Electoral Systems and Democratic Reform

… a core topic in Governance and Institutions and Atlas100

Parliament

Canada’s Senate Chamber

Topic description

This topic examines competing theories of democracy and ways to make institutions of government more democratic.

Topic learning outcome

Upon completing this topic the student will be familiar with competing theories of democracy and leading proposals to make institutions of government more democratic, and will be familiar with the concepts in the table below.

Core concepts associated with this topic
Political Party

Electoral Systems

Samara’s Five Potential Electoral Systems

Party Leader Selection and De-selection

Party Discipline

Parliament vs. Congress

Democratic Deficit

Populism

Nativism

Illiberal Democracy vs. Undemocratic Liberalism

Aggregative Model of Democracy

Condorcet’s Paradox

Deliberative Model of Democracy

Burke’s Conception of an Elected Representative

Competitive Model of Democracy

Atlas resource pages associated with this topic

Heath’s Critique of the Democracy Deficit in Canada

Thomas’s Ten Thoughts on Electoral Reform

Aucoin, Jarvis, and Turnbull’s Reforms

Loat and MacMillan’s Reforms

Cash for Access Political Fundraising Story (an Atlas case news story)

Open access readings for 8 hours of preparation

The Atlas pages for the concept entries noted above.

ACE Electoral Knowledge Network, Electoral Systems, at http://aceproject.org/ace-en/topics/es/onePage, accessed 25 August 2016. The ACE article notes that it was Reproduced by permission of International IDEA from Electoral System Design: The New International IDEA Handbook © 2005 International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance The electronic version of this publication is made available under a Creative Commons Attribute-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 (CC BY-NC-SA 3.0) licence.

ACE Electoral Knowledge Network, The ACE Encyclopaedia: Parties and Candidates, at http://aceproject.org/ace-en/pdf/pc/view, accessed 25 August 2016, and uploaded to the Atlas at http://www.atlas101.ca/pm/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Parties-and-Candidates-2013.pdf.

Andre Barnes, Dara Lithwick, and Erin Virgint (2016), Electoral Systems and Electoral Reform in Canada and Elsewhere: An Overview, Library of Parliament Research Publications, at http://www.lop.parl.gc.ca/Content/LOP/ResearchPublications/2016-06-e.pdf, accessed 4 September 2016.

Peter Loewen (2016), Consider the merits of our system before electoral reform, Ottawa Citizen, 26 August, at http://ottawacitizen.com/opinion/columnists/loewen-consider-the-merits-of-our-system-before-electoral-reform, accessed 27 August 2016

Peter Loewen (2016), Four observations on electoral reform, Submission to the House of Commons Special Committee on Electoral Reform, 30 August 2016, at http://www.parl.gc.ca/Content/HOC/Committee/421/ERRE/Brief/BR8401539/br-external/LoewenPeter-e.pdf, and video recording of presentation at http://parlvu.parl.gc.ca/XRender/en/PowerBrowser/PowerBrowserV2/20160830/-1/25457?globalstreamId=14&useragent=Mozilla/5.0 (Windows NT 10.0; Win64; x64) AppleWebKit/537.36 (KHTML, like Gecko) Chrome/51.0.2704.79 Safari/537.36 Edge/14.14393, (at 09:55:42, following the testimony of 2007 Nobel laureate in economics, Erik Maskin); prepared remarks uploaded to the Atlas with the permission of the author at http://www.atlas101.ca/pm/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Peter-Loewen-Prepared-Remarks-30-August-2016.pdf, on 26 September 2016.

Tom Axworthy (2016), Enhancing Canadian Democracy: What’s Next after Electoral Reform? A Presentation to the House of Commons Special Committee on Electoral Reform, 23 August 2016, testimony tabled at the Special Committee of the House of Commons, uploaded to the Atlas by permission of the author at http://www.atlas101.ca/pm/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Axworthy-2016-Enhancing-Canadian-Democracy-Whats-Next-after-Electoral-Reform.pdf, on 31 August 2016.

