Is rural-urban PR gaining on MMP?

In the British Columbia mail-in referendum, the most likely option to win, should change from FPTP be endorsed, has seemed to be Mixed-Member Proportional (MMP). However, a poll from Mainstream BC, released on Nov. 8, suggests that one of the other options could be gaining.

The one that looks close, at least in this poll, is Rural-Urban PR (RUP). I reviewed all of the proposals before, and so will only briefly describe the RUP system here: It would be Single Transferable Vote (STV) for most of the province, but MMP in rural areas. The proposal is meant to address concerns that rural districts (ridings) would have to be too large if STV were used in the entire province, while still giving the rural interior a reasonable degree of proportionality.

This poll shows that on the critical first question, whether to keep FPTP or move to PR, the BC Interior prefers the status quo, 53.3% to 46.7%. Metro Vancouver voters only narrowly favor PR (50.1%), while Vancouver Island favors PR by a slightly wider margin (52.7%). The regional samples are small, so should be treated with caution. Nonetheless, they are suggestive of skepticism of PR in rural areas, exactly what the RUP proposal is meant to address. Overall, it is way too close to call: 50.5% for keeping FPTP, 49.9% for PR.

It is on preference over PR systems that we see the most interesting divide. According to this poll, MMP leads by a wide margin in Metro Vancouver: 50.4% to 32.2% for RUP and 17.4% for the third option, Dual-Member PR (DMP). On Vancouver Island, it is similar, but tighter: 40.4%, 38.3%, 21.3% (this is just 86 respondents). In BC Interior, however, the poll gets RUP on 49.5%, then MMP 37%, and DMP just 13.5%.

Overall, this still puts MMP in front, given the greater population of Vancouver: 44.8%, 38.2%, 17.0%.

It could be that RUP is gaining, as earlier polls had it and DMP both far behind MMP. There is an on-line presence for a specifically pro-RUP effort (“YUP for RUP”). There is some expressed support for RUP, for instance by Andrew Coyne in the National Post. He says he favors it “mostly for the STV part.”

It would be very interesting if RUP ended up winning, but on the strength of rural voters who, were it chosen, would vote by MMP, while Vancouver voters (who would vote by STV) had majority-preferred MMP but would get STV. OK, that was convoluted, but that is the point. It is not a likely outcome, but it is at least possible, provided it is really close in Vancouver and there is a decisive turn towards RUP in rural areas. And would be interesting!

The choice of PR model, if PR defeats FPTP in the first question, will be determined by province-wide alternative vote (the second question is a ranked ballot). So, it would be good to know what DMP supporters’ second choice tends to be. I would guess MMP, but that is just that–a guess. It probably depends on which feature of DMP that minority likes best–all members elected in local districts (for which STV would seem to beat MMP) or province-wide proportionality (for which MMP is clearly better than RUP).

A final note from the poll: It has 963 total respondents, but only 440 for the second question. So lots of voters may be planning to skip the question on choice of models. It is unclear whether that is because those who want FPTP are not weighing in at all, or because of pro-PR canvassers saying things like “if you are confused about the second part, you can skip it” (which I heard in my brief observation of campaigning).

9 thoughts on “Is rural-urban PR gaining on MMP?

  1. I wonder if RUP would do so well in rural areas if “rural” did not come up first in its name. On the other hand, Urban-Rural Proportional would have resulted in a rather unfortunate acronym.

    • Urban-Rural Proportional sounds like some sort of GOP play to playmander a legislative body by claiming that in area with one big urban area and six rural counties, the “proportionate” thing to do would be to elect one representative from the city and six from the surrounding communities.

      • Rural-urban schemes were quite common in the early stages of Europe’s transition to PR. They were deliberately designed to allow conservatives and liberals to win seats in urban areas where they would not be competitive under single-member districts, while maintaining conservative and liberal control in rural areas. These schemes tended to break down quite quickly in favour of nationwide PR, except in Germany where they survived until the end of the empire. If RUP gets up in BC, we could expect the R component to disappear in a relatively short time. During the NSW STV-PR decade in the 20s, the Sydney region was divided into 5-member districts and the rest of the state was divided into 3-member districts.

