What if the list seats weren’t split into regions?

As you are no doubt aware, the Welsh Assembly elects members using the d’Hondt method of additional members. Essentially the list seats are preferentially allocated to parties who have fewer constituency seats than is proportional to their vote. Here’s a longer explanation. But rather than being allocated across Wales as a whole, the list AMs are allocated separately in five regions – North Wales, Mid and West Wales, South Wales West, South Wales Central, and South Wales East.

It’s not clear why we do this. The constituency AMs already represent specific areas and the list AMs are supposed to compensate for the lack of proportionality in the first-past-the-post system.If this is the case, why not elect them across Wales as a whole?

Under the existing regional list system, the AMs were allocated as follows:

  • Labour: 2
  • Plaid Cymru: 6
  • UKIP: 7
  • Conservatives 5

What if we ran the system over Wales, ignoring regions? The results look like this:

  • Labour: 0 (from 319,196 list votes!)
  • Plaid Cymru: 5 (from 211,549 list votes)
  • UKIP: 7 (from 132,138 list votes)
  • Conservatives: 3 (from 160,846 list votes)
  • Liberal Democrats: 2 (from 65,504 list votes)
  • Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party: 2 (from 44,286 list votes)
  • Greens: 1 (from 30,211 list votes)

A few things jump out:

  1. A greater number of parties get AMs, including rather surprisingly the Abolish the Welsh Assembly Party.
  2. Labour get no list AMs at all, despite getting over 32% of the list vote.
  3. Only one party with AMs would stand to profit from such a change (the Lib Dems, who would get two list AMs).
  4. UKIP do exactly the same under either system.

At the end of the day, it depends on what you want a voting system to do. Proportionality, ties to locality, support for strong governments, and simplicity (as my R code to run the d’Hondt process will attest) are somewhat mutually exclusive. The system as it stands seems relatively friendly to Labour, who of course set the assembly up. That said, it would seem perverse for them to get no list seats at all from a full 32% of the vote. What is clear though is that for better or worse, the regional character of the current list system acts as a filter on smaller parties, to the advantage of the larger parties. Which  is why I would be surprised if they adopt this system any time soon.

6 thoughts on “What if the list seats weren’t split into regions?

  1. I’m not sure why you’re surprised that Labour get no list seats from your Wales-wide re-calculation. They won 67% of the constituency seats on 35% of the vote – i.e. they were over-represented pretty much 2 to 1. It says a lot about the system devised by Labour that they managed to win any top-up seats on that strong showing in the constituencies.

    Given that there’s talk of the Assembly getting an extra 20 seats to deal with its new powers it would be interesting to know what the outcome of the recent election would have been had those extra 20 seats been allocated on a proportional basis and determined both using the current system or a more democratic Wales-wide system. Care to make those calculations? I’d be most interested in the results.

    PS Great blog – very welcome in the desert that is Welsh political commentary.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your kind words! I’ve run the analysis with 40 list seats and found the following:

      Plaid: 12
      UKIP: 11
      Green: 8
      AWAP: 3
      LD: 2

      Interestingly, with more list seats, Plaid are big winners, as are UKIP and the Greens.


      1. You are right of course, it’s clearly nonsensical to expect Labour to gain more seats on a system designed to compensate for disproportionality. I guess it’s the fact that it’s a separate ballot to the constituency that makes it seem like they should get some sort of return.


      2. As for the increased list seats within regions:
        Lab: 5(!)
        UKIP: 2
        Plaid: 1
        So Labour get three extra, UKIP get one extra,

        Lab: 2
        Plaid: 2
        UKIP: 2
        Con: 1
        LD: 1
        So Labour get 2 extra, Plaid get 1 extra, Lib Dems get one extra

        Con: 3
        Plaid: 2
        UKIP: 2
        LD: 1
        So Conservatives, Plaid, Lib Dems, and UKIP all get one more.

        Plaid: 3
        Con: 2
        UKIP: 2
        LD: 1
        So Plaid get two extra, Conservatives get one extra and the Lib Dems get one extra.

        Plaid: 3
        UKIP 2
        Con 2
        LD 1
        So Plaid, UKIP, Conservatives, and Lib Dems all get one extra.

        Overall, Labour get 5 more list seats, UKIP get 3 more, Plaid get 5 more, Conservatives get 3 more, Lib Dems get four more. So this would be much more Labour friendly (and Lib Dem friendly), but would freeze out the smaller parties.


  2. What about adding in a threshold for obtaining seats? There’s lots of talk about how more PR leads to smaller (extreme?) parties getting seats, but many countries that use the d’Hondt method also set a threshold of vote % needed to be able to get a seat, in order to prevent that kind of thing.

    I might’ve done this completely wrong (and let me know if so), but a Wales-wide allocation of list seats with a 5% threshold would give:
    Lab: 0
    PC: 6
    UKIP: 8
    Con: 3
    LD: 3
    AWAP: 0
    Greens: 0
    (AWAP and Greens not reaching the threshold)

    Great blog, by the way.


    1. I’ll try to take a look properly soon but that certainly looks right.

      I guess it depends what you want from a system. I think a lot of the countries that use a thresholded d’Hondt are explicitly trying to keep extremists out, so a threshold is both effective and acceptable. In Wales I don’t think (although I’m no expert) we set out to keep small and extreme parties out. The regional list is presumably designed to encourage local voices in the assembly, its filtering effect is (explicitly at least) just a side effect.

      If the system needs revising, following possible boundary changes for example, I’d like to see a more explicit discussion of why we have the regions. If the advocates of the current system think keeping smaller parties out is a good feature, they should make the case.

      Thanks for reading and commenting!


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