Paul Thomas (2016). Ten Quick Thoughts on Electoral Reform in Ten Minutes, Notes for Presentation to the House of Commons Special Committee on Electoral Reform, 20 September 2016, uploaded to the Atlas with permission of the author at http://www.atlas101.ca/pm/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Paul-Thomas-Ten-Quick-Thoughts-on-Electoral-Reform-in-Ten-Minutes-20-September-2016.pdf, on 25 September 2016.

Paul Thomas (2016), Comparing Electoral Systems: Criteria, Advantages and Disadvantages, and the Process for Finding a Consensus on Which System is Best for Canada, 2 March 2016, uploaded to the Atlas with permission of the author at http://www.atlas101.ca/pm/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Paul-Thomas-Comparing-Electoral-Systems-2016.pdf, on 25 September 2016.

Paul Thomas (2016), Is Mandatory Voting Right for Canada? Presentation to the Elections Canada Advisory Board, 14-15 September 2016, uploaded to the Atlas with permission of the author at http://www.atlas101.ca/pm/wp-content/uploads/2016/09/Paul-Thomas-Is-Mandatory-Voting-Right-for-Canada-2016.pdf, on 25 September 2016.

Paul Thomas (2016), Why electoral reform is always a political headache, Policy Options, 9 June 2016, at http://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/june-2016/why-electoral-reform-is-always-a-political-headache/, accessed 30 August 2016.

Paul Thomas (2016), Electoral reform and the pros and cons of compulsory voting, Policy Options, 25 July 2016, at http://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/july-2016/electoral-reform-and-the-pros-and-cons-of-compulsory-voting/, accessed 30 August 2016.

Yasmin Dawood (2016), Is a constitutional amendment required for electoral reform? Policy Options, 27 June 2016, at http://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/june-2016/is-a-constitutional-amendment-required-for-electoral-reform/, accessed 30 August 2016.

Barbara McDougal (2016), Stick with the electoral system we have, Policy Options, 21 June 2016, at http://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/june-2016/stick-with-the-electoral-system-we-have/, accessed 30 August 2016.

Leslie Seidle (2016), A flawed process for federal electoral reform, Policy Options, 10 August 2016, at http://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/august-2016/a-flawed-process-for-federal-electoral-reform/, accessed 30 August 2016.

Samara, Electoral Reform, at http://www.samaracanada.com/samara-in-the-classroom/electoral-reform, accessed 25 August 2016.

The Economist, This land is our land – Trump in history, 28 November 2015, at http://www.economist.com/news/united-states/21679163-current-spasm-nativism-far-unique-may-be-some-consolation-what-lies, accessed 21 August 2016.

Yascha Mounk (2016), The Week Democracy Died, Slate, 14 August 2016, at http://www.slate.com/articles/news_and_politics/cover_story/2016/08/the_week_democracy_died_how_brexit_nice_turkey_and_trump_are_all_connected.html, accessed 15 August 2016.

Lee Drutman (2016), The Divided States of America, New York Times, 22 September 2016, at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/22/opinion/campaign-stops/the-divided-states-of-america.html, accessed 22 September 2016.

Roger Cohen (2016), The Trump-Farage Road Show, New York Times, 29 August 2016, at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/08/30/opinion/the-trump-farage-road-show.html, accessed 30 August 2016.

J.D. Vance (2016), When It Comes to Baskets, We’re All Deplorable, New York Times, 22 September 2016, at http://www.nytimes.com/2016/09/22/opinion/when-it-comes-to-baskets-were-all-deplorable.html, accessed 22 September 2016.

David Freedman (2016), The War on Stupid People – American society increasingly mistakes intelligence for human worth, The Atlantic, July/August, at http://www.theatlantic.com/magazine/archive/2016/07/the-war-on-stupid-people/485618/.

Charles Murray and Sean Collins (2016), America Against Itself – Charles Murray talks to Sean Collins about the new class war, Spiked Review, August 2016, at http://www.spiked-online.com/spiked-review/article/a-nation-divided, accessed 20 September 2016.

Joel Kotkin (2016), The New Culture War Dividing America – Underpinning the progressive elite’s snobbery is a vicious class antagonism, Spiked Review, August 2016, at http://www.spiked-online.com/spiked-review/article/the-new-culture-war-dividing-america, accessed 20 September 2016.

