Skip to main content Skip to Search Box

Definition: proportional representation from Merriam-Webster's Collegiate(R) Dictionary

(1870) : an electoral system designed to represent in a legislative body each political group or party in proportion to its actual voting strength in the electorate

Summary Article: proportional representation
From The Hutchinson Unabridged Encyclopedia with Atlas and Weather Guide

Electoral system in which share of party seats corresponds to their proportion of the total votes cast, and minority votes are not wasted (as opposed to a simple majority, or ‘first past the post’, system).

Forms of proportional representation include:

party list system (PLS) or additional member system (AMS). As recommended by the Hansard Society in 1976 for introduction in the UK, three-quarters of the members would be elected in single-member constituencies on the traditional majority-vote system, and the remaining seats be allocated according to the overall number of votes cast for each party (a variant of this, the additional member system, is used in Germany, where half the members are elected from lists by proportional representation, and half compete for single-member ‘first past the post’ constituencies). Proportional representation is used for the new Scottish Parliament and National Assembly for Wales, both first elected in 1999, and, also since 1999, for European Parliament elections in Britain. For the European Parliament elections, ‘closed’ regional party lists (in which voters cannot change the order of candidates on a party's list) are used and seats allocated in proportion to each party's regional vote. The system allowed the environmentalist Green Party and the anti-European Union UK Independence Party to win European Parliament seats for the first ever time, in June 1999. For the Scottish Parliament and Welsh National Assembly elections, more than half of the members are returned by first past the post from single-member constituencies, with the remainder being drawn, by means of ‘top-up’ proportional representation from regional party lists. This ‘additional member system’, which gives electors two votes, is similar to that used in German elections. It has also been used, since May 2000, for elections to the Greater London Assembly.

single transferable vote (STV). Candidates are numbered in order of preference by the voter, and any votes surplus to the minimum required for a candidate to win are transferred to second preferences, as are second-preference votes from the successive candidates at the bottom of the poll until the required number of elected candidates is achieved. This is in use in the Republic of Ireland and for European Parliament elections in Northern Ireland. It has also been used since June 1998 for elections to the Northern Ireland Assembly.

alternative vote (AV). Not strictly a form of proportional representation, since it cannot guarantee a close relationship between votes and seats, the AV is a system which is simple and can make the voting system fairer. It is based on single-member constituencies in which the elector receives two votes: a first vote, to be marked ‘1’, for the preferred candidate, and a second, to be marked ‘2’, for a second choice. If no one candidate collects more than 50% of the ‘first preference’ votes, the candidate with the fewest of first choice votes is eliminated and his or her ‘second preference’ votes are allocated among the remaining candidates. This process continues until one candidate emerges with at least 50%. The system is used in Australian House of Representatives elections. Termed the Supplementary Vote (SV), it has also been used since May 2000 to elect the Greater London mayor.

In Britain the growth in the vote for third parties, especially the Liberals, in the 1960s and 1970s, revived interest in a pressure for some form of proportional representation. Before assuming office in May 1997, the Labour Party established an independent commission to review and advise on possible future changes to the electoral system. It also promised in its manifesto to later hold a referendum to allow voters a choice between the two systems. The commission was set up in December and chaired by the Liberal Democrat peer, Lord Jenkins. It reported in October 1998 and proposed a version of AMS, using the Alternative Vote in the single-member constituencies, and with 15–20% of parliament's members being drawn from top-up seats, elected using an ‘open party list’ system of proportional representation.

In France in 1985 it was proposed to introduce a system under which, after ruling out parties with less than a 5% poll in each département, the votes for the rest would be divided by the number of seats to obtain an electoral quotient (for example, if the quotient were 15,000 votes, party A with 30,000 votes would win two seats, and party B with 12,000 would win none); unallocated seats would be distributed in a second round when each party's poll would be divided by the number of seats it had already won, plus one (that is, party A would now be credited with only 10,000 votes; party B, having won no seat so far, would be credited with its original 12,000, and so gain a seat). This proportional system was adopted for the 1986 National Assembly elections, but France has since reverted to a majoritarian system, in which candidates are required to gain a majority of votes either in a first ballot or a ‘run-off’ second ballot held a week later.

The party list system has been used in Angola, South Africa, Indonesia, Sri Lanka, Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Luxembourg, Moldova, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Costa Rica, El Salvador, Honduras, Nicaragua, Brazil, Ecuador, Guyana, Paraguay, Peru, Uruguay, Venezuela, Iraq, Israel, Lebanon , and Vanuatu.


Britain's Unwritten Constitution

Voting system

© RM, 2018. All rights reserved.

Related Articles

Full text Article Proportional representation
Reader's Guide to the Social Sciences

Amy Douglas J. , Real Choices/New Voices: The Case for Proportional Representation Elections in the United States , New York : ...

Full text Article proportional representation (PR)
The Macmillan Encyclopedia

A voting system that aims accurately to reflect the wishes of the electorate and to ensure that votes for unsuccessful candidates are not...

Full text Article Proportional Representation
Encyclopedia of U.S. Campaigns, Elections, and Electoral Behavior

IN A PROPORTIONAL representation system, the goal is to translate as closely as possible each party’s share of votes into a share of seats in the...

See more from Credo