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Degressive proportionality

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Title: Degressive proportionality  
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Subject: Voting, Elections to the European Parliament, Member of the European Parliament, Treaty of Lisbon, European Parliament
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Degressive proportionality

Degressive proportionality is an approach to the allocation (between regions, states or other subdivisions) of seats in a legislature or other decision-making body. Degressive proportionality means that while the subdivisions do not each elect an equal number of members, smaller subdivisions are allocated more seats than would be allocated strictly in proportion to their population.

This is an alternative to, for instance,

  • Each subdivision electing the same number of members (as in the US Senate),
  • Each subdivision electing a number of members strictly proportional to its population.

Degressive proportionality is intermediate between those two approaches. As a term it does not describe any one particular formula.

European parliament

Under the Treaty of Lisbon, the European Parliament uses a system of degressive proportionality to allocate its 750 seats among the member states of the European Union. Treaty negotiations, rather than a specific formula, determine the apportionment between member states.

Minimum seats

Any system that reserves a minimum number seats for a sub-body is to some extent degressively proportional. The most famous example is perhaps the election of the US presidential Electoral College. As each state has a minimum of three members of the college, smaller states such as Wyoming and Vermont effectively have disproportionally more say in the election than larger states, the extreme being California.


  • There may be a real or perceived danger that one or more of the largest subdivisions will dominate the legislature. This danger reduces if the votes of these subdivisions are reduced.
  • The smallest subdivisions, especially those on the periphery of the territory, may have significantly different interests from many of the other subdivisions. There is a danger that these interests will be ignored if they have a tiny number of representatives. This danger reduces if their representation is increased.
  • More pragmatically, the smallest subdivisions may be in a position to cause disproportionate trouble for the whole territory, for example by threatening to secede. This danger reduces if they are seen to be well-represented in the legislature.


  • Degressive proportionality goes against the basic democratic principle that all votes should count equally. This is so important that it may outweigh all the advantages listed above.
  • Many of the advantages listed above would also apply to certain smaller areas which are not recognised as separate subdivisions for electoral purposes. (This may have happened as an accident of history or as a result of gerrymandering.) It is unfair if they are not accorded the same treatment as areas which are recognised electorally as separate subdivisions.

Methods for allocating weights

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