Joseph Heath (n.d.), The democracy deficit in Canada, at http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~jheath/democracy.pdf, accessed 12 August 2016 and uploaded to the Atlas at http://www.atlas101.ca/pm/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Heath-Democracy-Deficit-in-Canada.pdf.

Joseph Heath (2016), Electoral reform and the illusion of majority rule, Policy Options, 21 June, at http://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/june-2016/electoral-reform-and-the-illusion-of-majority-rule/, accessed 28 August 2016.

Ben Olken (2012), “Sometimes it Get’s Complicated: Condorcet’s Paradox and Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem” at http://ocw.mit.edu/courses/economics/14-75-political-economy-and-economic-development-fall-2012/lecture-notes/MIT14_75F12_Lec12.pdf.

James Stodder (2005), “Strategic Voting and Coalitions: Condorcet’s Paradox and Ben-Gurion’s Tri-lemma,” International Review of Economics Education, Vol. 4, Issue 2, 58-72, pdf available at http://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S1477388015301316, accessed 15 August 2016.

Edmund Burke (1774), Speech to the Electors of Bristol The Works of the Right Honourable Edmund Burke. 6 vols. London: Henry G. Bohn, 1854–56, retrieved from The University of Chicago Press at http://press-pubs.uchicago.edu/founders/documents/v1ch13s7.html, accessed 13 August 2016.

Mark D. Jarvis & Lori Turnbull: Canadian prime ministers have too much power, National Post, 2 May 2012, at http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/mark-d-jarvis-lori-turnbull-canadian-prime-ministers-have-too-much-power, accessed 12 August 2016.

Mark D. Jarvis: Why does Canada not disclose its rules concerning ‘caretaker’ governments? National Post, 4 April 2015, at http://news.nationalpost.com/full-comment/mark-jarvis-why-does-canada-not-disclose-its-rules-concerning-caretaker-governments, accessed 12 August 2016.

Book Review by Leslie Seidle (2012): Policy Options, http://policyoptions.irpp.org/magazines/the-best-premier-of-the-last-40-years/democratizing-the-constitution-reforming-responsible-government-book-review/, accessed 12 August 2016.

Additional resources

All the briefs submitted to the House of Commons Special Committee on Electoral Reform can be found under Briefs at http://www.parl.gc.ca/Committees/en/ERRE/StudyActivity?studyActivityId=9013025, accessed 26 September 2016. By following the links one can watch recordings of the proceedings on the Parliamentary Channel.

Recommended readings in MPP and MPA courses

Toronto PPG1000 Governance and Institutions

Docherty, David. 2012. “Imperfect Legislatures,” in Imperfect Democracies: The Democratic Deficit in Canada and the United States, eds. Patti Tamara Lenard and Richard Simeon, pp. 181-203. Vancouver: UBC Press.

Hicks, Bruce M. 2013. “Advice to the Minister of Democratic Reform: Senate Reform, Constitutional Amendments, Fixed Election Dates, and a Cabinet Manual.” Constitutional Forum 21(2): 23-37.

Joseph Heath (n.d.), The democracy deficit in Canada, at http://homes.chass.utoronto.ca/~jheath/democracy.pdf, accessed 12 August 2016 and uploaded to the Atlas at http://www.atlas101.ca/pm/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/Heath-Democracy-Deficit-in-Canada.pdf.

Concept comprehension questions

AQ100.03.01. Among statements a-d pertaining to the term political party choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. A political party is an organized group of people who exercise their legal right to identify with a set of similar political aims and opinions, and one that seeks to influence public policy by getting its candidates elected to public office.

b. Key tasks of political parties include: soliciting and prioritizing needs and policy priorities as identified by members and supporters; familiarizing and educating voters and citizens in the functioning of the political and electoral system and in generating general political values; and educating and training party members and leadership on an ongoing basis.

c. Key tasks of political parties include: balancing opposing demands and converting them into general policies; activating and mobilizing citizens toward political participation while demonstrating how they can transform public opinion into viable policy options.

d. In most well-functioning democracies, individual political parties enjoy a measure of constitutional protection in order to enhance stability an encourage political engagement.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.03.02. Among statements a-d pertaining to electoral systems choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Electoral systems translate the votes cast in an election into results – the offices/seats – won by parties and candidates.

