Representative democracy is based on the notion that “we the people” are too busy to decide on detailed matters of state. Instead we appoint a body that is representative of the people in order to deliberate on such matters. There are many theoretical ways the appointment of this representative body could be achieved. In theory it could be achieved with quite reasonable fidelity using some form of a lottery. However traditionally we use elections. Elections create an incentive to be popular as well as an incentive to perform which may be a good thing or a bad thing depending on your perspective and the task the body is required to undertake. I suspect that elections also bias the system towards people that are good at talking rather than people that are good at listening. We essentially use a lottery system to appoint jurors to a jury and we generally hope that they are good at listening and that they make decisions that are right rather than popular. I can see merit in having parliaments that are more like juries.
In a party based electoral system the extent to which an election is representative of the voters intentions is sometimes measured using the Gallagher Index. A low Gallagher Index is more representative than a high Gallagher Index. In 2007 the Gallagher index for the Australian House of Representatives was over 10. New Zealand generally does much better on this score.
The chart below shows how many seats the various parties won in the respective elections versus how many they would have won if seats were determined by the overall popular vote. It is slightly out in so far as it assumes that independents are a party group which is obviously not the case. However it isn’t out by much.
Obviously the Australian Greens would in the short term be a big winner from any shift towards a more representative House of Representatives. The ALP would be a loser.
Achieving a representative House of Representatives could be done with a quite minor reform. All we would need to do is have some candidates appointed from party lists in addition to candidates being elected directly in geographic electorates. The list candidates would top up each parties allocation to make the house more representative. I’m not a fan of The Greens but I’d still support such a reform. Some people support strong majority government but I’m not one of them. Generally I prefer my governments weak and fragile.
I can’t imagine any respectable form of government that does not include some notion of representative democracy. Like capitalism it may not produce perfect results but it is better than the alternatives.