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1. The two types of electoral systems that are discussed in this essay are plurality or ‘first past the post’ and proportional system. This essay discusses how these systems work and how they affect the electoral outcomes.
The plurality system works on the principle of a party coming into power because it has received the highest of the votes from the public; thus, in a plurality system, candidates with the highest number of votes wins even though they may not receive the majority of the votes. In the UK, the plurality system works to allow the government to be formed by the single-party that is ‘first past the post electoral system’ (Norris, 1997; Hoffman, 2005). In a plurality system, it is not necessary for candidates to achieve the majority of the vote, what is needed is a simply the polling more votes than the closest opponent. In multi party countries like India, where plurality system is used, the implication of the candidate with the highest number of votes (without achieving majority votes) could mean that winning candidates could also receive only a minority of the votes cast. In other words, one drawback of the plurality system is that in countries with multiple parties, candidates may win by ‘first past the post’ method, even though they have only a minority of voters voting for them (Norris, 1997). Thus, where votes get divided amongst many candidates, plurality system does not necessarily provide a fair assessment of public support for the candidate. While most countries with plurality systems have two parties (like the United States), there are others like India, which have more than two parties. Thus, it may be said that a major drawback of the plurality system is that it allows electoral outcomes where the winning candidates may not have popular vote.
It has been stated that the aim of plurality systems is to create a 'manufactured majority', so that there is a perception of a majority opinion in favour of the winners in a first past the post system; this is done to ensure an effective governance (Norris, 1997). However, there is also a problem of non representation of all minority views in such a system which puts the minority opinions as well as the parties that managed to get approval from such minority groups at a disadvantage (Norris, 1997).
Proportional system works on the principle that the distribution of seats should be proportional to the distribution of the popular vote. Instead of allowing candidates win in a first past the post system, and on that basis a party with the majority of the winning candidates forming government even though it does not have popular majority, a proportional system creates a representative body that reflects the popular vote within the electorate. It has been said that proportional systems have electoral outcomes that lead to inclusion of minority voices (Norris, 1997). Therefore, the benefit of this system is that it allows the inclusion of minority voices, which is not seen in the plurality system (Norris, 1997). The proportional system works in a way that there are multimember constituencies and parties can win legislative representation even if they have not achieved majority or a plurality. An example of proportional system can be seen in Israel where the Knesset sees representation from more than 10 parties.
As the selection of a country’s political leadership in a democracy depends on the electoral system, the question as to which the best electoral system is becomes relevant (Hoffman, 2005). However, it has been argued that it is difficult to select the best system because different systems have different advantages and disadvantages and therefore, it is difficult to say one system is the best (Norris, 1997). At the same time, based on certain ideals that may be central to a nation, it may be decided that a particular system works better for a country. Therefore, if the ideals of minority representation and inclusion are important to a nation, then proportional system may work better for them. Similarly, if effective and stable governance is the important ideal, then plurality system may work better. Research does suggest that proportional system is more aligned to democratic ideals of political equality, minority inclusion, and citizen participation and the translation of voter preferences into policy (Lijphart, 1999). Therefore, democracies that are more focussed on consensus rather than majoritarianism may find that the proportional system works better because it involves “the greatest number of people in the governing process through multiple parties and the proportional electoral system” (Hoffman, 2005, p. 238). The electoral outcomes of plurality system may be summed up as providing leadership to those who represent the highest number of votes amongst an electorate. On the other hand, a proportional system can be summed as giving representation in a proportionate manner so that even minority public opinion is represented.
The proportional system is a better system as compared to the plurality system because it does not create a manufactured majority but truly represents a wider and more diverse groups within the electorate. In light of democracies, especially in the west becoming more diverse in terms of electorate, a proportional system is better equipped to provide consensus democracies where important decisions are not just representative of majority will but also of diverse groups of minorities. It may also be mentioned that governments formed by plurality systems are not always truly representative of the popular vote. This is especially true for democracies that have more than two political parties. Therefore, decisions taken in such democracies may seem to represent majority of the public will, but do not necessarily do so. Therefore, considering these important aspects of plurality and proportional systems, it is concluded that the proportional system is more capable of leading to a consensus democracy.
1. The term political cynicism was explained by Agger, Goldstein, and Pearl (1961) as the point when the word politics “symbolize[s] something negative rather than something positive” (p. 477). Therefore, political cynicism has negative connotations with the section of the citizenry viewing politics as something negative rather than positive. The negativity about politics may be related to distrust in politicians and by extension, government; as well as a disconnect between the citizenry and political process (Opdycke, Segura, & Vasquez, 2013). There is always some level of political cynicism in an electorate and for some political scientists such minor levels of cynicism are to be excepted in a democracy (Erber & Lau, 1990); the problem occurs when political cynicism becomes a major phenomenon which is affecting a significant part of the electorate and for an extended period of time. This becomes a problem because significant and long term political cynicism affects electoral outcomes negatively with a significant number of people becoming disassociated with the political process (Erber & Lau, 1990).