b. The underlying dynamics of democratic politics are universal resulting in electoral systems in democracies being highly similar.

c. Key variables in electoral systems include: the electoral formula used (i.e., whether a plurality/majority, proportional, mixed or other system is used, and what mathematical formula is used to calculate the seat allocation); the ballot structure (i.e., whether the voter votes for a candidate or a party and whether the voter makes a single choice or expresses a series of preferences); and the district magnitude (not how many voters live in a district, but how many representatives to the legislature that district elects).

d. In designing an electoral system, important principles include: representation (to transform the expressed will of the voters into people who will represent it); transparency (known to both voters and political parties and candidates well in advance in order to avoid confusion and distrust in the results they produce at elections); and inclusiveness (allowing as many as possible citizens to and assuring access for all to the polling station).

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.03.03. Among statements a-d pertaining to classes of electoral systems choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Proportional electoral systems are designed to allocate seats in proportion to votes cast for political parties.

b. Non-proportional electoral systems are not designed to generate an outcome where seats won by political parties reflect their share of total votes cast. They include “majoritarian” and “plurality” systems (such as AV and FPTP, respectively) where candidates must win riding-level contests by capturing a plurality or majority of votes cast.

c. Non-proportional electoral systems include “majoritarian” systems (such as alternative vote) and “plurality” systems (such first past the post) where candidates must win riding-level contests by capturing a plurality or majority of votes cast.

d. Semi-proportional systems are designed to allocate seats in relatively proportional manner to the votes cast for political parties. For example, the single transferable vote system is a semi-proportional system that can become more or less proportional, depending on the number of MPs elected from each riding.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.03.04. Among statements a-d pertaining to the term first past the post choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. In a first past the post electoral system voters in each constituency vote for one candidate in that constituency and whoever has the most votes is elected as the representative for that constituency.

b. In a first past the post electoral system candidates are normally associated with a party, and the name of their party now appears on the ballot with the name of the candidate.

c. The first past the post electoral system is used in approximately 58 countries is in the world, including Canada, United Kingdom, United States, and India.

d. The first past the post electoral system favours “big tent” parties with sufficiently broad appeal to win the support of a significant proportion of the electorate as well as small regional parties with support concentrated in specific ridings but small issue-based parties, whose support is spread across the country, are less likely to win seats.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.03.05. Among statements a-d pertaining to the term alternative vote choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Under alternative vote each riding elects one member and voters rank candidates in order of preference. The winning candidate must have the support of a majority of voters in the riding, if necessary via a transfer of votes from eliminated candidates.

b. There are no Westminster government countries where the electoral system is based on alternative vote.

c. Under alternative vote if a candidate has a majority of first choice votes in a riding, they are declared the winner. If no one has a majority, the last place candidate is eliminated, and their votes are reallocated to the voters’ next choice on the ballot. This process continues until one candidate has a majority of votes.

d. The alternative vote electoral system is also known as “supplementary vote,” “instant run-off,” “preferential voting,” “ranked choice voting,” and “ranked ballot voting.”

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.03.06. Among statements a-d pertaining to the term list proportional representation choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. List proportional representation systems are designed to match parties’ proportion of seats in the legislature to their share of votes cast nationally, provincially or regionally – depending on the design of the system.

b. In list proportional representation systems, ridings are typically large (the average internationally is about 10 members per district), and voters generally cast a ballot for a political party or a specific candidate on a list prepared by the party.

c. List proportional representation is used in over 80 countries around the world, including Denmark, Norway and Spain.

d. In list proportional representation systems, voters have two votes: one for a candidate running in their riding, and a second for a party or a candidate on a party list.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.03.07. Among statements a-d pertaining to the term mixed-member proportional representation choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. In mixed-member proportional representation, ridings are typically large (the average internationally is about 10 MPs per district), and voters generally cast a ballot for a political party or a specific candidate on a list prepared by the party.

b. Mixed-member proportional representation is used in nine countries, including Germany and New Zealand.

c. In mixed-member proportional representation, voters have two votes: one for a candidate running in their riding, and a second for a party or a candidate on a party list.

