Elections and Voting

Features of UK Elections 66

  • Universal adult suffrage
  • One person, one vote
  • The secret ballot
  • Competition between candidates and parties 
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Main Elections in the UK 66

General elections 

  • Full parliamentary elections, seats in HofC up for reelection (Westminster), five year terms 

Devolved assembly elections 

  • Scottish Parl, Welsh and Northern Ireland Assembly, four year terms 

European Parliament elections 

  • Five year terms, first held in 1979

Local elections 

  • District, borough and county council elections, Greater London Assembly, Lord Mayor, 4/5 year terms 
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Functions of Elections 67

Forming Governments 

  • Transfer powers from one govt to the next in general election
  • Formed from leading members of the majority party in the HofC
  • PR systems = less likely to produce single party govt
  • — govt therefore formed through negotiation 

Ensuring Representation 

  • Elections = vital channel of communication between govt and the people 
  • Carry out representative function 
  • — politicians and their constituency 
  • — govt and public opinion
  • Give people final control 
  • 4/5 year terms weaken link between voters and representatives 
  • Debate as to how politicians should represent their electors - which system? 
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Functions of Elections 68

Uphold Legitimacy 

  • Legitimacy provides the key to political stability 
  • Ensures citizens see they must obey the law and respect govt 
  • Voting fives govt ‘consent’ to be able to govern
  • Low turnout level
  • Failing support for Lab and Cons = declining satisfaction
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How does representation work? 69


  • Politicians should be trustees (think for themselves), not delegates (recall views of others without their own input)
  • Because the mass of people may not know their own best interests
  • Politicians thinking for themselves creates a gap between them and the citizens (politicians may think for their own middle aged white men views)
  • — this could be stopped by shortening terms 
  • Trusteeship is outdated, it can only be done with ‘free votes’ so they vote independently, or backbench votes

Descriptive Representation 

  • Representatives should resemble the group they represent proportional e.g. social class, age, gender, religion, ethnicity etc. 
  • Helps stop under representation for minorities 
  • No broader public interest if groups are narrow and exclusive
  • Govt would reflect society’s weakness e.g. uneducated
  • Representation can’t be reconciled with electoral choice 
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How does representation work? 70

The Doctrine of the Mandate 

  • A party wins, they carry out their policies on their manifesto
  • The whole party (not individuals) carries out representation
  • Politicians don’t think for themselves, they stay loyal to their policies 
  • People don’t vote rationally/based on their manifesto
  • Most people won’t support every policy in a manifesto
  • Govt can’t be forced to carry out their manifesto commitments and they often include /vite winning/ policies that they never do 
  • Is the mandate for the party or PM? PMs sometimes take a personal mandate 
  • Coalitions can’t do all of both party’s policies, so many will be abandoned 
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Electoral Systems: FPTP 72

  • Proportional system = represents parties in line with their electoral support - proportional representation
  • Non proportional system = tends to over represent larger parties and usually results in a single party majority 

 First past the post 

  • Also known as Westminster voting system or single member plurality system)
  • Used in HofC and England and Wales local govts 
  • Most votes win
  • Has the several implications:


  • FPTP doesn’t establish links between the proportion of votes won by a party and the proportion of seats they get, bc the system is concerned with an election of individual members, not parties 
  • The ‘wrong’ part could with if
  • — Constituency 1



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FPTP Implications 73

Systematic biases

  • Disproportionality isn’t random, some parties do well in FPTP elections and others don’t
  • There are 2 kinds of bias: size of the party and distribution of support 
  • Size of the party 
  • — Large parties benefit at the expense of small parties because:
  • — The ‘winner takes it all’ effect means 100% of representation is gained in each constituency by a single candidate and therefore by a single party 
  • — Winning candidates are likely to come from large parties as they’re likely to be FPTP
  • — Candidates from small parties that come 3rd/4th etc gain no representation for their party 
  • — Voters are discouraged from supporting small parties as they’re unlikely to get a seat 
  • — wasted vote = a vote that doesn’t affect the outcome of the election bc its cast for a ‘losing’ candidate who already has a plurality of votes 
  • Distribution of support 
  • — Parties whose support is geographically concentrated do better than ones with evenly distributed support 
  • — concentrated = more effective -  more likely to gain pluralities and win seats
  • — where they aren’t winning seats they’re wasting less votes
  • — However they come 2nd or 3rd almost everywhere so get few/no seats 
  • Lab and Cons over represented by FPTP - big, geo concentrated support due to the class of their voters , Lib Dems = smaller party and less class based voters and geo evenly spread out, SNP and Plaid Cymru = small parties, disadvantage is counter balanced by geo concentrated support
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FPTP Implications 76

Two party system 

  • FPTP results in two major parties - Lab and Cons since WW1 
  • Only 2 parties have sufficient support to have a realistic chance of winning the election 
  • Due to the bias above 
  • ‘2 horse race’ may discourage potential supporters of ‘third’ parties from voting for them - wasted votes
  • Problem of wasted votes is all greater bc Lab and Cons each have ‘heartlands’ where most seats are ‘safe’ seats 
  • Outcome of election is therefore determined by what happens in a minority of seats (marginal seats - a sear or constituency with a small majority which is therefore ‘winnable’ by multiple parties)
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FPTP Implications 76

