Electoral Systems

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  • Created by: esumner
  • Created on: 22-02-16 09:57

How do Elections promote Democracy?


1. Grant legitimacy e.g. a party must have a majoirty of seats to win, they have widespread support 

2. Means of calling government and representatives to account e.g. The Leader's Debate before elections on TV allows the electorate to clearly see the parties' views/Lib Dem MP Chris Huhne 

3. Educate and inform people on political issues e.g. canvassing to get widespread support, permits the party to inform the electorate of their manifesto


1. In the case of the UK, elections are not always proportional and fair e.g. 2015, Ukip won 12.6% of vote and only 1 seat and SNP got 4.7% with 56 seats

2. Elections often exclude small parties e.g. Greens only got 1 seat 2015

3. Limits choice beacuse parties produce specific manifestos but people are interested in infividual issues 

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Functions of Elections

1. Elect a constituency MP

2. Provide a Mandate (official order or commission to do something), Doctrine of Mandate or Doctor's Mandate

3. Choose between differen political programmes as outlined in the manifestos

4. Educate the electorate 

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Simple Plurality System (FPTP)

- 650 Constituencies each with an MP

- Need a majority to become an MO (simple plurality - more than any other candidate) e.g. Glenda Jackson won less than a 3rd of the vote but won her constituency for Labour

- 326 votes to have a majority government 

- Each party nominates 1 candidate per constiuency

- Voters have 1 vote on ballot paper 

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Effects of FPTP


1. Simple system - simple to complete ballot paper

2. Strong constituency link e.g. 'Where your problem does involve central government, your MP can resolve those matters' - from government website 

3. Favours single party government, easier to pass legislation, no extremism e.g. BNP no seats


1. Disproportionate representation e.g. SNP won 56 seats with 4.7% of vote, UKIP won 1 with 12.6%

2. Wasted Votes and safe seats, dissatisfied electorate e.g. Wycombe Tory since 1951

3. Favours single party government, no minorities can get in e.g. 2010 coalition between Tory and Lib Dem was successful, functioned well, stable 

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AMS - Additional Member System

- Hybrid of FPTP and regional List 

- 2 votes - 1 for constituency candidate (FPTP), 1 from a choice of party lists (Regional List)

- Used for Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly

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STV - Single Transferrable Vote

- Form of PR

- Multi-member constituencies, parties put forward several constituencies 

- In order to be elected, candidates need a quota

- Voters vote for candidates in order of preference 

- Candidates who achieve the quota of 1st preference votes are elected, if they get more than needed, the 2nd preference votes are redistributed to the other candidates

- Candidates continue to be elected until they achieve their quota, if no more can achieve a quota but there are still spaces to fill, the losing candidates 2nd preference votes are redistributed until the right number of candidates are elected 

- Used in Northern Ireland Assembly and Republic of Ireland 

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- Majority system

- Elected members to the Australian House of Representatives

- Voters choose to place candidates in order of preference or just vote for their 1st choice

- If no candidate achieves an overall majority of 1st choice preferences, the bottom candidate is eliminated, 2nd preferences are added to the total, continues until a candidate achieves a majority

- Favours small but not minority parties - good for Lib Dem

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SV - Supplementary Vote

- Majority system

- Elects individuals not parties 

- Voters have 2 votes - 1st and 2nd choices

- Place 1 next to 1st choice, 2 next to 2nd

- If a candidate gets 50% of the 1st choice votes they're elected, if that doesn't work, the top 2 candidates go on to the next round 

- The 2nd choice votes on all other candidates ballots are added to the remaining contenders totals - 1 now has a majority 

- Used in London Mayoral Elections

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Party List

- Form of PR

- Used in EU Parliament Elections

- Produces multi-party systems

- No individual candidates

- Country divided into regions, in each regions, the party produces a list of candidates, voters choose a list

- Minimum threshold on 1-5% to allow small/extremist parties to get seats

National List - Israel, each party list covers representation for the whole country

Regional List - Most common form in Europe, country votes in regions, open or closed

