Voting and Poverty

Fred-Rick
6 min readJan 6, 2023

How they are linked.

Voting systems and their results for the poor.

Would it really matter what voting system people use and how this would make a difference for people living in poverty?

I decided to research this in 2006 to find an answer to that question. I used good sources such as Nationmaster.com and the CIA World Factbook, among others.

  • Today, the primary source I would use is the World Bank, and almost twenty years later the data has shifted a bit (some data shifted more while other data remained ‘the same’).

Still, the answer to this question can already be found in the data of 2006. The data is statistically significant.

The 2006 graph (repeated below) is about the people at the bottom tier inside all these nations of the world. What the graph shows is how much these people in each nation can take home from that nation.

First two examples to capture your attention:

  • In the United States, the folks occupying that bottom tier end up getting 1.8 percent of our nation’s wealth (based on income or consumption).
  • Compare this to the folks in Denmark living in poverty; they end up getting 3.8 percent of that nation’s wealth.

The voting drama that got uncovered in this data is that people in the bottom tier of the United States are not represented at the table of decision makers while their counterparts in Denmark are represented. More on this later.

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Let’s dig in and discuss what the data is showing:

repeated image

The results for two kinds of nations are stretching in both directions of being better or being worse than average (which is about three percent):

Column #1 contains nations that use winner-take-all (district) elections. Naturally, the winners are then also making all decisions, and when all have a benevolent heart then the people in the bottom tier of society end up getting treated better than average in the world. Yet when the winners are selfish, then the folks in the lowest tier are not treated well at all.

Column #3 contains nations that vote proportionally but have a president as well. Proportional voting means that everyone’s vote is distributed equally (pro-portion) among the representatives. There are no losers in this system. Nevertheless, these nations also have a winner-taking-all President, which means that there are losers in light of the chosen President. What the results show is that a top position taken in by a winner can still cause the outcomes to be all over the map.

I will not discuss Column #2 because these nations do not have a democratic system in place (back in 2006).

repeated image

Columns #4 and #5 do not show wide-spread outcomes. Rather, their data is grouped more tightly. For instance, there are no nations with less than two percent going to their poorest people. Note that there are no (strongly empowered) presidents in these nations.

Column #4 is a mixed system of district elections and proportional elections. Germany, for instance, has the American voting system with district winners, but they fix it up toward proportionality so any voting block larger than five percent ends up getting represented at the table of decision makers. Gerrymandering is useless therefore in Germany due to this easy fix.

Column #5 is the much-beloved pure proportional voting system (yes, it does have some downsides). The surprise for me was that there wasn’t all that much difference in outcome for the poorest people in these nations compared to nations in Column #4. They performed in similar manners.

  • The conclusion was, according to me, unmistakable. Only when the poor could get represented by people standing up for the poor, only then did the chance of being maltreated disappear.

Bullies may rule in winner-take-all systems. Bullies do not rule in nations with the voting systems that give the poor their representation.

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Are the poor truly not represented in the United States?

The fine point is that all US representatives represent all people of the United States, so the answer is that even the poor are represented.

Yet they are not getting as much as the poor in other nations because the representatives here are not listening to them. The representatives do not need their votes to win a seat.

Meanwhile in Denmark, the poor are represented by their own representatives, speaking on their behalf. The result is obvious in Denmark. The poor can express themselves politically and end up receiving a greater share.

The poor in the United States cannot express themselves politically and end up receiving a below-average share of this society.

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Can the people in the bottom tier of society end up being represented in the United States?

Our voting system is based on the greatest average group picking the winners. Even when the candidates decide to listen to the people in the lowest tier to win more votes that way, once in their seats, the representatives will make decisions that benefit particularly the largest group of people.

As we see with the 1.8 percent of this nation’s wealth going to the people in the lowest tier, there will be handouts of course but they do not amount to much.

When we look at the bottom tier in the United States, then we see an outcome that is not dissimilar to what we see in many ‘third-world’ countries. The ‘slant’ in these nations is larger than elsewhere, putting unnecessary extra pressures in place on a whole lot of people.

Gini Index. Source: wikipedia

This position is confirmed when viewing the Gini index map of the world. Statistician Gini created a mechanism to show the distribution of wealth. In specifics, it shows the inequality of that distribution. The greater the Gini percentage, the greater the disparity among people in one and the same nation.

The map clearly puts the United States in the category in what we would formerly call the third world countries. Note how some of these poorer countries do (much) better than us, distribution-wise.

Even when all tiers do well except for the bottom tier, then the Gini index in a nation can rise dramatically. It is therefore important to understand that a maltreatment of just the poor in the United States, and all people in the other nine tiers doing well, can lead to a greater Gini percentage. Same in reverse, if the top tier in society is loaded with wealth, then this will create a greater Gini percentage.

This helps explain how in South-Africa, for instance, the Gini percentage is quite outrageous. The people in the top layer in society (for instance, associated with the gold and diamond industries) live according to first-world standards, while society as a whole lives in third-world conditions.

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Conclusion: Voting matters!

It is not just coming out to vote that matters. What matters as well is what voting system is used. Winner-take-all can put selfish people in all seats (all fighting with each other of course). The people in the lowest tier have no opportunity to influence the decisions; they are then unrepresented in light of their needs.

The take-away lesson is that nations with winner-take-all conditions must moderate their voting systems (for instance, just like Germany has done) and that they should stop muting and censoring the poor from speaking at the tables of decision makers.

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