Single party government 

  • Consequence of 2 party system = the larger of the two majority parties usually wins enough support to govern alone 
  • Other major party forms opposition and acts as a government in waiting 

Landslide effect

  • FPTP tends to produce a ‘winner’s bonus’
  • Relatives small shifts in votes can lead to dramatic changes in seats gained 
  • — parties can win ‘landslide’ victories on the basis of relatively modest electoral support 
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For or Against: Reforming Westminster elections 86

For (disadvantages of FPTP)

  • Greater proportionality 
  • No wasted votes 
  • Guaranteed majority govt 
  • No ‘elected dictatorship’ (single party in control of govt)
  • More consensus based politics 

Against (advantages of FPTP)

  • Clarity and simplicity of choice
  • Strong links between a representative and their constituency 
  • Manifestos can be adhered to 
  • Strong govt 
  • Stable govt 
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Majority Systems: AV 77

Alternate Vote (AV)

  • Rank candidates in order of preference 
  • Winning candidates must gain 50% majority 
  • If no candidate reaches 50%, the bottom candidate drops out and the votes are redistributed according to second preference 
  • Scottish local by-elections, Lib & Lab leadership elections
  • By-elections for hereditary peers


  • Ensures fewer votes are wasted
  • Broad range of views influence outcome bc 50% majority 


  • Outcome may be determined by supporters of small/minority/possible extremist parties 
  • Winning candidates may have little first preference support 
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Majority Systems: SV 78

Supplementary Vote (SV)

  • Vote for first and second preference 
  • Winning candidates must gain 50% majority 
  • Votes according to first preference - if no one reaches 50%, the top 2 candidates remain in the election (the others drop out) and the votes are redistributed 


  • Simpler than AV, easy to understand for voters
  • Focus on second preference encourages conciliatory campaigning and a tendency towards consensus
  • London mayoral elections 


  • Doesn’t ensure that winning candidate has 50% of votes (bc proportion of second votes will be for candidates who’ve dropped out)
  • Emphasis on making second votes count may encourage voters to only support main parties - discourage them from supporting their second preference 
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Proportional Systems: AMS 80

Additional Member System (AMS)

  • Electorate gets 2 votes - one for an individual, decided with FPTP

                                            - one for a party, with seats awarded with the party list system 

  • Scottish Parl, Welsh Assembly, Greater London Assembly


  • The mixed character of AMS balances the need for constituency representation against the need for electoral fairness
  • Broadly proportional but still has potential for a single party govt 
  • Voters can make more considered choices - vote for different parties in constituencies and elections 


  • Retention of single member constituencies reduces likelihood of high levels of proportionality 
  • Confusing bc two classes of representation 
  • Constituency representation less effective than FPTP bc larger size of constituencies and bc a proportion of representatives have no constituency duties 
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Proportional Systems: STV 81

Single Transferable Vote (STV)

  • Multimember constituencies 
  • Can vote for multiple candidates 
  • Must reach a quota to be elected = (total no. of votes cast/(no. of seats to be filled +1)) + 1
  • Candidate with fewest votes drops out, votes redistributed 
  • N Ireland Assembly, N Ireland and Scot local govt, N Ireland for Euro Parl 


  • Can achieve highly proportional outcomes 
  • Competition between candidates if they’re in the same party - judged on individual strengths 
  • Availability of several members - constituents can choose who to take their grievances to 


  • Degree of proportionality can vary (on the basis of party system)
  • Strong/stable single party govt is unlikely 
  • Multimember’s constituencies may be divisive bc they encourager competition amongst members of the same party 
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Proportional Systems: Regional Party List 82

Regional Party List 

  • Party gives a list of their candidates in order of their preference
  • Electorate votes for a party not candidates 
  • Parties allocate starts in proportion to votes gained in each constituency
  • European Parliament 


  • Only potentially pure system of proportional representation 
  • Promotes unity by encouraging electorate to identify with a region rather than a constituency 
  • Women and minorities more likely to be on party list and therefore elected 


  • Existence of small parties can lead to weak/unstable govt
  • Link between representatives and constituencies is weakened/could be broken 
  • Parties became more powerful, as they decide where candidates are placed on the party list 
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Features of Proportional Systems 80

Greater Proportionality

  • Over representation of large parties and landslide effect of FPTP are reduced
  • 2011 Scottish Parl elections - Labour won half the constituency seats with 32% of the vote and its overall representation in Scot Parl was ‘corrected’ by distribution of part list seats - 29% of seats 

Multiparty systems

  • Minor parties more likely to win seats in proportional systems 
  • — broadens basis of party representation and creates multiparty system
  • Until 2010, Green Party had no representation at Westminster despite gaining over 250,000 votes 
  • — Green represented in Scot Parl (2 seats), GL Assembly (2) and Euro Parl (£)