Closed System - party leaderrs decide in what order their candidates are elected

Open System - Voters decied in what order candidate is elected  

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Proportional Representation


1. Fewer wasted votes because of lack of safe seats, more reflective of voter choice e.g. FPTP 2/3rds are safe seats

2. Minority parties have a bigger chance e.g. Greens got 3 seats in European Parliament 2014

3. Reduces disproportionality, reflects electorates view in a fairer way


1. Creates coalitions and minority governments, less legislative power and weaker electoral mandate e.g. 2000 Labour Lib Dem coalition in Wales

2. Gives rewards to extremist parties who have racist and harmful views, by giving them seats we are giving views a platform e.g. BNP got 2 seats under Party List in EU

3. Lack of personal link between electorate and representative, unclear of who to see for 'redress of grievance' e.g. STV, 3,4,5 representatives per constituency from different parties

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Should we change the Westminster electoral system?


1. All other electoral systems are more proportional than FPTP

2. Allows wider range of views and parties a chance to gain seats - wider voter choice

3. Forces parties to compromise rather than letting 1 party with no overall majority dominate


1. Recent referendum suggests electorate doesnt want a change in the system

2. Coalition or joint governments are more unstable 

3. Without having to compromise on policy, parties have a strong mandate to rule 

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Effects of Alternative Electoral Systems


1. Fewer wasted votes e.g. STV preference voting, surplus votes redistributed

2. Lack of safe seats = decreased tactical voting e.g. FPTP Wycombe Tory since 1951

3. Increased voter choice e.g. South Antrim in 2011, voters had 10 choice 


1. Increased coalition/minority governments e.g. NI Aseemly Election 2011, % of seats varied from 35.2% to 2.8% creating coalition 

2. Increased minority parties e.g. EU elections under PR, UKIP got 24 seats

3. Lack of legitimacy, affects electoral mandate e.g. London Mayoral election 2012 turnout 38%, some Londong boroughs had a turnout as low as 10%, shows lack of legitimacy as little people are represented 

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What is meant by the term Party System?

- A party system examines political parties in the political structure and puts them in categories 

- 2 party system - only 2 parties contest to gain power

- 2 and a 1/2 party system - only 2 parties contest but with a minor or 3rd party

- Multiparty systems and 1 party dominant systems 

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Distinguish between a Mandate and a Manifesto

Manifesto - document published by a party before an election, outlining election pledges

Mandate - given to them, allowing legal authority to act in certain ways

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Describe 3 elections regularly held in the UK

- FPTP - elects UK government from majority vote out of 650 constituencies

- SV - London Mayoral Elections, voters have 1st and 2nd choice, candidate needs 50% of 1st choice vots to get elected

- STV - Northern Ireland Assembly, candidate needs a quota, voted for in order of preference, votes are redistributed 

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Distinguish between an election and a referendum


- Mandatory in democratic system

- Binding 

- Appoint someone into a position and involve more than 2 options

- Every 5 years 


- Can be facultative

- Can be both binding and non-binding 

- Yes/no issues where the electorate can accept or reject a certain proposal

- Only called occasionally 

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What is representative democracy?

- The electorate decides who they want to lead the country

- In the UK we vote by FPTP

- Represents the whole population - democratic 

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Distinguish between Majoritarian and Proportional


- Parties can get majority without obtaining a majority, governments are formed without the support of 50% of electorate

- Often ensures that 1 party obtains a majority of seats

- E.g. AV/SV


- Close correlation with the number of votes cast and the number of seats

- Greater sense of legitimacy on governments

- Often means a majority 1 party government isn't achieved and coalitions are normal outcomes

- List, AMS, STV are this 

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How does the impact of PR differ from that of FPTP

1. FPTP favours single party government but minority parties have a bigger chance with PR e.g. Greens in EU parliament won 3 seats in 2014

2. Fewer wasted votes with PR because of lack of safe seats, more reflective of voter choice but FPTP has dosproportionate representation with a large number of seats to small number of votes e.g. SNP won 56 seats in parliament but only got 4.7% of the vote whilst UKIP got 12.6% and only 1 seat 

3. PR creates coalitions and minority governments so less legislative power because of the weaker electoral mandate e.g. 2000-2003 Labour Lib Dem coalition in Wales but FPTP has only had 2 coalitions 

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