Politics Unit 1 Elections and Voting

Clearly describes:

  • the functions of elections
  • theories of representation
  • current voting systems used in the UK
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  • Created on: 19-05-10 18:54
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Elections and representation
UK democracy is largely based on the nature of its electoral system, which itself is based
on the principles of:
Universal adult suffrage
One vote per person
Secret ballot
Competition amongst candidates and parties
They are the main link between the government and the people (the electorate). Their
three main functions are:
Forming governments
Ensuring representation
Upholding legitimacy
Forming governments
Elections are the principal way of forming governments in the UK, serving to transfer
power from one to the next (general elections). Governments come from the leadings
members of the majority in the House of Commons. Formation usually occurs immediately
after the election, because there is a clear result (exc. 1974 and 2010). The leader of the
majority party becomes prime minister and they then appoint the other ministers in their
Ensuring representation
Elections ensure representation in two ways; between elected politicians and their
constituents, and between the incumbent government and public opinion. Elections make
politicians, and therefore the government, publicly accountable and removable. People
therefore have the ultimate control over the government through elections.
BUT Long electoral terms weakens the link
Competing theories of representation and how politicians should represent
Upholding legitimacy
Legitimacy is vital for maintaining political stability. Citizens must recognise an obligation
to obey the law and respect the system of government. Elections provide a means
through which citizens can consent to being governed.
BUT Declining turnout, could suggest disillusioned citizens withholding consent
Falling support for two major parties ­ less satisfaction with politics?
Theories of representation
Trusteeship (also `Burkean representation')
Doctrine of the mandate
Microcosmic representation
Trusteeship ­ Politicians should act as trustees, not delegates, and use their superior
qualities to act on the electorate's behalf. Since the people do not always know their
best interests, MPs should use their own judgement.
BUT Creates gap between views of representatives and ordinary people, and
therefore possibility of serving best interests
Largely out-of-date, since party system gives few opportunities for MPs to
act on their own judgement
Doctrine of the mandate ­ By winning an election, a party gains a popular mandate to
fulfil the policies on which it won the election. Therefore, the party, rather than

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Politicians serve their
constituents not by thinking independently, but by sticking to party lines.
BUT A variety of non-rational factors affect people's choice in elections
Unlikely people support entire manifestos, but merely key principles
Difficulty in forcing gov'ts to carry out manifestos once in power
Microcosmic representation ­ Representatives should be a microcosm of the people in
the country that they represent (i.e. in gender, religion, social class, ethnicity). Using
this theory, current representation in the UK is severely flawed.…read more

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FPTP. Rest filled by part-list system. Electors cast two votes. Uses D'Hondt method
to calculate seats.
Balances constituency representation and fair representation
More proportional, but still chance of strong government
Creates ambiguous roles for the `top-up members'
Less effective constituency representation ­ bigger constituencies and proportion
of representatives don't work for constituency
Single Transferable Vote ­ quota system. Large, multi-member constituencies in which
parties field as many candidates as there are seats. Electors rank the candidates by
preference.…read more


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