Electoral Systems

HideShow resource information

Electoral Systems

Electoral system is the set of rules by which an election is contested.

It specifies how votes received by candidates and/or parties are translated into seats in a parliament, council or other political assembly.

In single-winner elections is decides how a president, mayor other individual position is elected.

There's no perfectly fair method of conducting and counting an election. So various systems have been developed each with strengths and weaknesses.

Vote Share is the popular vote received by a particular party or candidate.

Seat Share is the percentage of seats held by a party or group in a political assembly.

Seats that tend to change hands between two parties regularly are called marginals or swing seats. During general elections parties concentrate their campaigning on these swing seats as they're easier to win.

Safe seats are when there's no real risk of the particular lead party losing them, barring some sort of electoral disaster. Labour and the Conservatives will always stand a candidate in safe seats. 

1 of 15

Majoritarian System

Majoritarian System produce clear majorities for the winning party, they must have received over half the vote share and winning parties seat share is usually great than 50%.

Government typically consists of members of only one party, referred to as single party government.

Strength- increase cabinet unity, allows the ruling party to honour their manifesto commitments without compromise.

Weakness- leads to parliaments that don't fairly reflect the way the electorate voted.

2 of 15

First Past the Post

First Past the Post operates in plurality electoral system, candidates with the most votes in a constituency is the winner, regardless of whether this is the majority vote. 

This system is used in Britain for elections to the Commons and in English and Welsh local council elections, it's also used for all federal elections in the US. The UK is divided into 650 constituencies of roughly equal population size. Each of the constituencies elects one MP, a single party is able to win more than half of these constituency votes, then it forms the government. Voters are presented with a list of candidates, write one X to their favourite, most votes wins.

Strengths- easy system to understand, whoever gets the most votes in a constituency is the winner. Whoever wins the most MPs forms the government. In parliament, laws and decisions are made by a majority vote, so if a party has more than half the seats it'll be able to pass all the laws, majority government. There's no overlapping of MPs, constituency link, people have clarity about who's responsible for a certain area. No coalition government, argue and split up, deal making compromises, hard to know who's commitments will become law.

Weakness- wishes of all voters aren't taken into account, representative democracy legitimacy of the government is questioned, major decisions and laws are made that most people didn't vote for. All the votes that are cast for the losing party and all the votes more than the winner needs to beat the nearest rival are often collectively referred to as 'wasted votes' they don't affect the overall result of the general election. FPTP doesn't produce proportional results, percentage of votes won by a party,little relation to the percentage of seats it wins.

3 of 15

Alternative Voters

Alternative Voters rak their preferences. When the voters are counted, the candidates with the least number of first preferences is eliminated and all of their second preferences are shared out among the other candidates. 

Then the next lowest candidate is eliminated and the second preferences of everyone who voted for them are counted. 

By this stage, one of the most popular candidates will usually have gained the first or second preference votes of at least 50% of the voters. 

That person is then declared the winner.

Strengths- AV favours candidates who are acceptable to the greatest number of people, this means that in an AV election, a majority of voters will have given some support to the winner, even if that person wasn't their first choice. The constituency link isn't lost under AV as there's still one MP elected  for each constituency. Can vote for a party with your heart and also with your head.

Weakness- compromise candidates do well under AV, these are candidates who people don't dislike, but aren't enthusiastic about, results under AV are no more proportional than under FPTP. Candidates from smaller parties whose supporters are geographically spread out are still at a huge disadvantage.

4 of 15

Supplementary Vote(Instant Run-Off) and Run-Off Vo

Supplementary Vote is an Instant Run-off Voting.

It has the same advantages and disadvantages apply to SV, a varient of the Alternative Vote.

Voters are only given two voters, they vote first for the candidate they would most like to see elected, and then again for their second choice.

If no candidate wins an outright majority of the votes than all but the two candidates with the highest number of votes are eliminated.

The second preferences of the eliminated candidates which were cast for one of the top two are then redistributed, and whichever of the two has the most votes it the winner.

