The Limitations of Proportional Representation

About 23% of Americans don’t like both Trump and Clinton. Many of these people are considering third parties, or would like to be considering them but don’t feel they can safely do so because of the American voting system, which makes it very difficult for third parties to win and ensures that people who vote third party get no say in the choice between the two major party nominees. Some people have talked about wanting to switch to proportional representation (PR) to break the stranglehold of the two parties on politics. Under PR, if 8% of the population votes for a Green or a Libertarian, 8% of the legislature is comprised of Greens or Libertarians. If no party is able to put together a majority of votes, parties have to cooperate in coalitions to get things done. PR is in Jill Stein’s platform and some libertarians have expressed enthusiasm for it as well. PR cannot really be applied to the presidential race, because the president can only be one person–he or she cannot be 8% Green. But for presidential races we could employ a ranked ballot system allowing for an instant-runoff. On this system if you voted for Jill Stein your vote could be transferred to Clinton after Stein is eliminated. This may sound intriguing, but PR is not a magic bullet and it can produce some very bad situations that we should consider.

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