Monday, October 08, 2018

How to Frame the electoral reform referendum in BC, Canada

Mark Mitchell has a post in Facebook in which he writes:

Apparently, those of us who support ProRep are wrong to use facts and logic in our argument, when the opposition is using emotion and lies. Any suggestions as to how to change this?

Good question, and a valid one. 

The referendum on changing the electoral system in the province of B.C, Canada is being held on October 20 (less than two weeks to go), and the anti-reform side have been fairly effective in their arguments.

If the referendum rejects the proposed change, BC will retain its anti-democratic first past the post system of voting.


Mark’s question goes to the heart of political discussion: it fits squarely into the concept of “framing”.

Two articles illustrate the concept, one in the New York Times and another in Business Insider.


The two protagonists in the art of framing in political discourse are Lakoff on the left, and Luntz on the right.

One illustration of how the question posed in a referendum could influence the answers, is this one:

The question comes from this study.

Note that the framing of the second question above is similar to the arguments in BC of those who oppose changing the FPTP system.

An interesting analysis of the issue is contained in The Twilight of Westminster? Electoral Reform and its Consequences, by Pippa Norris of 
Harvard University, dated 21 December 200.
Pippa frames the issue as this:

Proponents of the status quo at Westminster have commonly stressed the importance of keeping single member districts because, it is argued, these maintain the accountability of elected representatives to local constituents. If individual MPs misbehave in any regard - if they prove lackadaisical, miscreants, sinners or fools - then, the theory goes, voters can kick them out. 

This claim is important since it lies at the heart of the reform debate in British politics, framing the options considered by the Jenkins Commission. 

Moreover advocates argue that first-past-the post provides a decisive electoral outcome that is perceived as fairer and more transparent than the process of post-hoc coalition formation, and one that therefore increases overall satisfaction with the democratic process.

The results of Pippa’s study of 19 systems of electing MPs is this:

The study finds that member-voter linkages are stronger in single member than in pure multimember districts, but that combined districts such as those used by Mixed Member Proportional systems (MMP) preserve these virtues.

Note words “preserve these virtues.”

If emotive words are to be used  in the next week and a half by Mark and others to support the change in BC, then the concepts of fairness and transparency might be useful ones to use, coupled with the claims that the MMP system preserves and promotes these voter values.

For example:

You vote for your representative in the BC legislature. You deserve a system of voting that is fair to you, and  that is transparent. The MMP system gives you both!

Now let’s develop this framing of fairness even further.

Mark might promote this framing in a flurry of advertisements in the next week or so:

Is it fair that your vote should be less important than the votes of others in electing your provincial legislature? 

On October 20 you can demand that your vote counts as much as any other person’s does, by voting for the MMP system!

Vote for fairness, and for equal treatment for you: vote for MMP!

Pippa also reports that the FPTP system is no necessarily as fair and transparent as its supporters claim:

It can be argued that first-past-the-post represents a simple and transparent method of translating votes into seats, and the decisiveness of the outcome means that voters may regard the results as fairer, more satisfactory, and more democratic than a coalition government produced by post-hoc behind-the-scenes negotiations between unexpected political bedfellows (such as in New Zealand or the Netherlands)... Yet again evidence for and against these claims remains inconclusive and mixed.

What other values do systems other than the FPTP one offer voters?

Pippa mentions two that Mark might be able to use in the framing:

... mixed or combined systems with some multimember districts, as in Germany or New Zealand, which are widely believed to have other virtues for matters like proportionality and social diversity.

How could Mark use these?

Social diversity:

Let’s take the virtue of social diversity.

Perhaps this could be framed this way:

Our Charter of Rights and Freedoms supports for the bedrock Canadian value of social diversity. The FPTP system does not support this value as much as the MMP system would. 

So, make BC more Canadian by voting for Canadian diversity through the MMP on October 20!

In other words, voting for a better electoral system on October 20 better supports Canadian values.


Mark could frame it this way:

Fairness demands that all of our votes should be equal, and so the number of our representatives should be in proportion to these equal votes. FPTP does not do this, but MMP does!

Make sure your vote has as much say as any other votes does: vote for fairness; vote for a change to MMP.

The Fairness of the Referendum itself:

This is a very, very strong argument that Mark could use in framing the choice on October 20.

The questions you as a voter are being asked on October 20 are very fair: we are being asked to choose between the FPTP system or a new system.

What could be fairer than this?

If more than half the voters prefer the FPTP system, we keep it. You cannot be fairer than that!

If more than half want a more democratic system, then everyone gets to choose one of the two systems on offer.

AND the new system will be reconsidered in 5 years time: how much fairer can you get?

Another Frame: FPTP is Theft!

Another way to put it is to define FPTP as theft.

EVERY voter could have his or her vote stolen from them if the referendum does not end FPTP.

ALL votes cast under FPTP for those not voting for the “winner” are made useless because those voters do not get someone to represent them in Victoria. Their votes are stolen from them.

This is not moral, it is unfair, because those voters end up with worthless votes. The value of each such vote is stolen from them by FPTP.

More from Lakoff on Luntz:

Lakoff tackles Luntz head-on in this article.

He has this caution for us:

There is a basic truth about framing. If you accept the other guy's frame, you lose.

Lakoff also gives several examples of framing, which might trigger some ideas for Mark regarding the FPTP versus MMP choice:

Progressives have a basic morality, which is largely unspoken. It has to be spoken, over and over, in every corner of our country. 

Progressives need to be both thinking and talking:
·         about their view of a moral Democracy,
·         about how a robust Pubic is necessary for private success,
·         about all that the Public gives us,
·         about the benefits of health,
·         about a Market for All not a Greed Market,
·         about regulation as protection,
·         about revenue and investment,
·         about corporations that keep wages low when profits are high,
·         about how most of the rich earn a lot of their money without making anything or serving anyone,
·         about how corporations govern your life for their profit not yours,
·         about real food,
·         about corporate and military waste,
·         about the moral and social role of unions,
·         about how global warming causes the increasingly monstrous effects of weather disasters,
·         about how to save and preserve nature.

A Lakoff interview on his book Don’t think of an elephant! is found here.

And Lakoff’s Framing 101 can be found here.

I hope this gives you some ideas, Mark.

No comments :

Post a Comment

Thank you for commenting; come again! Let us reason together ...

Random posts from my blog - please refresh page for more: