At our last class meeting, David Price mentioned looking towards parliamentary systems of government for comparisons of what reduces and what increases gridlock in government. I've been reading this so I thought I'd begin a conversation about the Dutch proportional representation government and whether it increases or decreases legislative efficiency.
There are 10 parties active in the parliament, 3 parties only active in regional governments, and over 30 additional parties who are active but have not received enough votes to procure representation in this session's government. With myriad choices available to voters, it is nigh-impossible to obtain the number of votes needed to maintain a majority. Parties must form coalitions in order to pass anything.
Additionally, in the Dutch system of proportional representation, national elections are not divided up into districts (as they are in the States). The entire country is one electoral body, and votes are divided among the participating political parties according to the percentage of votes they receive. A party may receive as little as 2/3 of a percent of the vote (that's .66% of the vote) and still receive a seat in either chamber of the parliament. Gerrymandering is not possible in the Netherlands the way it is in the United States.
This system certainly fosters compromise - a hard-line party would not be considered by majority parties for any sort of coalition government, so parties must align themselves to the center in order to boost both votes and their ability to be included in coalitions after the election (compare this idea with the idea that third parties in the States, through drawing away votes or expressing dissent, can moderate extremes in the two major parties).
But does the system create more efficient government? Does it really offer voters more choice - they're able to vote for very specific parties, but if those parties must compromise heavily, are they really any better than the big-tent parties of the US or UK?
It's hard to say. Legislation from some governments - like that of 2006 - has been massively unpopular in popular sentiment. Some of the right-wing reforms in particular have been undertaken at the behest of a minority group and have been disliked by voters. It's also hard to say if the lessons, if any exist, from proportional representation can be grafted onto US electoral reform. Dutch society has Catholic/Protestant and Socialist/Liberal splits that aren't directly comparable to the social constructs of the United States. For now, I think looking at comparative politics is an interesting sort of diversion, maybe a way to brainstorm, rather than a direct source of reform ideas.