Electoral Systems

  • Created by: Sairish
  • Created on: 10-01-20 14:03

How does FPTP operate?

MPs are elected in a single-member constituencies. Each constituency in the UK elects 1 representative to the HoC

Electors cast a single vote by writing a cross (X) on the ballot paper beside the name of their favoured candidate 

A candidate requires a plurality of votes to win: that is, 1 more vote than the 2nd placed candidate 

Winner of the election is the candidate who wins moe votes than any other candidate 

It is not necessary to win an overall (> than 50%) majority to win a seat - about 1/2 the winning candidates in the UK do not gain > than 50% of the votes in their constituency.

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What are the features of FPTP elections?

Characteristics features or outcomes of FPTP elections are:

  • A 2-party system
  • A winner's bonus
  • Bias to a major party 
  • Discrimination against third and smaller parties
  • Single-party government

(however some of these features are becoming less apparent)

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FPTP and the 2-party system

It favours major parties that have strong nationwide support, which gives them a good chance of securing a parliamentary majority. Small parties find it difficult to win 

2 party system has been failing health and the UK began to resemble a multi-party system

In 2010, Tories and Labour together recieved only 65% of the vote - a postwar law.

Support for parties other than the Tories, Labour and Lib Dems reached a record 25% in 2015.

The 2017 general election reversed this trend as the 2 parties won a combined vote share of 82%, the largest since 1970.

SNP remained the largest party in Scotland and the Tories relied on the support of the Democratic Unionist Party in the HoC

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FPTP and Winner's bonus

FPTP tends to exaggerate the perfomance of the most popular party, producing a winner's bonus or landslide effect.

A relatively small lead over the second-placed party is often translated into a substanial lead in parliamentary seats.

The Tories won landslide victories in 1983 and 1987, with Labour doing likewise in 1997 and 2001

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Bias to 1 major party

System favoured Labour from the 1990s until 2010. Between 1997-2005, the proportion of seats won by the Tories was lower than their share of the vote. Then in 2010, the Tories led Labour by 7% but fell 19 seats short of an overall majority.

Number of reasons for this bias, some of which persist today:

Tactical Voting - Labour benefited from anti- Tories tactical voting between 1997-2005

Differences in constituency size - The electorate in constituencies won by Labour in 2015 was, on average, 3,850 lower than in those won by the Tories. This is largely because of population movement from urban constituencies to suburban and rural ones.

Differential turnout - Turnout is lower in Labour-held seats: 65% in 2015, compared to 69% in seats won by the Tories, Labour needed fewer votes to win seats between 1997-2010

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FPTP and Discrimination against smaller parties

FPTP discriminates against 3rd parties and small parties whose support is not concentrated in particular regions.

Smaller parties are disadvantaged by:
Mechanics - FPTP makes it more difficult for smaller parties to win seats. There are no rewards for coming second

Psychology - Smaller parties have a credibility problem because voters believe that a vote for them is a 'wasted vote'

The Lib Dems and their predecessors have been consisten losers under FPTP, most notably in 1983.

Effective targeting of seats, intensive local campaigning and incumbency helped them reach 62 seats in 2005, but this was still a disproportionate outcome

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FPTP and the single party government

FPTP tends to produce single-party majority governments with working parliamentary majorities.

Coalition government and minority governments are rare at Westminster.

In the postwar period, only the Feb 1974, 2010 and 2017 general elections did not deliver a majority of seats for one party. A minority Labour government took office after the first of these, while the 2010 Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition was the the 1st coalition government since WW2.

In 2017, a Conservative minority government negotiated a confidence and supply deal with the DUP

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Arguments in favour of the FPTP system

Simplicity - easy to understand and operate. Ballot paper is simple: electors only vote once and counting the votes is straight forward and fast. Legitimate and effective

Clear outcome - Party securing the largest number of votes achieves a majority of seats

Strong and stable government - Single-party governments with working majorities exercise significant control over the legislative process. They can fulfill their mandate by enhancing the policy commitments they made in their manifestos and can act decisively in times of crisis

Responsible government - Votes are given a clear choice between the governing party, which is held responsible for its record in foccie, and the main opposition party, which is a potential alternative government. Doctrine of the mandate obliges the winning party to put its proposals into effect

Effective representation - Single-member constituencies provide a clear link between voters and their elected representative, with one MP representiting the interests of the area.

Keeps out extremist parties - Parties on the far right and far left have not prospered in the UK, in part because FPTP makes it difficult for them to win seats at Westminster

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Arguments against the first past the post system

Disproportional outcomes - 2 main parties tend to win more seats than their votes merits with te lead party given an additional winner's bonus. A party can form a majority government having won only 35% of the vote

Plurality rather than majority support - In 2010, a record 2/3 MPs did not achieve a majority in their constituency. Low turnout means that most MPs were supported by less than 1 in 2 of the electorate. In 2005, Labour won a parliamentary majority with 35% of the UK vote. 

Votes are of unequal value - A vote cast in a small constituency is more likely to influence the outcome than 1 cast in a larger constituency. Many votes are wasted because they do help to elect an MP.

Limited choice - Voters are denied an effective choice bc only 1 candidate stands for each party: voters vannot choose between different candidates from the same party. 

Divisive politics - Small shifts in voting produced frequent changes of government and this led to instability bc parties were able to overturn policies introduced by their rivals.

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