d. List proportional representation systems are designed to match parties’ proportion of seats in the legislature to their share of votes cast nationally, provincially or regionally – depending on the design of the system.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.03.08. Among statements a-d pertaining to the term single transferable vote choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. The single transferable vote combines elements of different systems to both achieve a relatively proportional result and to elect MPs from specific constituencies. It has ranked ballots and large ridings, each with multiple elected MPs.

b. The single transferable vote system is used in two countries – Ireland and Malta.

c. In the single transferable vote system, voters rank candidates in order of preference. They can vote for candidates from a variety of parties or from a single party. Some forms of STV require voters to rank all candidates, while others make it optional. By the time all seats from the riding are assigned, nearly all electors’ votes will have counted towards the election of a candidate, producing a relatively proportional result. The result tends to grow more proportional with larger ridings that have more MPs.

d. To be elected in the single transferable vote system, a candidate must receive a certain quota: a number of votes required to win calculated using the number of votes cast in the riding and the number of seats to be won there. Candidates who reach the quota are elected and become MPs. Excess votes beyond that quota are transferred to the next choice on voters’ ballots. If no candidate has reached the quota, the last-place candidate is eliminated, and their votes are transferred to remaining candidates. Counting continues in this way through subsequent rounds until each seat is filled. This process can take many rounds to complete and cannot begin until all votes are counted. Therefore the results may not be known for some time after voting closes.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.03.09. Among statements a-d pertaining to minority-majority categories of government choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. A majority government in a Westminster system is one in which a single party (or a single coalition of likeminded parties) holds more than half the seats in the legislature and is therefore able to pass legislation without the support of opposition parties.

b. A coalition government in a Westminster system is one in which two or more parties share power in order to ensure the government has enough votes to maintain the confidence of the legislature.

c. A minority government in a Westminster system is one in which no party holds more than half the seats in the legislature.

d. A minority government cannot last longer than a single Parliamentary session without entering negotiations to form a coalition government.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.03.10. Among statements a-d pertaining to party leader selection and deselection choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. The most successful political parties have a high degree of ideological coherence and have developed mechanisms to select leaders who help maintain such coherence over time.

b. In most political parties, local selection processes deal mostly with local candidates to general elections, while the national leadership is selected on a national basis. In both cases, the party has to strike a difficult balance between national level strategies and local sensitivities while considering the party’s overall role in the political process at all levels.

c. Most political parties consist of different wings, subunits or special groups, which constantly seek to influence the party’s leadership and therefore also the selection process of party leaders.

d. The opening of internal leadership selection mechanisms to more general participation or democratization has also led to unintended consequences such as to the rise of internal battles between party groups and factions or even to the phenomenon of candidates taking part in leadership elections without any dedication to the party itself but rather to a single issue that in their view needs to be addressed publicly.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.03.11. Among statements a-d pertaining to party discipline choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Party discipline in the Westminster system is the ability of party leaders to ensure party members’ support their policies in Parliament through various means, including control of members’ nomination for election and membership in the caucus and their assignment to various party and parliamentary roles.

b. Populist parties tend to exhibit greater party discipline than big tent parties.

c. Breaking party discipline in parliamentary votes can result in a number of penalties for the member who dissents. These penalties include not being promoted to a cabinet position, and losing other perks of elected office like travel.

d. Party discipline tends to be extremely strong in Westminster systems such as the United Kingdom, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and India in which a vote by the legislature against the government is understood to cause the government to collapse, according to the convention of confidence votes.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.03.12. Among statements a-d pertaining to democratic deficit choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Democratic deficit can be defined as perceived deficiency in the way a particular political arrangement works in practice against a benchmark as to how it is supposed to work in theory.

b. There is a widely accepted theoretical account of what makes democracies democratic – or more specifically, how democratic institutions serve to confer legitimacy upon the power of the state.

c. The use of the term democratic deficit usually implies a connotation with a procedural perspective of democratic legitimacy. Decisions are thereby viewed as legitimate if they fulfil certain procedural requirements, such as direct or indirect citizen participation through elections as well as scrutiny and accountability of policy‐makers.