Run off voting is like the SV, expect the voters don't make both choices on the same day, they wait a week.

This time voters have to make a choice between the two remaining candidates.

5 of 15

Proportional Systems

Proportional Systems so far we have looked at systems that maintain the constituency link, if any of these systems were used in General Elections, the same constituencies could be used that are currently employed for FPTP elections.

While these majoritarian systems do go a little way to addressing one of the weaknesses of FPTP, the fact that a candidate can win with only a minority of votes, they don't improve proportionality, that is, the close correlation between vote share and seat share.

6 of 15

Closed Lists

It's impossible to have proportionality in systems that use single-member constituencies, that is, where one MP is elected for each seat. Proportional systems use multi-member constituencies that elect two or more MPs each. This means that seats can be shared out more fairly among parties.Each party that is contesting the election produces a list of its ten candidates. These lists are then printed onto a ballot sheet and all the voter has to do is put an X by the list of their favourite party.The first name at the top of the parties list is the first to be elected an MEP.If a party won 30% if the votes, the top 3 names of their party would be elected.

Strengths- number of MPs in each party would reflect the true level of support they'd been given in an election, representative democracy, small parties would benefit, much more likely to see one of their candidates elected, increase diversity of views, simple as FPTP, choose one party, don't need to rank other preferences. 

Weakness- given that no party tends to come even close to winning more than half of the votes in General Elections, coalitions would have to be formed to create a majority government in Parliament. Where one list is drawn up, decision making over who will be candidate and crucially how far up the list they'll be is taken by the central party, they can manipulate the lists by placing leaderships favourites at the top of the list and their least favourites near the bottom, where they'll have little hope of being elected. Ben on good terms with the party leaders, ironically creates a less democratic situation. The link between one MP and a constituency is lost. Voters vote for a list not a person. UK is divided into 12 huge constituencies, elects 10 MEPs.

7 of 15

Open Lists

Open lists are instead of simply choosing one list, voters are given as many votes as there are seats to be won in that constituencies. 

They vote for individual candidates and can spread their votes out among candidates on different lists. 

The candidates who've gathered the most personal votes win. 

So if there's five seats to be filled, five most popular candidates are elected.

Strengths- proportional results, gives voters, not parties, the ability to decide which individual candidates will be elected from each party. smaller parties will benefit from it.

Weakness- no constituency link, coalition government is usually necessitated.

8 of 15

List System - Thresholds

Thresholds in a purely proportional system, an extremist party that only has the support of one in a hundred people would be entitles to 1% of seats.

They'd then be given the resources that all other MPs are entitled to, a platform to publicise their views in parliament and most importantly, the recognition and power that elected office confers. 

To prevent this situation arising, countries using the list system often employ a threshold, that is, a lower limit which parties must exceed if they're to be allowed a seat.

In the German Parliament, parties must win at least 5% of the vote to be entitles a seat.

In Turkey 10% which was introduced to prevent extremist islamic parties from winning office.

While thresholds can be effective in keeping out extremist parties, some people argue that they're undemocratic, shouldn't be an artificial barrier to proportionality. 

Just because a party is very small it doesn't mean it is extremist.

9 of 15

Open List Voting- Single Transferable Vote

Open list voting, each party has a list, and by the name of each candidate is a box for the voter to make a mark in. Voters are asked to rank their favourite for each and every one of the candidates, like open lists, voters can vote across party lists. If not interested in any of the parties but would like to see more women or ethnic minorities elected they can vote on this basis instead. To win a seat, candidates must reach a quota. Q= number of votes cast divided by number of seats +1. +1

If there were 80,000 votes cast in an election, 3 seats to be filled, quota would be 20,001. Any candidate who'd won this many votes would be elected. If a candidate won more than this number of votes surplus votes would be counted and redistributed to the other candidates. When the second preferences have been redistributes, it's quite possible that the remaining candidates all still fall short of the quota. If this happens, the candidate with the least number of first preferences is eliminated and the second preferences from his or her supported are counted instead. This continues until all the seats have been filled.

