Archive for the 'Voting systems and the electoral process' Category


Why LAB wins more seats with fewer votes : The way First Past the Post works in its favour

Wednesday, August 13th, 2014

Understanding Labour’s “other crutch”

We’ve talked a lot on PB about Labour’s “electoral crutch” – the big shift to it since 2010 of Lib Dem voters which has so far remained. Well Labour has another crutch – the electoral system which could be equally or even more important.

UK general elections are not decided by aggregate national vote shares but by FPTP elections in 650 separate seats where voters choose which individuals they want as their MPs.

Unlike the Euro elections the process is not about voting for parties but for people and whoever tops the poll in each of the 650 goes to Westminster. In one seat last time, Norwich South, the Lib Dem candidate won with just 29% of the votes.

Generally the party that chalks up the biggest aggregate national vote share ends up “winning” but not always. LAB won on votes in 1951 but the Tories were returned with a workable majority. In February 1974 Harold Wilson’s LAB secured fewer votes than Heath’s Tories but won more seats.

    The biggest driver of the seats:votes ratio is not as commonly believed the “boundaries” but the fact that LAB seats on average have significantly lower turnout levels than CON ones

The chart above shows the gap. Boundaries do play a part as the third drop down chart shows but not on the same scale as turnout. Added complications are that the Tories see many more votes “wasted” in seats where they come third and are much more vulnerable than LAB to tactical voting.

In what could be tight election on national votes shares Labour could easily repeat February 1974 and win on seats but lose on votes. If the tactical Anti-CON element is strong, which I believe it will be, then we could be heading for what could appear a perverse and unfair result.

It might just be possible that there could be a LAB majority on fewer votes.

Mike Smithson

2004-2014: The view from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble


If the Tories do win more votes than LAB but get fewer seats then let there be no bleating about the system being unfair

Thursday, July 10th, 2014

That’s the system that they campaigned hard to retain in 2011

If current broad poll trends continue and some of the CON-Ukip shifters return then it is likely that my 8/1 bet that that Tories will win most votes but come second to LAB on seats will be a winner.

Broadly the 2010 LD switchers to LAB are staying relatively solid and the returnees could boost the CON aggregate national vote share as we get closer to polling day.

The chart above shows what happens to the GE2010 results if you divide national vote shares by the number of seats won. The second tab shows the %age of the seats won. So CON came out with 47% of seats on 36% of the UK vote is is far from being unfair if you think that aggregate national vote shares are relevant.

    But the system we have is first past the post elections for individual MPs, not for parties or a PM, in each of the 650 seats. Nowhere does the relationship between national party aggregates come into the equation

That was the system that the Tories campaigned so hard to retain in the 2011 referendum and that’s the system that’s likely to continue for the foreseeable future.

The Tories had the chance during the 2010 coalition negotiations to opt for a fully proportional system but resisted it.

That’s fine but please no bleating if as a consequence of the UKIP surge GE2015 produces a result that appears to be unfair to the blues.

Mike Smithson

Ranked in top 33 most influential over 50s on Twitter


We could be heading for GE2015 outcome that’ll appear to be grossly unfair, undemocratic and peverse

Sunday, May 11th, 2014

This result could totally undermine the legitimacy of Labour’s victory

The big impact of the rise of Ukip looks set to be a general election outcome that could call into question its whole legitimacy.

    If current trends continue Ukip could end up with many more votes nationally than the LDs and not end up with a single MPs.

    Labour could come home with a substantial overall majority even though it chalked up less than a third of the overall number of votes cast.

For in terms of seat distribution a Ukip vote up to the mid-20s is only important if the party is taking more votes from CON than LAB. The big driver, as ever, is the swing between CON and LAB and in about 10% of constituencies the Lib Dems.

Taking a 15% or 20% slab out for Ukip simply reduces the overall totals going to LAB/CON/LD and standard swing calculations apply.

Inevitably a LAB overall majority with fewer than a third of the votes would lead to cries of “foul” but the blues could not complain too much. Only three years ago the Conservatives were the biggest backer of the status quo in the AV referendum.

I said they were stupid at the time because it was blindingly obvious that the main beneficiary of continuing with First Past the Post was always going to be Labour.

The Tories didn’t see it and the tone of their campaign so poisoned relations with the LDs that they were never going to get the boundary change through.

Mike Smithson

2004-2014: The view from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble


Remember Tony Blair’s all postal vote Euro Elections in 2004

Tuesday, April 22nd, 2014

In the next couple of weeks postal vote packs for the May 22 Euro Election will be going out to those electors who have registered to cast their votes in this way. The chart shows how significant this form of voting has become.

Back at the 2004 Euro Elections an experiment took place in four regions of England of all postal voting. These were the North East, North West, Yorkshire and the East Midlands. This certainly encouraged overall turnout. In the four regions it averaged 42.4% which was 5% higher than the rest of the UK where voting took place in the normal way.

The manner in which the pilot schemes were carried out attracted a lot of criticism. Tens of thousands of ballot papers were reported to have going astray, printers were unable to cope, and there were many allegations of fraud. In some council areas in the regions concerned ballot boxes were reintroduced late at libraries as “collection points” for postal forms.

