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Political Science Essay Example: The Two Main Electoral Systems

3 pages
660 words
Harvey Mudd College
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The basic way in which members of the public can democratically participate in affairs affecting them is through voting or elections. Voters can be involved in decision making through initiatives and referendums. Similarly, the proportional representation (PR) and single-member district (SMD) are the main electoral systems used in voting. Most of the democratic nations use proportional representation, while others use a mix of PR and SMD. Besides that, there are other advantages and disadvantages involved with PR and SMD systems.

Single-Member District

An SMD is an electoral constituency or district that has a single representative in the legislative body (Bullock III, 2017). To understand their advantages and disadvantages, the discussion focuses solely on SMDs strengths and weaknesses.

Advantages of SMDs

Supporters can associate several benefits of SMD which include: SMDs grant voters strong district representation as each of the voters has a single and easily identifiable constituency representative. Secondly, SMDs promote constituency service because they provide the voters with an ombudsman who is easily identifiable. Third, this electoral system maximizes accountability as only one representative is held responsible for the occurrences and the same guy has the chance to be re-elected or defeated when another election is held. Lastly, SMDs encourage geographical representation.

Disadvantages of SMDs

Critics state that SMDs must be redrawn regularly to maintain relatively equal-sized populations. Secondly, SMDs are normally artificial geographic units/entities whose boundaries fail to demarcate noticeably identifiable communities. As a result, the entities lack meticulous relevance to people (Bullock III, 2017). Lastly, because they typically over-represent the popular/majority party as well as under-represent the others, SMDs cannot generate a parties proportional representation.

Proportional representation (PR)

PR is a major electoral system in which seats are distributed to correspond closely with the total votes cast for an individual candidate or each party (Cox, Fiva, & Smith, 2016). This system typically offers better representation chances to smaller groups and parties. The types of PR also differ. The proportionality also differs with the formula used to allocate the seats, the number of seats, and the minimum threshold of the election.

Advantages of PR

Supporters argue that proportional representation encourage turn-out as well as reduce apathy. Secondly, PR potentially offers voters more and greater representative choice (Kedar, Harsgor, & Sheinerman, 2016). Moreover, PR does not in normal circumstances produce an absolute majority for a single party. Additionally, PR ensures independent candidates and minority parties are treated fairly. Lastly, PR ensures that parties plea with their key supporters rather than aimlessly concentrating on swing voter from the minority.

Disadvantages of PR

Critics argue that proportional representation can provide extremists with a channel to the political mainstream. Secondly, others argue that PR generates a weak coalition government rather than a strong majority government. Similarly, PR can reduce the representatives accountability to their voters. In the same way, PR list systems make the link between the constituency and the elected representative weaker. Lastly, according to Kedar, Harsgor, & Sheinerman (2016), PR allows greater complexity as well as choice and as result, they discourage voters from voting.


In sum, SMDs strengths rest upon close ties that exist between constituents and representatives, the representatives accountability to their voters, and the constituency service. However, because they are used concurrently with the majority or plurality voting rules, SMDs foster strong as well as a stable government. PR provides alternatives to first-past-the-post as well as other majoritarian systems of voting based on SMD areas which have produced disproportionate outcomes and a bias in favor of the stronger political groups.


Bullock III, C. S. (2017). Dow, Jay K. Electing the House: The Adoption and Performance of the US Single-Member District Electoral System: Lawrence, KS: University Press of Kansas, 2017. 332 pages. 45(hardcover); 24.95 (softcover). In Congress & the Presidency (Vol. 44, No. 3, pp. 394-396). Routledge.

Cox, G. W., Fiva, J. H., & Smith, D. M. (2016). The contraction effect: How proportional representation affects mobilization and turnout. The Journal of Politics, 78(4), 1249-1263.

Kedar, O., Harsgor, L., & Sheinerman, R. A. (2016). Are Voters Equal under Proportional Representation?. American Journal of Political Science, 60(3), 676-691.

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