What if… Norway had the Dutch electoral system? And the other way around

Valgordning har stor betydning for valgresultat. Norge og Nederland har begge forholdstallsvalg. I Norge har vi 19 valgkretser som følger fylkesgrensene, i tillegg til utjevningsmandater. I Nederland, derimot, utgjør hele landet én enkelt valgkrets. Hvordan ville Stortinget sett ut dersom vi hadde det nederlandske valgsystemet? Og ville Nederland hatt en regjering på plass med det norske systemet?

Av Simon Otjes*

Norway just had its parliamentary elections. The right-wing bloc of Høyre, the Progress Party, the Christian-Democrats, and Venstre retained its majority. But what if the rules for the elections would have been slightly different? For instance if it would have used the Dutch electoral system? Or the Swedish?

One District for All

Norway’s electoral system is based on multi-member districts. Each district elects multiple representatives using proportional representation (PR). A lot of countries, such as Sweden, Finland, Denmark, Spain, Portugal and Belgium use PR in multimember districts.

The Netherlands, however, is one of only three countries in the world (the other being Israel and Slovenia) that use PR in a single nation-wide district.

The Norwegian electoral system has two interesting features: first, it tries to emulate the outcome of the “Dutch” electoral system that represents the number of votes a party has as precisely as possible in the number of seats they get by having nineteen equalisation seats that are given to the parties that gain fewer seats in the districts than one may expect on basis of their national results. To gain such seats, a party must surpass a four per cent threshold, however.

Moreover, in Norway, the number of seats per district depends not just on the number of inhabitants but also on the area of a district. This means that Northern regions that have large area have more representatives than areas that are smaller, such as the district of Oslo.

The Netherlands-Norway

If one were to apply the Dutch electoral system to the Norwegian situation the results would change significantly. The four per cent threshold means that not every vote is translated into seats. All parties represented in parliament would lose one seat, except for the Green party and the Red. These would win four and three seats respectively. This would have made election night in Norway very different: the parties that supported Solberg’s government would not have won an 88-seat majority as they did now, but would actually have won only 84 seats, one shy of a majority. The parties that formed the Stoltenberg cabinet, which was in government until 2013 (the social-democrats, the Socialist Left Party, and the Center Party) would not have won a majority either (only 76 seats), but together with Red and the Greens they would have had a majority. Given that programmatically these parties are further away from Høyre and the Progress Party than they are from the social-democrats, Centre Party and Socialist Left, a different majority could indeed have been possible.

Even if the country were to maintain its combination of regional representation and equalisation seats, but open those up for all parties that score over 2% instead of just those scoring more than 4%, the end result would be that the majority would shift to the left instead of the right.

Thus, a small change in the electoral law might have meant that instead of Solberg, Støre would have been prime-minister.

Norway-the Netherlands

If we would conversely apply the Norwegian system to the Netherlands, the election results in the Netherlands also would have been different. To examine this, I divided the Netherlands in 13 districts, one for every province and one for the Caribbean islands Bonaire-Saint Eustatius and Saba, that form part of the country.  Given that the Netherlands has three times the population of Norway, but is at the same time ten times smaller geographically, I have given geography more weight than in Norway. (Instead of 1.8 points per square kilometre and 1 point per inhabitant as in Norway, I have given a weight of 55 per square kilometre and 1 point per inhabitant). The largest district, South Holland (home to among others the cities Rotterdam, The Hague and Leiden) would have 27 seats. North-Holland (where Amsterdam is located) would be the second largest district with 21 seats. The smallest district would be the three islands, which would have gained one seat. Second smallest would be the South-Western province of Zeeland with three seats. I have twelve national equalisation seas.


The Figure shows the “Norwegian” results. The VVD, a party that is similar to Høyre, which gained 33 seats in the last election would win five additional seats, as it wins at least one seat in every district except for the three Caribbean Islands. The CDA, a larger more moderate version of the Christian People’s Party would win 23 seats, which is four more than its current 19. They clearly benefit from the strong representation that is given to more peripheral provinces where they are strong. The Freedom Party, which is similar to the Progress Party would win 22 seats. Two more than its current 20. Democrats 66, which is similar to Venstre, would win 21 seats, two more than its current 19. The GreenLeft, which is similar to the Environmental Party the Greens, would win 16 seats, two more than its current 14. The Socialist Party, which is similar to the Socialist Left party would also win 16 seats, two more than its current 14. Although these parties score the same, the interesting difference is that the socialists win seats in three quarters of the districts, but the greens in only half. Finally, the Labour Party would win ten seats. One more than its current nine. Six of those are equalisation seats. Two small parties would win district seats: the single issue Party for the Animals (in North Holland) and the smaller more conservative Christian-democratic party ChristianUnion (in two large provinces in the so-called ‘Dutch Bible belt’, South Holland and Gelderland). Four other parties which do win representation under the Dutch electoral rules do not under the Norwegian ones.

After the Dutch elections (which were in March) no government has been formed yet because no three party combination was possible and any four party combination would require very different parties such as very religious and very secular ones. Three parties have, however, declared that they were willing to form the “motor bloc” of a new government: the VVD, the CDA and D66. Under the Dutch electoral system they lack a majority (they have 71 out of 150 seats) under the Norwegian rules they would have a comfortable 83-seat majority. Instead of on-going coalition talks, the government could have presented its first budget.

In short, electoral systems matter: they can make or break majorities.


Denne saken bygger på tidligere saker på den nederlandske bloggen ‘Stuk Rood Vlees’.

*Simon Otjes er forsker ved ‘Documentation Centre Dutch Political Parties’ ved Universitet i Groningen, Nederland

1 kommentar

  1. One has to bear in mind that the electoral rules affect the way voters cast their votes. With a proportional system like in the Netherlands i guess there would have been less of strategic voting, which would have changed the outcome as well. From this perspective it not unproblematic to try to predict the outcome under different electoral formulas.


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