities, including New York City, once used it for their city councils as a way to break up the Democratic Party monopolies on elective office. In Cincinnati, Ohio, proportional representation was adopted in 1925 to get rid of a Republican Party party machine, but the Republicans successfully overturned proportional representation in 1957. With proportional representation, otherwise marginalized social, political and racial minorities were able to attain elected office, and this fact was ironically a key argument opponents of proportional representation used in their campaigns — "undesirables" were gaining a voice in electoral politics.[citation needed] From 1870 to 1980, the State of Illinois used a semi-proportional system of cumulative voting to elect its State House of Representatives. Each district across the state elected both Republicans and Democrats year-after-year. While most jurisdictions no longer use proportional representation, it is still used in Cambridge, Massachusetts and Peoria, Illinois. San Francisco did not have proportional elections; rather it had city-wide elections where people would cast votes for five or six candidates simultaneously, delivering some of the benefits of proportional representation, but not all.

Some electoral systems incorporate additional features to ensure absolutely accurate or more comprehensive representation, based on gender or minority status (like ethnicity or race). Note that features such as this are not strictly part of proportional representation; depending on what kind of PR is used, people tend to be already represented proportionally according to these standards without such additional rules.

In Ireland, proportional representation has resulted in a situation whereby a mainly centrist party with a large support base, Fianna Fáil, typically receives 30%-50% of the vote but the opposition parties, traditionally the centre-right Fine Gael and the centre-left Labour Party, are comparatively weak. This has led to a series of coalition governments in power, including coalitions between Fianna Fáil and Labour, Fine Gael and Labour, the current coalition between Fianna Fáil and the left-wing Green Party and a rainbow coalition featuring every non Fianna Fáil member of the dáil. The lack of a unified opposition in Ireland has resulted in a series of centre-right led governments since the state's creation in 1921. Since 1932 Fianna Fáil is the only party in the Republic of Ireland to form a government on its own, however there has not been a single-party government since 1989.

In his essay, Overcoming Practical Difficulties in Creating a World Parliamentary Assembly, Joseph E. Schwartzberg proposes the use of proportional representation in the United Nations Parliamentary Assembly in order to prevent, for instance, lower castes of Indians from being excluded.[2]

Partial proportionality

Some nations with proportional elections, like Israel and the Netherlands, have one electoral district only: the entire nation, and the entire pie is cut up according to the entire outcome. Most nations have district systems in place where more than one person is elected per district. The constituency or district magnitude (DM) of a system is therefore measured by the number of seats in a constituency, and plays a vital role in determining how proportional an electoral system can be. The greater the number of seats in a constituency, the more proportional the outcome will be. PR applied to a single-member district (SMD) is by necessity majoritarian. If the constituency is in a jurisdiction using list PR in its multi-member districts (MMDs) the winning candidate simply needs a plurality, otherwise called a simple or relative majority, of the vote to win, so that the election in the SMD is by first-past-the-post. If the constituency is in a jurisdiction using PR-STV in its MMDs, an absolute majority of 50% plus 1 will likely be the minimum required for victory (depending on which quota is used) so that the election in the SMD is by the alternative vote. Four elected officials per district delivers a threshold of 20% (1/M+1) to gain a single seat. However, constituency borders can still be gerrymandered to reduce the overall proportionality. This may be achieved by creating "majority-minority" constituencies - constituencies in which the majority is formed by a group of voters that are in the minority at a higher level. Proportional representation with the entire nation electing the single body cannot be gerrymandered.

Multiple-member districts do not necessarily ensure that an electoral system will be proportional. The bloc vote can result in "super-majoritarian" results in which geographical variations can create majority-minority districts that become subsumed into the larger districts. Also, in theory, a party, who does not provide a list with enough people to fill all the seats won by it, may be given those unfilled seats. This is termed an underhang.

Some nations, with either exclusively proportional representation or — as is the case with Germany — additional member systems, require a party list to achieve an election threshold — a certain minimum percentage of votes to receive any seats. Typically, this lower limit is set at between two and five percent of the total number of votes cast. Parties who do not reach that margin will not be represented in parliament, making majorities, coalitions and thus governments easier to achieve. Proponents of election thresholds argue that they discourage excessive fragmentation, disproportionate power, or extremist parties. Opponents of thresholds argue that they cause unfair redirection of support from minor parties, thus giving the parties which cross the threshold disproportionally high percentages of the seats and creating the possibility that a party or group of parties will assume control of the legislature without gaining a majority of votes.

