AQA Government and Politics AS - Electoral Systems

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The Electoral System
A: The Purpose of Elections
Elections give people choice. They are the means by which authority is given to a particular political
party to provide the government for a defined period of time, which is up to 5 years in the UK.
Elections confer legitimacy on government. By giving the opportunity for removing one party and
installing another, elections demonstrate clearly the principle of accountability. The knowledge that a
government has to put itself before the electorate within 5 years is the most crucial constraint on its
freedom of action whilst in office.
B: Types of Elections in Great Britain
When considering elections in Britain, most people think about general elections, which result in the
election of a government. However, there are other elections held, and the number and variety has
increased over recent years.
i) General Elections:
These involve electing candidates to be members of the House of Commons in Parliament.
ii) Local Elections:
These are held to elect members of local councils of differing types, such as district and county
councils, eg Tunbridge Wells Borough Council and Kent County Council. In London and some other
towns, voters can also elect a Mayor.
iii) European Elections:
These are held to elect British members to the European Parliament.
iv) Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland Elections:
These are held to elect members to the devolved assemblies in these particular areas.
C: The Main Features of the British Electoral System
i) The Franchise:
The right to vote in British elections is given to the British subjects (and citizens of the Commonwealth
and the Republic of Ireland who live in Britain) over the age of 18 at the time of election. Those
excluded are convicts, lunatics, members of the House of Lords, and those people disqualified from
voting for corrupt electoral practices (eg bribery). Each voter has the responsibility of ensuring that
his name is on the electoral register. Voting is not compulsory as it is in some countries, eg Australia.
ii) Constituencies:
At general elections, voters are expressing a broad preference for the party they want to run the
country for the next 5 years. At the same time, the voters are also electing an MP to represent their
constituency. There are 646 single-member parliamentary constituencies covering the whole country.
The boundaries of constituencies are re-drawn approximately every 10-15 years by the Boundary
Commission to accommodate population changes.

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Any British subject, citizen of the Commonwealth of the Republic of Ireland over the age of 21 is
entitled to stand as a parliamentary candidate, provided that he/she is not disqualified (for the same
reasons that would disqualify him from voting).…read more

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PM tenders his resignation. The new PM moves into No. 10
immediately and announces his government shortly afterwards.
D: Different Electoral Systems
An electoral system is more than an instrument for providing choice. The particular system a country
uses influences both the choices the voters make and the kind of government the voters receive.
i) Majoritarian and Plurality Systems:
Majoritarian and plurality systems are based on the idea of one elected representative per
constituency.…read more

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Those people in favour of FPTP cite its various advantages over other systems as reasons for its
continued use:
1. Simplicity ­
The system can easily be understood by the vast majority of the population of the United
Kingdom. FPTP also produces quick election results and is cheap to administer.
2. Political Equality ­
One man, one vote (OMOV) is the most basic form of political equality, ie it cannot get any
fairer than this system.
3.…read more

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Extremist parties can get into government
b) Disadvantages
There have been increasing demands in recent years, from some quarters, for there to be an
abandonment of the FPTP system. The Liberal Democrats have been the most vociferous in their
demands for a change. Opponents of FPTP cite its disadvantages as reasons to discard it:
1. "Disenfranchisement" of Voters ­
Since any vote for a losing candidate is "wasted", that is, not directly represented in the
Commons, all votes do not carry equal value.…read more

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This system is really a preferential system, which attempts to give voters a choice by enabling them
to express a preference between candidates.…read more

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This system is a cross between the Alternative Vote and the Second Ballot. If this system were to be
used in British general elections, the 646 single-member constituencies would be retained.…read more

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Removes unfairness to smaller parties that exists under FPTP
There are, however, a number of disadvantages to the List System:
Removes the link between constituents and their MPs (there is nobody to represent
individuals in Parliament)
Increases massively the power of the leadership of political parties at the expense of
local party associations; a small group of party members (leadership) dictate not only
who goes on the list but also where they appear on the list (for this reason, this system
has often been described…read more

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The system has a number of advantages:
It allows the voter to choose between a variety of candidates offered by the same
The importance of the individual candidates is increased and the power of the local party
organisation is diminished (compared to the List System)
It allows a voter to vote for candidates from different parties but who might have the
same views on a particular issue which may be of overriding importance to the voter eg.…read more

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It often results in coalition governments having to be formed
It is confusing for some voters to understand
`top-up' MPs are not directly elected by the voters and thus, like the List System, the
power of the party machine is increased at the expense of local activists
It creates two `classes' of MP ­ those directly elected by the voters could claim to have
more legitimacy and will almost certainly have a greater workload than the `top-up' MPs
iv) Comparative Examples:
Countries employing the various…read more


Old Sir

A clear outline of the various electoral systems in use in the UK, (the London Assembly seems to have been omitted, however). This will be useful to students looking to remind or re-introduce themselves to the topic. Those looking to develop lines of argument for use in discussion will want to read more widely in order to develop some of the criticisms contained here.

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