      • I have seen what Alan suggests might happen (the ‘R’ component going away after a time) on an online discussion group. Maybe so. But I am not so sure. This was proposed because of the unpopularity (or perceived unpopularity) of larger districts, needed for STV, in the interior of the province.

        Moreover, this is not your (grand)father’s urban/rural scheme, given that it is PR for the rural areas, too. Just a different kind (MMP).

        It is a pretty weird system, and I agree it could be vulnerable to attack because of the different elements. But I have to applaud the cleverness of dealing with the Achilles heal of the BC-STV proposal from some years ago.

  2. I think it will be interesting if RUP does get up. Preferential voting is not, contrary to some beliefs, administered to Australians as a secret drug that nefarious forces add to Vegemite. There may be a tennis club or something out there somewhere in Australia that does not use preferential voting to elect its committee, but I have my doubts.

    Attempts to introduce other schemes have (as in Ireland) encountered considerable popular resistance. That was true of SA’s experiment with a list system for the legislative council and of modified D’Hondt in the ACT. It is no accident that the ACT electoral system is both the only product of popular consultation followed by a fairly decisive referendum and the purest example of Hare-Clark-Robson in the country.

    If RUP does get up, I’d expect rural British Columbians, after a fairly short time, to demand the same right to a fully preferential vote that urban British Columbians will possess.

    • That’s a very interesting proposition, Alan. And it makes sense. I suppose they could have their own little local version of the Jenkins AV+. (Then watch as urban BC demands a compensation tier on top of its STV!)

      • The original RUP was designed for federal elections by a Fair Vote Canada working group. It tried to splice local rural MPs into the Swedish model. Sweden has an 11% top-up calculation, for parties getting over 4%, to top up the multi-member district results. Because we are adding some single-member districts, we suggested a top-up calculation of 15% to 20%. It could be a second vote model, or it could be a one-vote model like Sweden’s: the top-up MP from a region is the best runner-up for the party most under-represented in that region. So the ballot in the multi-member districts could be the Swedish ballot or could be STV. Even if a region has all multi-member districts, a 15% top-up would still be good in BC, since the STV multi-member districts will average only 5 MLAs each, smaller than Sweden’s.

        However, the experts advising the Attorney-General decided to simplify RUP: just STV regions and MMP regions. No Swedish compensation tier (not a “tier” actually, a “calculation.”)

        Now if RUP wins the referendum, yes, you will indeed see PR activists in urban BC request a top-up layer of about 15% from best runners-up, like the original RUP model. As well as requesting some STV districts in the three small-urban centres within the MMP region (the 24 MLAs in the Interior and North), which will reduce the number of regional compensatory MLAs, and allow the single-member districts to be smaller than under normal MMP. So RUP is a work in progress.

      • When Tasmania adopted STV it at first applied only in Hobart, the state capital and largest city, where a magnitude 6 district covered the whole city. FPTP was retained in single member districts on grounds identical with those argued against STV in BC. The 1896 system then, looked rather like RUP. The legislative council resisted the system proposed by the house of assembly and a new bills had to be passed every year to keep the Hobart superdistrict in being. By 1907 rural pressure (including, I am happy to say, demands for the same voting rights as Hobart electors) forced the legislative council to abandon its opposition and STV was extended to the whole of the state.

  3. Afterthought, the issue that led to popular support outside Hobart for statewide STV was not necessarily proportional representation, because Tasmania only had an embryonic party system. An example is the 1900 general election where the result was:

    Free Trade Party 18
    Independents 11
    Protectionist Party 9
    Total 38

    The Free Traders and Protectionists were not mass parties but what would be called in US history caucus parties. MHAs frequently changed party and occasionally claimed to be members of more than one party. Candidates often chose a party after their election to the assembly. Party discipline was minimal. Between 1900 and 1909 the conservative parties would collapse and reform several times through a series of labels such as Free Trade, Projectionist*, Anti-Socialist. Liberal, and Liberal Democrat. Federal politics showed similar instability among conservatives.

    At the first statewide STV election in 1907, the numbers in the house of assembly were:

    Anti-Socialist 17
    Labour 12
    Liberal Democrat 1
    Total 30

    *Projectionist is obviously predictive spellchecking at work, but it’s funny enough to leave it in place.

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