Elections

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Definition of an Election

A process where people are the given the oppportunity to choose representatives who will form representative institutions and government.

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Definition of an Electoral Manifesto

A statement produced by a political party at election times, stating what policies it intends to implement if it gains power. 

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The purpose of Elections

  • To elect a Member of Parliament to represent the constituency as a whole and as individuals
  • To deliver a verdict on the performance of the government in power
  • Deciding who will govern for the next 5 years
  • Deciding between polticial programmes (Manifesto)
  • Choosing between differenet teams of political leaders
  • Granting a mandate for government
  • Grants authority to the new government to do whatever it feels necessary to promote the security and welfare of the country
  • Elections to the EU, Scotland, Wales and Northern Irealand do the same thing.
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Definition of an Electoral Mandate

Refers to the authority to govern granted to the winning party at an election bu the voters. The mandaye suggests that the government may implement the measures in its election manifesto. It also implies that the government has authority to use its judgement in dealing with unforeseen circumstances (the Doctor's Mandate)

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2010 general election

  • Didn't deliver a single party government so the electorate could not be sure which party would govern them
  • It did not deliver a government with a clear mandate
  • It delivered a false outcome in some ways. Conservative party clearly dominates the coaltion and its policies
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Definition of an Electoral System

A system that converts in an election into seats. It may also refer to the process of electing a single leader, such as a president or a mayor.

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Features of FPTP

  • Each constituency returns one Member of Parliament.
  • Each party may nominate only one candidate in each constituency 
  • Voters have only one vote each. They choose their preferred candidtae by means of the proverbial cross on the ballot paper.
  • Whichever candidtae wins the largest number of votes is declared elected, known as simple majority or plurality. Not necessary for a candidate to achieve more than 50% of the votes.
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Definition of a Majoritarian representation

A political system which tends to throw up a governmetn that enjoys a majority within representative institutions and therefore is able to dominate party politics

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FPTP

Until 1970s - most constituency elections were contested by only two or three candidates. Virtually all seats won by Labour or Conservatives - winning candidates enjoyed the support of majority voters.

Constituency elections are now often four, five or six way contests. The result is that the outcome of general elections has become less predictable. 

Hampstead and Kilburn constituency, 6 May 2010. 

Glenda Jackson, Labour, 17,332 votes, 32.8% of vote.

Chris Philp, Conservative, 17,290 votes, 32.7% of vote. 

42 votes difference.

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Effects of FPTP

  • There is a strong, unique relationship between a single MP and every constituency
  • The majority of the MPs are elected without securing an overall majority of the votes.
  • The system tends to favour the party that is leading in the polls, usually ensuring that a single party will win an overall majority in the HOC, to form a mandate.
  • The system favours those parties that are able to concentrate their votes in specific constituencies.
  • It makes it extremely difficult for smaller parties to break into the domination of the two main parties
  • Votes are not of equal value. Votes are more valuable in marginal seats. Votes for second and third parties are of less value than votes for the winning party.
  • Votes for very small parties that have no hope of winning any constituencies are virtually completely wasted.
  • HOC doesn't reflect accurately the political balance of the whole electorate.
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Definition of a Strong government

A characteristic of political systems such as the UK, where the executive branch of government is dominant. Government is able to dominate legislature and is able to implement most of its policies without excessive obstruction.

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Definition of a Stable government

A characteristics of a political system where governments tend to survive their full term and are unlikely to be removed from power between elections

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West Lothian question

  • MPs in the UK parliament are elected from all parts of the UK
  • Since the devolution of many powers to new governments in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland in 1998, the UK parliament in westminster does not have any control over a wide range of the devolved powers putside England. (health, education, transport)
  • Many issues controlled by the UK parliament relate only to England 
  • All MPs from Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland
  • The coaltion government has a majority in the Commons for the whole of the UK, but conservatives have a clear majority
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Implications for Electoral Reform

After 2010 election the Electoral Reform Society, in partnership with the polling organisation ComRes, interviewed a sample of voters and estimted what the election result would have been under different systems. 

Conservative Party: Actual result: 307, AV: 281, AMS: 275, STV: 246

Labour Party: Actual result: 258, AV: 262, AMS: 234, STV: 207

AV rejected in 2011 referendum 

 

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The Coalition government

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General elections are democratic

  • All are free to participate. Few restrictions on who can vote or stand for election. No body is barred from taking part without good reason. (Still questioning if prisoners can vote)
  • Anybody can form a political party and compete for election provided their aims are lawful.
  • There is free information and a free media. All are able to access independent information and there is no cencership.
  • Elections normally deliver a democratic mandate to the incoming government, granting legitimate authority to carry our politics.
  • UK elections are mainly free from corruption. Voting remains secret and the counting of votes is carefully regulated to prevent fraud. Results are reliable.
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General elections aren't democratic

  • The most democratic aspect of the UK general elections is the fact that the result is disproportional. FPTP favours parties with concentrated support.
  • As a result of the electoral system, governments are usually elected on a minority of the popular vote.
  • Large parties have disproportionate amounts of funds to contest the elections, this gives them artifical advantages. The Lib Dems have suffered from lack of money, they don't have the same level of wealthy donors as Labour and the Conservatives.
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Definition of Majority Systems

Description of electoral systems where the winning candidate is required to win an overall majority, i.e. more than 50% of the votes cast.

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Definition of Plurality Systems

Electoral systems where the winning candidate does not require an overall majority but merely needs to win more votes than any other candidate. 