d. Most of the proposals for correcting the democratic deficit involve having more people vote on more issues, more often.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.03.13. Among statements a-d pertaining to comparisons between the Canadian Parliament and the United States Congress, choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Legislatures are the heart of a democratic society. This is where the laws of the land are debated, altered, approved, or rejected. The US Congress and the Canadian Parliament are two models of liberal democratic legislatures, each of which poses its own challenges with respect to the democratic deficit and the quality of democracy in the two countries.

b. The strengths and weaknesses are rooted in the fundamental difference between the governmental systems in Canada and the United States, i.e., between Westminster-style parliamentary government in Canada, with its concept of responsible government characterized by a close link between legislature and executive and by concentrated authority, and separation of powers in United States, with its checks and balances, and its dispersal of authority.

c. There is little evidence that much personal voting occurs in Canada. Most studies indicate that incumbency rarely accounts for more than 5 percent of a local vote total; instead, party and leader are the largest determinants of electoral outcomes. By contrast, American legislators enjoy substantial personal and incumbency benefits, despite much larger districts.

d. Political scientists are largely in agreement that in both Canada and the United States a more civil and deliberative legislative assembly focused on problem solving would have greater public legitimacy than would one filled with acrimony and vitriol.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.03.14. Among statements a-d pertaining to populism choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Populism can be defined as political ideas and activities that are intended to get the support of ordinary people by giving them what they want.

b. Populist leaders usually try to mobilize the population (often, but not always, the lower classes) against an institution or government, usually in the defense of the underdog or the wronged.

c. Populism seeks to unite the uncorrupt and the unsophisticated against the corrupt dominant elites (usually the orthodox politicians) and their camp followers (usually the rich and the intellectuals).

d. Populist leaders often resort to appeals to the basest but also some of the most ineradicable traits of human beings – their capacity for mob anger, their racist resentments, their cruelty, their lust, their search for scapegoats, their insecurities.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.03.15. Among statements a-d pertaining to nativism choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Nativism can be defined as the political idea that people who were born in a country are more important than people who have come to live in the country from somewhere else.

b. Nativism is a policy of favouring native inhabitants as opposed to immigrants.

c. Nativism is a relatively recent phenomenon in North America.

d. Historians have speculated that some Americans’ intermittent hostility to outsiders is fundamentally religious – a transmutation of a hunch that the devil walks among them, and that the faithful must be ever vigilant for his guises.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.03.16. Among statements a-d pertaining to what Yascha Mounk describes as a growing tension between illiberal democracy and undemocratic liberalism choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Across the established democracies of North America and Western Europe, the last years have witnessed a rise of figures who promise to stand up for ordinary people, to do away with a corrupt political elite, to put the ethnic and religious minorities who are now (supposedly) being favored in their rightful (subordinate) place, to do away with liberal political institutions like an independent judiciary or a free, robust press so long as those stand in the way of the people’s will.

b. In both Europe and North America, much of the left increasingly thinks of “liberal” as a term of abuse. Indeed, a growing share of left-wing activists has gone from understandable anger at the many shortcomings of the status quo to an outright rejection of the foundational political values of our age. Assuming that ideals that are flagrantly contradicted in practice can’t be worth very much in theory either, they too are giving up on the core tenets of liberal democracy.

c. Centrist politicians have now become the last explicit defenders of liberalism. But, squeezed between a blatantly authoritarian right and an increasingly illiberal left, they have begun to seek refuge in new forms of technocratic rule.

d. If the populists are pushing for a political system that does away with one half of liberal democracy, the truth is that a large number of establishment politicians are increasingly tempted to embrace a system that does away with the other half. The political establishment is increasingly insulating itself from the people’s demands, opting for a form of rights without democracy.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.03.17. Among statements a-d pertaining to preference aggregation and Condorcet’s paradox choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. Proportional representation is more democratic than the first-past-the-post electoral system.

b. The desire to represent somehow the will of the majority through our electoral system is a futile quest – electoral reform can move but not eliminate the “bump under the carpet” (the element of arbitrariness) produced by Condorcet’s paradox.

c. Condorcet’s paradox is a classic problem in democracy, first formalised by the Marquis de Condorcet at the time of the French revolution, stating that majority preferences can become intransitive with three or more options. It is possible for a certain electorate to express a preference for A over B, a preference for B over C, and a preference for C over A, all from the same set of ballots.

