Ideal Representation

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Ideal Representation is the representation of the diversity of opinion of the population is exact and weighted by the relative importance to each voter. It is one of many types of representation which can be considered in a [[Representative Government].


The biggest debate when designing a representative government [[Electoral System} is how to divide the electorate among the representatives and vice versa. This is a distinct choice prior to holding the election about which candidates a citizen could vote for and how that would translate into representation. Two logical requirements for this are that all citizens have a representative and all representatives have a similar number of citizens.

The allocation of representatives to citizens is the primary issue of a representative democracy. For example, if the assembly contains 100 seats to fill, it still needs to be decided how citizens are to elect representatives for each seat. The historically most common and simplest way to do this is to have citizens grouped so that each group is entitled to elect who fills each seat. Forming each group at random from the population is clearly not useful, since the groups would be less prone to have a unique message for representation than other groupings. Since elections are in principle a delegative process, the primary split line between groups should be based on some feature of the citizens.

The ideal result of representation would represent all the political perspectives of all citizens weighted directly by the number who support each perspective. This Ideal Representation of the diversity of opinion is not possible. There are more mutually exclusive opinion groups than there are seats to be filled by representatives. Much of the debate surrounding electoral systems is rooted in the debate of how to best approximate ideal representation by splitting up the population into groups.

There are two well defined splits possible for systems, Partisan Systems and Regional Systems. In practical terms, this means voting for a person in Regional Systems or voting for a party in a Partisan System. These are closely related to the concepts of Proportionate Representation and Proportional Representation which define the typical outcomes of such systems. The degree of Proportionate Representation for each region is defined by the ratio of the percent of seats obtained divided by the percent of the population in that region. The degree of Proportional Representation for each party is defined by the ratio of the percent of seats obtained divided by the percent of the popular vote for that party. Perfect representation is 1 for each party or region but this is unlikely to occur due to rounding effects. If one wantes to combine each of these fractions into a global measure there are many methods to accomplish this. The typical measure for Proportional Representation is the Gallagher index.

Regional Systems tend to have a high degree of Proportionate Representation and Partisan Systems tend to have a high degree of Proportional Representation. It is important to clearly distinguish between the design structure of a system and the expected outcome for each type of representation. All systems either Regional or Partisan have some amount of Proportional Representation and Proportionate Representation. However, many systems commonly have outcomes where some regions or parties elect no representatives even though they have the population to warrant representation.

In Regional Systems, such as the standard Westminster System, the division is done by regional boundaries to form constituencies or equal population. The elected member is to represent all people in a regional constituency, not just those who voted for them. This means that every citizen is represented by one member of the assembly and each member represents a similar number of citizens. This implies that members are expected to represent citizens who did not vote for that member or did not vote at all. In Partisan Systems, the division is along partisan lines and citizens vote for parties not candidates. Each member is to represent the people who share the values of the political party the representative is a member of.

Despite the apparent symmetry between Regional and Partisan systems there is one major difference to note. A country can be divided into constituencies of equivalent population with relative ease to guarantee optimal Proportionate Representation. However, the space of political opinions cannot be divided in such a manner so political parties are used as a grouping. In Regional Systems, there is one seat per region but Partisan Systems there can be many seats per party. Parties overlap in the opinion space and there are often minority views which do not have the power to start a party. This means, the delegation process is less clear in Partisan Systems as not all citizens have a political stance represented by an elected party so not all citizens have a representative. Since this tends to affect minority groups more often Partisan Systems then to result in a lack of representation for individuals who already do not have much political power. On the other hand, citizens who are adherents of a political party can have many associated representatives organized by the party They gain political power through this organization. Furthermore, it is unclear in such systems if all members represent the same number of citizens and Balanced Representation is fulfilled. Details of these systems will be discussed later but it is important to note here that Balanced Representation is foundational to legislative voting.

In both Regional and Partisan Systems, it is possible that there are citizens with concerns that are not represented appropriately. Therefore, neither Regional nor Partisan Systems are what is desired from the theoretical standpoint of wanting to fulfill Ideal Representation. To fulfill Ideal Representation, one would want a system which represents all ideological, special interest and other groups as well as all the mainstream views required for running the government. Due to the number of possible views in the intersection of the number of possible issues it is clearly impossible to represent each citizen’s nuanced political belief structure in a balanced manner. This is due to the associated problem of how each issue should be weighted against each other. What value is desired to optimize on? Most freedom? Least suffering? Most opportunities? Least coercion? Equality of treatment? Equality of outcome? In a broad sense, a system can only optimize for one value, so to attempt a system which represents issues in a combined way is impossible. This is the core motivation for representation of the people themselves not the people’s issues directly. It is understood that this abstraction loses some theoretical utility but it must be done since the utility is unquantifiable. This unquantifiability is the same issue as the imprecise definition of “best” way for the member to represent their citizens. This is the burden of the representative.


There is no clear definition of Ideal Representation because it is thought of as being idealized. It is expected to optimally represent both the ideological and regional considerations.