Thursday, December 08, 2016

Electoral Reform: How Clustered are You?

I took the MyDemocracy test of my “values” today, and was place in one of the “clusters” chosen by Vox Pop Labs as representing all those who participate in the Trudeau Liberals reaching out to all Canadian households to find out their views on a few issues about reform.

I set out below some of Vox’s assumptions about their polling method, the cluster I was grouped into, and the views of all those who have participated to date (Dec 8), shown by the clusters.

The Vox test is open until December 30, and so the views of the clusters will change as more Canadians fill out the test.

Check below to see the results.

Who is Vox and what is Vox doing?

Vox Pop Labs were hired by the Liberal government to design, run and analyse a test that could help the government decide on what type of electoral reform it should legislate in order to deliver on its promise that the last election is the very last one on the FPTP method of electing our MPs, and to have a more democratic voting system in place for the next election.

Vox says it is a “a civic engagement group founded and operated by social and statistical scientists, in partnership with the Government of Canada and in collaboration with a group of prominent Canadian academics.””

Check this article for a list of those 8 prominent academics. is the website with the test that all Canadians over 16 may complete (as many times as they want to).

The questions in the test appear a little strange for an exercise aimed at changing an electoral system, but Vox claims that the questions were reviewed by “an academic advisory panel.”

Macleans have an article on Vox and the Test at this site.

Why is Vox doing this?

In the Macleans article Vox describes the values-based approach it took in designing the test:

We developed a survey that drew from the existing literature on electoral reform in Canada and tried to identify various values that structure that discussion.”

Vox explains in that Macleans interview why its test does not directly address electoral systems but instead tries to probe “values”:

“That was what we were commissioned to do by the government. That was the mandate that we were given: to focus on democratic values and not on electoral systems. I can’t speak on behalf of the government, but I think the minister [Maryam Monsef] has spoken to the view she takes on this, that democratic values help inform ideas around electoral systems.

The Liberal Party, as part of its recovery from almost being wiped out in Parliamentary seats due to its arrogance, distance from voters, and financial scandals, relied heavily on “values” in its efforts to find out what the Party should stand for, and to differentiate the Party from Harper’s reigning Conservatives, and Mulcair’s rising New Democrats.

Apparently, the Liberal electoral reform team believes that such a values-driven approach should also work for the nuts and bolts of making sure that every vote counts, and that Canada has an election system that matches the most democratic ones in the world.

Whether this assumption is just feel-good nonsense, or of high practical value, will soon be shown when the Party rolls out its proposed legislative changes to our system.

What do the Clusters think about the questions raised?

Vox has a Big Black Box of “science” that enables it to divide Canadians who fill in the tests into clusters or groups or archetypes.

That Black Box is not explained in detail in the website with the test, nor, as far as I have found, in the interviews that Vox has had with the media.

In the Macleans interview, Vox explains their Black Box this way:

The whole point is to take several different items, frame them in different ways and see what kind of variance you get in the response. And once you do that you get a better sense of what a person’s true position is on that issue. We include the “even if” questions specifically to understand the extent of one’s agreement with a particular item.

In another place, Vox explains that it’s hope is that Canadians, having found out the Cluster they belong to, will start talking to others about this, and dive into detailed political studies on the merits of various electoral systems, and then educating themselves and those others they talk to, about the best system Canada should use.

To me, this sounds simplistic – wishful thinking.

In any case, the Vox test should have been launched before the Parliamentary Committee began its public consultations. It might have been a bit more successful then, as those people attending the various meetings held by that Committee would have (hopefully), some common terms to add depth to their discussions.

Vox will shuffle you into one of their 5 Clusters: Innovators, Cooperators, Pragmatists, Guardians, and Challengers.

In the Charts below, taken from Vox when I filled in the test, you will be able to see how each one of these Clusters answered the questions I have chosen to show, and your own answer and your own Cluster.

I was dumped into the Innovators archetype, and Vox told me this was me:

And here is an analysis of the Innovators:

Here’s the distribution of Clusters on the amount of Ballot Detail they prefer:

And here’s the split between those who prefer Equality of Opportunity versus Equality of Outcomes:

How about Leadership? Which Clusters prefer Decisive Leaders to Leaders who Compromise?