The question is why people grow to be cynical about politics and what are the reasons for the increase in negative association with politics for some sections of the general public. One of the reasons for increased cynicism with politics may be linked to the perception that governance is opaque and that the public is not receiving the entire information related to decisions that affect them (Opdycke, Segura, & Vasquez, 2013). This may happen when governance in a nation is not seen by a section of the public to be done in a transparent way. People may have negative perceptions about political processes also. For example, a section of the public may believe that elections are not free and fair, and that electoral processes are biased or being used for the benefit of certain individuals or political parties. A recent example of this kind of political cynicism can be seen in the United States where the 2020 Presidential elections have come to be seen by a section of voters as being rigged or ‘stolen’ (Samuels & Livingstone, 2020).
Political cynicism may also increase where public perception about politicians’ becomes increasingly negative; this may be due to the perception that politicians are corrupt and selfish. Voters in an electorate may be disillusioned with politics because they may think of the politicians as self-serving and they may think that political processes are also used by self-serving politicians to attain some selfish objectives (Rijkhoff, 2018). This kind of cynicism is not so much related to the perception of electoral processes but with the way politicians are perceived in general.
Another reason why there can be increased political cynicism is because of the increased emphasis and coverage of public scandals involving politicians. This may be done by what are known as ‘alternate’ political groups that wish to alienate voters from traditional politics by diminution of trust in political institutions; to some extent this has been the approach of some far-right parties that have sought to disillusion voters and increase distrust in traditional politics and institutions (Fieschi & Heywood, 2004). Thus, distrust in traditional political parties and institutions may be increased by the radical right parties that try to diminish the value of the traditional politics and increase populism (Fieschi & Heywood, 2004).
Political cynicism is manifested in different ways; one of the ways of manifestation of political cynicism is in reduced incidence of voting as seen in the 2012 American Presidential elections in which more than 40% citizens did not vote (Opdycke, Segura, & Vasquez, 2013). This indicates that the effects of political cynicism can be significantly adverse for the political processes and electoral outcomes in a democracy. If a significant chunk of the electorate does not engage with the political processes in a nation, electoral outcomes do not really represent the will of the people.
One of the ways in which political cynicism can be reduced is through media role. Media is shown to play an important role in increasing or decreasing political cynicism; this is because negative or positive reporting about political processes and institutions can affect voting behaviour in an electorate (Lee, 2005). Voters’ consumption of media can affect their perceptions about political processes and to improve this perception, positive media on the values of voting and representative governance can lead to addressing of political cynicism (Lee, 2005).
Another way in which political cynicism can be reduced is through increasing transparency in governance and about government programmes. This can be done by outreach programmes of the government where the government is more transparent about its actions. This can increase trust in politics and political institutions which is what is needed to reduce political cynicism.
Political cynicism can be reduced through greater involvement of the public in the electoral processes; for instance, in the United States, presidential debates are an important part of the electoral process and these are viewed by the people who also form their views on who they would vote for after watching the performance of the candidates in the debates (Jomini Stroud, Stephens, & Pye, 2011). In one research conducted by Nielsen Media in 2008, it was found that between 50 million and 70 million people watched each of the presidential and vice presidential debates; the researchers found that a majority of the participants in the study reported to reduced cynicism after watching the debates (Jomini Stroud, Stephens, & Pye, 2011).
To conclude, political cynicism is caused primarily by the trust deficit between the citizenry and the political parties and government. This trust deficit can be caused due to negative media reporting, or alternate political parties’ stress on scandals and corruption in the traditional politics. To reduce cynicism, the role of the media can be important because media reporting affects the views of the citizenry about political parties and processes. Cynicism can also be reduced by improving transparency in the government functioning as well as making political processes more transparent and inclusive. Where the government is more transparent about its functioning, it reduces negative perceptions of the government. Where people are included in electoral processes, such as, by increasing information about the candidates (such as through presidential debates), cynicism can be reduced.
Agger, R. E., Goldstein, M. N., & Pearl, S. A. (1961). Political cynicism: Measurement and meaning. The Journal of Politics, 23(3), 477-506.
Erber, R., & Lau, R. R. (1990). Political Cynicism Revisited: An Information-Processing Reconciliation of Policy-Based and Incumbency-Based Interpretations of Changes in Trust in Government. American Journal of Political Science, 34(1), 236-253.
Fieschi, C., & Heywood, P. (2004). Trust, cynicism and populist anti‐politics. Journal of Political Ideologies, 9(3), 289-309.Hoffman, A. L. (2005). Political parties, electoral systems and democracy: A cross‐national analysis. European Journal of Political Research, 44(2), 231-242.
Jomini Stroud, N., Stephens, M., & Pye, D. (2011). The influence of debate viewing context on political cynicism and strategic interpretations. American Behavioral Scientist, 55(3), 270-283.
Lee, T. (2005). Media effects on political disengagement: A multiple-media approach. Journalism & Mass Communication Quarterly, 82 , 416–433.
Lijphart, A. (1999). Patterns of democracy: Government forms and performance in thirty-six countries. New Haven: Yale University Press.
Norris, P. (1997). Choosing electoral systems: proportional, majoritarian and mixed systems. International political science review, 18(3), 297-312.
Opdycke, K., Segura, P., & Vasquez, A. M. (2013). The Effects of Political Cynicism, Political Information Efficacy and Media Consumption on Intended Voter Participation. Colloquy , 9, 75-97.
Samuels, A., & Livingstone, A. (2020, DEC. 14). After voting for Donald Trump, Texas electors ask swing states to reject results that assured victory for Joe Biden. Retrieved from www.texastribune.org: https://www.texastribune.org/2020/12/14/texas-electoral-college/
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