Tag Archives: first past the post

Exploding the Myth: MMP and Inceasing Voter Turnout

A number of web sites (such as this one, this one and this one) in favour of Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) claim that one reason to vote yes in the upcoming Ontario electoral reform referendum is because MMP will arrest the decline in voter turnout. At best, this claim is problematic. At worst, it is flat out false.

Let me be clear. I’m deeply concerned about the decline in voter turnout. Moreover, I wish MMP would help. But the evidence shows that it doesn’t. Specifically, New Zealand and Germany, the two countries that use MMP, have both experienced a decline in voter turnout equal to that experienced here in Canada.

Probably the best example for this is New Zealand, a country which, in 1993, voted to transition from a First Past the Post electoral system (which we use here in Canada) to MMP. In effect, the Ontario electoral referendum is asking if Ontario should follow in New Zealand’s footsteps.

The problem is, that after adopting MMP in 1993 the decline in New Zealand’s voting rate accelerated. Consider the following chart, courtesy of the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance. MMP did reverse voter turn out, but only for the first election. After this point voter turnout declined faster than before the adoption.

Participation Rate in New Zealand Elections

1960 85.6%
1963 83.3%
1966 79.3%
1969 85.6%
1972 85.3%
1975 81.7%
1978 82.3%
1981 88.9%
1984 87.4%
1987 81.4%
1990 78.6%
1993 79.6%
1996 83.0% (first MMP election)
1999 76.1%
2002 72.5%
2005 n/a

Although Germany continues to enjoy a higher absolute voter turnout rates than Canada, it is also experiencing a decline in voter turn out similar to that of Canada.

Participation Rate in German Elections

1949 76.5%
1953 80.6%
1957 87.6%
1961 86.9%
1965 80.9%
1969 79.9%
1972 88.7%
1976 83.8%
1980 81.8%
1983 81.0%
1987 75.0%
1990 73.1%
1994 72.4%
1998 75.3%
2002 73% * (conservative estimate, divided total votes by Germany’s 1998 population, more likely 72%)
2005 72% * (conservative estimate, divided total votes by Germany’s 1998 population, more likely 70%)

Finally, some pro-MMP sites discuss how countries with MMP have higher electoral participation rates than Canada. This is true. However, this is based on only 2 data points (Germany and New Zealand). However, it is worth noting that New Zealand experienced higher voting rates than Canada even when it had the FPTP system and that, as noted above, participation rates declined faster after the adoption MMP than under FPTP.

So is it the voting system in Germany and New Zealand that creates a high voter turnout? In New Zealand – whose political culture and history is more similar to our own, the answer is definitely no. In Germany, it is possible, but hard to ascertain. What is known is that Germany, New Zealand and Canada are all experiencing a decline in voter turn out at the same rate, and based on the experience of New Zealand, whose switch from FPTP to MMP had no impact on this decline, there is little reason to believe that electoral reform would have a different impact here in Canada.

There may be good arguments in favour of voting for MMP but improving voter turn out is not one of them.

Isn’t it time we put this argument to bed?