 Strengths- results are broadly proportional, very few votes are wasted voters are given a great deal of choice, as voters vote for individuals, most votes contribute towards electing someone, the problem of the weakened constituency link that all proportional systems suffer from is largely offset. Contrast of closed list and FPTP, where voters don't vote for individuals at all

Weakness- complexity, voters in the main don't really understand how the system working and working out the winners can take days. Suspicion if there's no trust, doesn't have a strong link between an MP and local.

10 of 15

Coalition Government

Because of the tight disciple in most parties, whatever the governing parties leadership decides on, usually becomes law.

While this simplifies matters, it doesn't necessarily produce better laws. 

If governments needed to gamer the support of a number of coalition partners, then there'd be a wider diversity of opinions and views contributing to law making.

A single party, under a strong leader, wouldn't be able to make momentous decision without bringing a board coalition partners.

Weakness- those who supported military action, if in power, could cause war, therefore proportional representation and coalitions are dangerous.

They prevent strong leadership from taking decisive action.

11 of 15

Hybrid Systems- Additional Member System

Hybrid Systems we've looked at FPTP, a plurality system because the winner only needs to win one more vote than the nearest rival, majoritarian systems and proportional systems. Hybrid systems use 2 systems.They use FPTP and closed party lists. It's used in elections, for the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament. In wales votes are given two ballot papers. One's exactly the same as in FPTP system used for General Elections. Wales has 40 constituencies, 40 Assembly Members AMs are elected in each constituency. For the second ballet, the 40 constituencies are clubbed together into 5 regions, with 8 constituencies in each of these regions, a closed list election is held to elect 4 more 'additional members' so 20 additional members are elected together.

But theres a mechanism called H'DONDT system used in the list votes: total number of votes that each party wins in the list vote is divided by 1+ the number of constituency seats the party has won in that region. This effectively means that the better the party has done under FPTP the more it will do in list votes.

Strengths- proportional, strong constituency link, with one Assembly Member for each FPTP sized constituency, additional members who are elected and not tied down to constituency work can concentrate on matters of wider importance.

Weakness- additional members are often seen as less legitimate than their FPTP counterparts because they've been elected through a list and not personally. Can create tension with the devolved institutions, still some disproportionally using the D'HONDT system, doesn't eliminate the advantage of parties within concentrated levels of support. Parties themselves choose the position of candidate on these lists.

12 of 15

Alternative Vote Plus

This hybrid system is the same as the Additional Member system except that instead of FPTP, the Alternative Vote is used in the constituency votes, which means that all constituency MPs will be given some support by at least half of the voters.

Systems recommended by Lord Jenkins 1998.

Coalitions are made much more likely by hybrid systems.

Assess different voting systems by broad proportionality, need to stable government, an extension of voter choice, maintenance of a link between MPs and geographical constituencies. 

13 of 15

Party Systems

Single: when one party is legally allowed to exist.

There may be election in such a country, but the contest is only between members of the same party.

Dominant: this is a state, where all parties are allowed to contest elections, voters are given a choice, one party only ever wins. 

Genuinely popular or because of the voting system. 

Two party system: UL, number of parties, two ever win a majority and forn a government.

Like a pendulum, power swings back and forth majority, single party governments.

Multi: no single party is usually able to win a majority and form a government by itself, and therefore coalitions need to be formed.

UK are a classic example of a two party system, to adopt a proportional method of voting, then the UK government would become a multi party system.

14 of 15


No person is elected, instead the voters are asked a direct question.

Strengths- allow the electorate a direct say in important decisions, encourage people to find out more about the major political choices facing a nation, when there's no political consensus with parliament, can help settle an issue, approval to changes.

Weakness- could subtly influence outcome, make up minds through media, politicians not making the decisions.

15 of 15


No comments have yet been made

Similar Government & Politics resources:

See all Government & Politics resources »See all UK electoral systems resources »