d. In proportional representation systems where parliamentary seats are allocated based strictly on vote share the “bump under the carpet” is moved to the legislature where, since the majority will is often non-existent there, something arbitrary is going to have to happen in order to get legislation passed.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.03.18. Among statements a-d pertaining to the aggregative model of democracy choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. The aggregative model of democracy is one in which the political system is as transparent as possible to the popular will. Instead of the elite imposing its own goals and preferences upon the public, the public itself determines what should be done, and the political leadership simply implements its decisions.

b. Proponents of the aggregative model tend to believe that all political legitimacy must be anchored in a popular vote. This makes them instinctively suspicious of any institutional arrangement that allows individuals who have not been directly elected to wield significant power. Commitment to an aggregative view also often underlies support for proportional representation.

c. Often there is simply no way to construct a social preference ordering out of the set of individual preferences. Individual opinions simply do not add up to one coherent general will. The most straightforward example of this is Condorcet’s paradox.

d. Proportional representation is a proven mechanism for solving the social preference problem.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.03.19. Among statements a-d pertaining to the deliberative model of democracy choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. The deliberative model of democracy is one where the function of voting and elections is not to permit the naked expression of interests, it is to constitute a deliberative body that will be charged with the responsibility of determining where the common good lies.

b. The American political system tends to be organized on an aggregative model, the Westminster parliamentary tradition has been deeply influenced by the deliberative conception of politics (in part due to the influence of philosopher and parliamentarian Edmund Burke, who provided the most influential articulation of the ideal).

c. For proponents of the deliberative model of democracy there is very little to be said for free votes in parliament. What matters is not the counting of hands, but rather the deliberation that goes on in caucus, and within the political parties more generally. Once caucus has decided, after a free and open discussion, where the public interest lies, it is only natural that party discipline should be imposed upon members. A free vote defeats the purpose of having deliberation in committee and caucus and increases the likelihood that parochial interests of one type or another will sway the member’s vote.

d. The often criticized practices of horse-trading and logrolling that take place in legislative bodies are evidence of the deliberative model at work.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.03.20. Among statements a-d pertaining to the competitive model of democracy choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. The competitive model of democracy considers the competition for political leadership to be the central feature of democratic institutions.

b. The competitive model shifts the emphasis away from the content of legislation towards those who enact it. The complexity of human affairs is such that, throughout all of human history, groups have needed leaders to make decisions. Things do not change fundamentally with the transition to democracy. The core function of democratic institutions is simply to impose some constraints on who gets to run things.

c. For proponents of the competitive model of democracy the ideal democratic system is one that generates strong, capable leadership, but which does not allow such leadership to become entrenched.

d. The competitive model of government recognizes the delicate balancing act between giving give too little power to the leadership (with the resulting ineffective government, institutional gridlock, and public frustration with the political process) and giving too much power to the leadership (with the resulting ossification of power structures, cronyism, and public discontent with the leadership). The goal is to create a powerful institutional structure, but then to ensure a steady circulation of qualified personnel within that structure.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

AQ100.03.21. Among statements a-d pertaining to the comparative state of Canadian democracy and the need for electoral reform choose one that is invalid or choose e if all are reasonably valid.

a. From a comparative perspective, Canada is not particularly easy to govern given that it is highly regionalized, with economies that are largely at odds with one another, with several major religious groups, not to mention several founding ethnic groups and then immigrant waves that at various times viewed each other as unfit for common purpose and interaction.

b. Canada has functioned relatively well as a democracy with nearly 150 years of uninterrupted democratic rule with dozens of peaceful transfers of power. By the standards of the times, Canadian elections have been well-conducted, its franchise liberally composed, and its policies relatively enlightened.

c. The fact that Canada has been held together and integrated might have something to do with an electoral system which has rewarded parties that do the work between elections of building the largest possible coalitions of people, and then putting in place policies that address their diverse demands.

d. There is no perfect electoral system. Different countries have relatively strong, healthy democracies under a variety of electoral systems.

e. All of a-d are reasonably valid statements.

Page created by: Ian Clark, last modified on 3 February 2017.

Image: Photograph of the Canadian Senate chamber, The Content Philosopher, at http://www.gollner.ca/2009/week53/, accessed 12 August 2016.