Coalition or Minority Government 

  • Minority govt = govt with no overall majority support in the assembly/Parl
  • — usually formed by single parties that can’t/won’t form coalitions
  • More proportionals voting systems more likely to produce multiparty systems and coalitions/minority govt
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Features of Proportional Systems 83

Consensus Building

  • Shift from single party majority govt to coalition led to different style of policy making (’new politics’) and the adoption of different policies
  • FPTP usually gets single party govt that drive policies through HofC
  • — other electoral systems foster policy process of compromise, negotiation and a cross party consensus
  • — occurs formally through coalitions 
  • Coalitions usually based on post-election deals - commitments of 2+ parties
  • Consensus building in single party govt to attract informal support from other parties to maintain control of Parl 
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Which electoral system is best? 84

  • Chance of electoral reform
  • Centre parties can’t win under FPTP
  • Cons don’t want reform bc they win under FPTP
  • Lab supported it until they kept winning under it 
  • Prospects for reform linked to possibility of a ‘hung’ Parliament (no single party has a majority)
  • Referendum for AV lost
  • AV has advantage over FPTP but can’t maintain some of the benefits of FPTP
  • Each system is good at different things 
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Voting Behaviour 88

3 theories of voting behaviour:

  • Sociological model 
  • — People of certain economic or social groups vote for a certain party - places emphasis on long term social factors like social class, gender, ethnicity, religion and region 
  • Party Identification model 
  • — Emotional attachment to a party, identify with a party as long term supporter - partisanship
  • Issue voting model
  • — Vote for the party most beneficial to them at the time 
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Long Term Voting Factors 89

Social class

  • Key to understanding voting behaviour until 1970s
  • “Class is the basis of British party politics” - Peter Pulzer 1967
  • Class alignment (link between class and voting)
  • 1964-66 - 64% working class voted Labour, 62% middle class voted Conservative 
  • Since 1970s - class dealignment 

Party loyalty 

  • 1964-70 - voters identified with a particular party - partisan alignment
  • 1964-66 - 90% of voters identified with a party 
  • This has declined since 1970s - partisan dealignment 


  • Women tend to vote Cons 
  • — less pronounced with Thatcher, but reasserted itself with Major 
  • However 1997 - Labour was supported by an equal no. of women and men (44%)
  • 2015- men more likely to vote Cons than women expect 50+ year olds 
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Long Term Voting Factors 91


  • Older people tend to vote Cons
  • — earn more money as they get older?
  • — more fearful of change?
  • Younger people tend to vote Labour 

Religion and Ethnicity 

  • Church of England vote Cons 
  • Non-conformists vote Labour
  • POC vote Labour 


  • North/South divide
  • Labour = London and North
  • Cons = South 
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Short Term Voting Factors 93


  • Parties form policies that will have wide electoral appeal
  • Policies may fade when other issues come to dominate a campaign


  • Elections are largely decided on the performance of the govt of the day 
  • — its economic performance 


  • ‘Age of dealignment’ means parties place increasing faith on leaders to win elections 
  • Effective leader qualities: accessibility (likeable), trust, and strength 
  • Presidentialism 
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Short Term Voting Factors 95

Party image

  • The way voters view the parties is important 
  • During 1990s Cons seen as the ‘nasty’ party - get rich quick, show little sympathy for disadvantaged 
  • Cameron worked to ‘detoxify’ the party’s image 


  • 2015 - Cons spent £78 million on campaigning  - exceeding all other parties combined 
  • Net impact of national campaigning may be less significant than e.g. getting backing of major newspapers 
  • Tendency for parties to ‘target’ key seats to artificially concentrate their support 

Tactical voting 

  • Voting not for a preferred party but for a ‘least bad’ party or to defeat a ‘worst’ party 
  • Keeps unwanted parties out of power 
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Explaining Declining Turnout 96

Proposed solutions:

  • Electoral reform
  • Digital democracy/e-democracy
  • Compulsory voting 

Sociological factors that could impact turnout:

  • There’s a clear link between turnout and education
  • — people with higher levels of education are more likely to vote than people that are less educated 
  • — this should have led to an increase, not decrease in turnout 
  • The changing size of the ethnic minority population 
  • — voting levels tend to be lower than the wider society 
  • — ethnic minority population grown 
  • Partisan dealignment 
  • Immediate political circumstances in the general elections - little choice in policies/ideas 
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For or Against: Compulsory Voting 97


  • Increased participation - participation crisis would be solved
  • Greater legitimacy - govts can get a popular majority 
  • Civic duty - the more people that participate in policies, the more they’ll think/act as members of a political community 
  • Stronger social justice - poor and less educated are less likely to vote so voluntary voting disadvantages them 


  • Abuse of freedom - some people show their views by not voting 
  • Cosmetic democracy - would only mask issues like a decline in civic engagement 
  • Worthless votes - some people would just vote bc they have to and not research
  • Distorted political focus - parties may adopt strategies to attract would-be non-voters rather than focus on the interest of the mass
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