Differences between general elections and by-elections - AQA AS Government and Politics - GOVP1

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Volume 22, Number 4, April 2013
What are the differences between
general elections and by-elections?
Ian Richards
You can use this material to further your understanding and aid your revision of this topic.
General elections
Function to elect a national government
Traditionally called by the PM at a time of his choosing (though Fixed-term Parliaments Act
2011 now sets 5-year intervals)
National focus/campaign
Usually 60%+ turnout
Fought across a range of policies and issues (publication of party manifestos etc.)
Reflects previous 5-year national picture (leadership of parties, policy successes/failures,
economic climate etc.)
Three main parties dominate the results
Taken seriously by parties and most of the public, as the next government will be formed
Function to elect a single MP
Called after resignation/death/departure of the sitting MP e.g. Oldham 2011 after de-selection
of Phil Woolas
Local focus -- although national party leaders will often visit to give support and attention e.g.
Crewe and Nantwich 2008 (Cameron visited several times to ensure victory)
Low turnout e.g. Manchester Central 2012 was 18%
Fought across a narrower range of policies, sometimes one issue or a local topic e.g. Blaenau
Gwent 2006 was lost by Labour after a rebellion by local Labour activists against the party's
chosen candidate
Typically reflect perceptions of the parties at a given moment in time -- often act as a mini-
referendum on the governing party e.g. Lib Dem collapse in Barnsley in March 2011; Labour
collapse during Brown's premiership in Glasgow East 2008 (used by voters to 'send a
message' in support of, or more likely against, parties in Westminster)
Philip Allan Updates © 2013 1

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Often involve protest voting against major parties in support of minor parties e.g. Rotherham
2012 UKIP came 2nd, Lib Dems came 8th
Sometimes taken to reflect broader political trends, and used by the media to predict possible
results at the next general election e.g.…read more


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