Proportional Voting Around the WorldIn the United States, where the first-past-the-post, plurality system is still by far the most widely used, proportional voting may seem like a somewhat abstract or theoretical idea. However, on a global scale, proportional voting systems are actually more common than the plurality system which we use in the US.
Of the 211 states and territories that have direct legislative elections, 68 use plurality as their primary system, while 75 use proportional voting systems. (66 use party list proportional voting, 7 use a mixed member system, and 2 use choice voting). Of the remainder, 31 use a two round runoff system, 2 use instant runoff voting, 2 use single non-transferable vote (also known as limited voting or the "one vote system"), and 20 use a parallel system which elects some seats using proportional voting and other seats using plurality or two round runoff.
While all of these countries officially have elections, not all of them are widely considered to be fully democratic in practice. When one focuses on the nations that are considered to be most democratic, one sees that a much higher percentage of them use proportional representation.
For example, there are only 45 countries which both have a population of at least two million, and are given a high average freedom score by the widely accepted Freedom House study.
Of these 45 countries, 30 use proportional voting to elect their most powerful national legislature, and 7 use a parallel system that includes proportional voting. Of the remaining 8, Australia uses instant runoff voting, France uses a two round runoff system, and only the United States, Mongolia, Canada, and the United Kingdom use plurality as their primary system for legislative elections. For details, see table of Lower/Single House Elections in the World's Democracies.
Proportional voting has also been selected for elections in many of the world's emerging democracies, such as Iraq and Afghanistan. For politically and ethnically fractured countries, voting systems which guarantee fair minority representation may be the only defense against civil war.
Note on terminology: Different terms are often used to indicate the same voting system. This can be a little confusing at first, but usually it is not very hard to find out what people are talking about. Choice voting is traditionally known as "single transferable vote," or STV. Instant runoff voting is known internationally as "the alternative vote" (AV), or sometimes "preference voting." The plurality system is often referred to as "first past the post" (FPTP), as it is called in Britain.