What about Party Focus? Here’s the great divide between those who want a narrow focus on party membership and obedience on the part of our MPs when they do their work in Parliament, versus those MPs focusing more on their constituents wishes even if those wishes are not consistent with the policies or positions of the party:

And here are views on party discipline for our MPs:

And here’s Accountability – which I presume means the views of various Canadians regarding whether they can nail their MPs and their Party to the mast for decisions made in the House because this nailing to the mast is of more value than the actual decisions made in the House by all MPs:

What does Vox say about the scientistic value of their methodology?

Vox claims that its approach to grouping respondents to its surveys into “archetypes”or “clusters” is both statistically valid, and meaningful for the Liberal government in its efforts to drag our electoral system into the modern democratic worlds.

Vox claims that: has established standard units of measurement by which to compare a set of democratic values. We realize that most issues are more complicated than can be captured on a 5-point scale or a binary choice. By reducing this complexity these democratic values are made more accessible and a more accurate association between a user and an archetype is made possible.”

Vox also realizes that its values-test and resulting clusters is different from traditional surveys of opinions:

Vox Pop Labs applies the same techniques to control for bias that other public opinion research organizations use (including some additional measures). This enables the data to be weighted on the basis of socio-demographic attributes. However, this is more than just a survey. is a public engagement and education platform. It is about engaging Canadians in an innovative, informative experience about their democratic values.”

The second part of that statement (the innovative, informative experience we will have in filling out the test) seems to me to be the part where the Liberals approach veers off the road of science-based policy, into hand-holding sing-along nonsense.

Let’s hope that the Liberal proposals to make meaningful change in our electoral system does not, as a result, end up as incomplete, insufficient, ineffective and a gooey mess of well-intentioned scrambled eggs.

Time will tell. And soon.

Does the Vox test address FPTP and Proportional Representation methods?

Nope. Not really. It seems to skirt around the real issues.

To use the Vox Test to come up with concrete, actionable conclusions on what millions of Canadians think about the virtues of FPTP, proportional representation, modified proportional representation, alternative voting, seems like a questionable leap of faith to me.

It would have been very easy for Vox to present four or five models of electoral systems, with short definitions and explanations of their strengths and weaknesses, and then to assess how strongly respondents felt about those various systems. This golden opportunity seems to have been lost.

What do I think the Liberal government will decide based on the Vox results?

It’s clear to me from the Vox test that one dividing line is between those who believe that a political party should have most clout in our House, rather than combinations of parties and/or of MPs. This is the view that, I expect, most members of political parties will take (vested interests dictate this), and most people who like the Old Ways will go.

If you believe that wisdom lies more in elected MPs than in specific parties, you will most likely prefer a House where cooperation amongst MPs is one of the highest values (as I do).

If you believe that our House should have MPs who represent the votes cast in their constituencies, and that parties should be represented in the House roughly according to their share of the total votes cast, then you will find the Vox test frustrating and unhelpful.

And more likely than not, the Liberal government proposals not as effective as they should be.

My guess is the LPC will table a preference for:

1.       Lowering the voting age (to teach more younger Canadians about democracy and involve them sooner);

2.      Quotas as part of the allocation of MPs amongst all those standing for election (to include groups that the LPC believes are not “properly represented” in the Hose (example: women). How wide this list of under-represented groups that the LPC will table, is anyone’s guess at this stage. The Vox test does not deal with which groups at all;

3.      Party discipline being the strongest guiding force for elected MPs, on “critical issues”, rather than the desire of individual MPs to represent what they think their constituents want;

4.      A clear link between MPs and a clearly-defined geographic constituency;

5.      A system of election that makes majority governments not only possible but probable, rather than one that requires minority governments to work together with other parties in order to formulate policies to be passed into law.

My fear is that we will end up with a referendum that allows the solid block of Conservative voters to shoot down meaningful electoral reform, even though a majority of voters want electoral reform (as evidenced by the election of so many Liberal, Green and New Democrat MPs in the last election).

My advice to you:
Take the test, get your family and friends to take the test, publish your Cluster-allocation, and send your detailed responses on the hard questions (FPTP? Referendum or Reform First? Types of proportional representation? Role of ranked ballots – either as the replacement for FPTP, or as a valuable element of a Modified Proportional Representation system), to the hashtags set out in the MyDemocracy site: #EngagedinER and #MyDemocracy ).

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