Democracy (Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy)

In some cases combinations of the above forms have

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Unformatted text preview: cases, combinations of the above forms have been tried. Single member district representation returns single representatives of geographically defined areas containing roughly equal populations to the legislature and is present most prominently in the United States and the United Kingdom. The most common form of proportional representation is party list proportional representation. In a simple form of such a scheme, a number of parties compete for election to a legislature that is not divided into geographical districts. P arties acquire seats in the legislature as a proportion of the total number of votes they receive in the voting population as a whole. Group representation occurs when the society is divided into non-geographically defined groups such as ethnic or linguistic groups or even functional groups such as workers, farmers and capitalists and returns representatives to a legislature from each of them. Many have argued in favor of single member district legislation on the grounds that it has appeared to them to lead to more stable government than other forms of representation. The thought is that proportional representation tends to fragment the citizenry into opposing homogeneous camps that rigidly adhere to their party lines and that are continually vying for control over the government. Since there are many parties and they are unwilling to compromise with each other, governments formed from coalitions of parties tend to fall apart rather quickly. The post war experience of governments in Italy appears to confirm this hypothesis. Single member district representation, in contrast, is said to enhance the stability of governments by virtue of its favoring a two party system of government. Each election cycle then determines which party is to stay in power for some length of time. Charles Beitz argues (1989, chap. 7) that single member district representation encourages moderation in party programs offered for citizens to consider. This results from the tendency of this kind of representation towards two party systems. In a two party system with majority rule, it is argued, each party must appeal to the median voter in the political spectrum. Hence, they must moderate their programs to appeal to the median voter. Furthermore, they encourage compromise among groups since they must try to appeal to a lot of other groups in order to become part of one of the two leading parties. These tendencies encourage moderation and compromise in citizens to the extent that political parties, and interest groups, hold these qualities up as necessary to functioning well in a democracy. In criticism, advocates of proportional and group representation have argued that single member district representation tends to muffle the voices and ignore the interests of minority groups in the society. Minority interests and views tend to be articulated in background negotiations and in ways that muffle their distinctiveness. Furthermore, representatives of minority interests and views often have a difficult time getting elected at all in single member district systems so it has been charged that minority plato.stanfor d.edu/entr ies/democr acy/ 17/28 8/30/13 Democr acy ( Stanfor d Encyclopedia of Philosophy) views and interests are often systematically underrepresented. Sometimes these problems are dealt with by redrawing the boundaries of districts in a way that ensures greater minority representation. The efforts are invariably quite controversial since there is considerable disagreement about the criteria for apportionment. In proportional representation, by contrast, representatives of different groups are seated in the legislature in proportion to citizens’ choices. Minorities need not make their demands conform to the basic dichotomy of views and interests that characterize single member district systems so their views are more articulated and distinctive as well as better represented. Another criticism of single member district representation is that it encourages parties to pursue dubious electoral campaign strategies. The need to appeal to a large, diverse and somewhat amorphous sector of the population can very often be best met by using ambiguous, vague and often quite irrelevant appeals to the citizens. Thus instead of encouraging reasonable compromise the scheme tends to support tendencies towards ignorance, superficiality and fatuousness in political campaigns and in the citizenry. It encourages political leaders to take care of the real issues of politics in back rooms while they appeal to citizens by means of smoke and mirrors. Of course, those who agree in the main with the elitist type theories will see nothing wrong in this, indeed they may well champion this effect. P roportional representation requires that parties be relatively clear and up front about their proposals, so those who believe that democracy is ethically grounded in the appeal to equality tend to favor proportional representation (see Christiano 1996, chap. 6). Advoc...
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This document was uploaded on 01/16/2014.

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