There are several ways of measuring proportionality, the most common being, among others, the Gallagher Index.

Center based proportional and multi-party systems

Election systems based on proportional representation tend to favor a multi-party result which demands a coalition to form a government supported by a majority of the voters or elected candidates. If the election system as well as the mechanisms for forming a governing coalition also tend to support the existence of a centrist party, the resulting over-all system is often defined as a "center-based proportional representation multi-party system". Election systems which tend to result in so-called two-block (many parties forming coalitions, blocks, but with no party, or "block", in the "center") systems are not seen as "center-based" but multi-party variations of two-party (two-block) systems.

The undesirable "extreme" of a "Center Based" system (like in Condorcet method) might be seen as a party system where the "center" has an unproportional and undesirable strong position in the formation of any governing coalition.

List of countries using proportional representation

This is a list of countries using proportional representation.

Country Type
 Algeria Party list
 Angola Party list
 Australia For Senate only, Single Transferable Vote
 Austria Party list
 Argentina Party list
 Aruba Party List
 Belgium Party list
 Bolivia Mixed Member Majoritarian
 Brazil Party list
 Bulgaria Party list
 Burkina Faso Party list
 Burundi Party list
 Cambodia Party list
 Cape Verde Party list
 Colombia Party list
 Costa Rica Party list
 Croatia Party list
 Cyprus Party list
 Czech Republic Party list
 Democratic Republic of the Congo Mixed member proportional
 Denmark Party list
 Dominican Republic Party list
 Equatorial Guinea Party list
 Estonia Party list
 Finland Party list
 Germany Mixed member proportional
 Greece Party list (with plurality bonus)
 Guinea-Bissau Party list
 Guyana Party list
 Hungary Mixed Member Majoritarian
 Iceland Party list
 India For Upper House (Rajya Sabha) only, Single Transferable Vote by State Legislatures
 Indonesia Party list
 Iraq Party list
 Ireland Single Transferable Vote
 Israel Party list
 Italy Party list (with plurality bonus for coalitions)
 Japan Mixed Member Majoritarian
 Latvia Party list
 Lesotho Mixed Member Majoritarian
 Liberia Party list
 Liechtenstein Party list
 Luxembourg Party list
 Malta Single Transferable Vote
 Mexico Mixed Member Majoritarian
 Moldova Party list
 New Zealand Mixed Member Proportional
 Namibia Party list
 Netherlands Party list
 Netherlands Antilles Party list
 New Caledonia Party list
 Nicaragua Party list
 Norway Party list
 Northern Cyprus Party list
 Paraguay Party list
 Peru Party list
 Poland Party list
 Portugal Party list
 Romania Party list
 Russia Party list
 San Marino Party list
 Sao Tome and Principe Party list
 Scotland Additional Member System
 Slovakia Party list
 Slovenia Party list
 South Africa Party list
 South Korea Party list
 Spain Party list
 Sri Lanka Party list
 Suriname Party list
 Sweden Party list
 Switzerland Party list
 Taiwan Party list
 Thailand Mixed Member Majoritarian
 Turkey Party list
 Ukraine Party list
 Uruguay Party list
 Venezuela Party list
 Wallis and Futuna Party list

Further reading


  • Amy, Douglas J. (1993). Real Choices/New Voices: The Case for Proportional Representation Elections in the United States". Columbia University Press. 
  • Denis Pilon (2007). The Politics of Voting. Edmond Montgomery Publications. 
  • Colomer, Josep M. (2003). Political Institutions. Oxford University Press. 
  • Colomer, Josep M., ed (2004). Handbook of Electoral System Choice. Palgrave Macmillan. 
  • Martin Linton; Mary Southcott (1998). Making Votes Count: The Case for Electoral Reform. London: Profile Books. 


  • John Hickman and Chris Little. "Seat/Vote Proportionality in Romanian and Spanish Parliamentary Elections" Journal of Southern Europe and the Balkans Vol. 2, No. 2, November 2000


  • Roland Nicholson, Jr., "Proportional Representation Elections in Hong Kong", New York Times, September, 1992

See also


External links

Simple English

Proportional representation is an idea from elections. Very often, parties are elected to some assembly. With proportional representation the number of seats of a certain party in the assembly will be in a direct relation to the number of votes (or the general success) that party had in the election. Usually, there is an additional restriction, that a certain minimum of votes must be reached, to be represented at all. Very often, this minimum is 5 %. usually...


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