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Definition of Proportional representation

Describes any electoral system that converts votes into seats in a broadly proportional way. 

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Alternate Vote

Most common type of majority system.

Voters are given two vote, a fist and second choice. 

If when the first choice votes are counted, one of the candidates achieves an absolute majority (50% and above) they are elected automatically.

If none of the candidates achieve this, the second choice votes have to be taken into account. the top two candidates reatin their first choice votes.

The other losing candidates are eliminated, but not before the second choice on their ballot papers is added to the first choice votes already won by the two leaders.

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Single Transferable Vote

Constituencies return more than one member each. In Northern Irealand, the normal number is six.

In order to be elected, a candidate must achieve a quota. The quota is calculated by taking the total votes cast and dividing it by the number of seats plus one.

Voters may vote for all candidates from different parties an may sho a prefernce between candidates of the same party. 

Candidates who chieve the quota on their first preference are elected, their second and subsequent preferences are redistributed among the other candidates.

When more candidates achieve the quta by adding redistributed votes to their first preferences, spare votes are also redistrubuted. This continues until no more candidates can achieve the quota. At this point the votes of the candidates at the bottom of the poll begin to have their preferences redistributed.

When the required number of candidates have achieved the quota, counting ends.

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List systems

There is the national list system, as used in Israel. Each party list covers representation for the whole country.

Second and third, there are two regional list systems, the most common form in Europe. The country votes in regions, rather than nationally. Regional systems are either closed or open.

With a closed system, it is the party leadership who decide in what order their candidates are elected.

In an open system the voters may determine both how many seats each party wins and the order in which candidates are elected.

The UK operates a closed regional list system to elect Members of the European Parliament. 

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How the regional list system works

  • The country is divided into regions
  • Each region produces a list of candidates 
  • The voters are invited to vite for one of the lists
  • Seats are awarded to each party in exact proportion to the votes cast in each region
  • If a party were to win 40% of the votes they would get 40% of the candidates on its list are elected. 
  • In some cases, including the UK elections to European Parliament, a small adjustment is made depending on the performace of parties at the previous election.
  • If it is a closed system, voters have no influence over which individuals are elected off the list. Party leadership determines the order of the list.
  • If it is an open system, voters can, if they wish, show a prefernce for certain candidates on a party list. This will influence which individuals are elected from the lists.
  • There is normally a threshold of between 1-5%, or minimum proportion of the votes, which a party must win to gain any seats.
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How the regional list system works

  • The country is divided into regions
  • Each region produces a list of candidates 
  • The voters are invited to vite for one of the lists
  • Seats are awarded to each party in exact proportion to the votes cast in each region
  • If a party were to win 40% of the votes they would get 40% of the candidates on its list are elected. 
  • In some cases, including the UK elections to European Parliament, a small adjustment is made depending on the performace of parties at the previous election.
  • If it is a closed system, voters have no influence over which individuals are elected off the list. Party leadership determines the order of the list.
  • If it is an open system, voters can, if they wish, show a prefernce for certain candidates on a party list. This will influence which individuals are elected from the lists.
  • There is normally a threshold of between 1-5%, or minimum proportion of the votes, which a party must win to gain any seats.
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Additional Member systems

Known as a Hybrid

Combination of FPTP with a regional list system. A proportion of seats are awarded through FPTP and the rest are awarded on a regional list system.

This means that every voter has two votes.  One is for a constituency candidate and the other is from a choice of party lists.

Some of the elected representatives have a constituency to look after, others don't

They have been elected from the lists and are free from constituency responsibilites.

AMS is a compromise, it is designed to make a system partly proportional, but also preserves the idea of parliamentary constituencies with an MP to represent them. 

Helps smaller parties, also favours larger ones. preserves the idea of constituencies and a constituency representative, but producing a much more proportional result than FPTP.

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Definition of a Party system

Refers to the typical structure of parties within a political system. It describes the normal number of parties that compete effectively. Thus we may speak of two, three or multi party systems. It also refers to the typical party make up of governments, for example, single party government, coalitions and so on.

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Definition of Plurality

A description of an electoral system that awards a position or seat in the legislature to a candidate who has achieved more votes than any other, even if this doesn't represent an absolute. 50% + majority. the British FPTP system that operates in general elections is an example of plurlity at work.

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Definition of Electoral reform

A process whereby the electoral system is changed or where there is campaign for such change. 

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Arguments for reform

Voters would be given more choices. This may increase from one to two, as with AV

The value of votes would be largely equalised, especially if a proportional system is used.

If STV or an open list system were adopted, voters would also have the opportunity to choose between candidates of the same party.

Any alternative system would produce a result that was more accurately representative of the political views of the electorate. Proportional list system would be the most accurate.

It is argued that the current system places too much power into the hands of a single party, that does not enjoy majority support. 

A fairer electoral system may restore some respect for the political system 

The political system would become more dynamic, smaller and newer parties, having more opportunity to establish themsleves

EU uses different electoral systems. Many argue that the experience of the use of PR in Scotland, Wales and NI produces more representative systems.

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Arguments against reform

The referendum campaign alerted many people to the drawbacks of alternative systems

The NO referendum campaign was highly effective

The fact that the 2010 election resulted in a hung parliament and a coaltion government may have reduced the electorate's appetite for change.

The main supporters of reform (Lib Dems) had become unpopular by 2011 and so support for one of their main policies aslo declined.

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