All postal voting in a national election has not been repeated but the newer rules making this a lot easier are in place and on May 22nd I’d expect to see about quarter of votes cast to be in this manner.

For me a big problem with postal voting is that the campaign has been effectively closed for many voters a couple of weeks before polling day.

Mike Smithson

Ranked in top 33 most influential over 50s on Twitter


The factors that drive much of the pro-LAB bias in general elections could work for the Tories in the May Euros

Friday, December 27th, 2013

Don’t write off the Tories to win most votes

We all know that the electoral system for Westminster seats seems to produce an outcome that is more favourable to LAB than the other parties. A big part of the reason for this is illustrated in the chart above. Labour has far fewer wasted votes.

Thus looking at the first two columns – a much smaller proportion of LAB votes were “wasted” in seats where the party finished 3rd. A second factor is that turnout levels in seats won were markedly higher in CON seats than LAB ones.

    For traditionally LAB has found it much harder getting its vote out where it doesn’t matter – its heartlands and Tory ones. LAB voters are less likely go to the polls if they don’t see their vote making a difference.

It should all be different next May’s Euro elections. The closed party list electoral system and the fact that the GB is split into 12 massive multi-member “constituencies” mean that the Tories could be helped more.

Higher turnout levels in CON areas and votes not being “wasted” in 3rd place seats should give the blues more bangs for their bucks.

Last night’s Survation poll had the party just 1% behind UKIP and 8% behind LAB. My guess is that the the three parties could be a lot closer together and I wouldn’t rule out the Tories winning most votes overall.

Mike Smithson

Blogging from OUTSIDE the Westminster bubble since 2004


How a minor change to the electoral system could stop Farage’s party from topping the polls in next year’s Euro elections?

Thursday, July 25th, 2013

Simply switch from the closed to an open list voting system

There’s an intriguing move developing that could lead to a change in the way the EU elections are carried out resulting in an electoral system that’s less UKIP friendly.

A report just out from the LSE for the Electoral Reform Society suggests that UKIP’s chances in next year’s EU elections could be seriously undermined if an “open list” voting system was used rather than, as at the moment, the “closed list” one.

The headline numbers from the document are in the chart above showing how such a change would benefit the Tories most at the expense of Farage’s party.

The essential difference between the two approaches is that voters select individual candidates to vote for rather than simply allocating their vote to a party list which was introduced by Labour for the 1999 Euro elections.

Using a sample of 8,000 the LSE team worked with YouGov to test out the impact of the two systems. The detail of their methodology can be found here which is well worth looking at.

This is the report’s conclusion:-

“..Our experiment shows that if the electoral system for the European elections in Britain allowed for within-party competition, support for UKIP would decrease, and the overall vote share for the Conservative party would increase. The magnitude of this effect is large, and would have real consequences for the distribution of British seats in the European Parliament.

Thinking more broadly, there are two reasons to expect voting behaviour to differ under different ballot types. First, open-ballots encourage candidates to compete for votes by increasing their constituency work, delivering infrastructure projects, and building a strong local profile. This is because candidates are aware that through these activities they can build their own ‘personal vote’ on the open-list, which improves their election prospects vis-à-vis their co-partisans. The incentives to do this are much lower in the closed-list system (where no personal vote is possible), and we should therefore expect different voting outcomes to the extent that candidates engage in such activities. This phenomenon has been widely studied in the political science literature..”

The Open-list systems is used in EU Parliament elections in 18 of the 28 member nations and it is being said that a change could be brought in for the 2014 elections if the coalition wanted.

    On the face of it voting for individuals rather than just a party appears more democratic and would make individual MEPs more accountable.

Would the government bring in such a change? Hard to say but based on this research it has attractions for all three main parties.

If it happened then my 10/1 bet that the Tories will win most votes would look like a possible winner.

Mike Smithson

For the latest polling and political betting news


No boundary changes and no AV: EdM is proving to be a lucky LAB leader

Friday, May 10th, 2013

Henry G Manson on how the Tories have made GE2015 easier for Ed

There is a bit of talk as to whether certain Conservative MP are able to be endorsed by UKIP and stand with two party emblems next to their name on the ballots paper. This is now possible under updated election law. This week Peter Bone MP took to the airwaves arguing for joint Conservative and UKIP candidates to take advantage of this:

“There was a tremendous Conservative vote. There were the conservatives that voted Conservative and the conservatives who voted Ukip. The trick is to get us all together again and that’s what we’ve got to do.”

I can see why that would be attractive to the certain individual MPs as they attempt to ride both horses to save their skin. It could be less straight forward for the parties. As we’ve come to appreciate UKIP can now win votes from Labour and in Northern heartlands. If UKIP backed joint candidates with the Tories it could endanger their appeal in many parts of the North where the blues remain so toxic. Look what’s happened to the Lib Dems in the urban North there as a result of coalition with the Conservative. For UKIP to pull it off it would need a suitable number of Labour MPs to enter in a similar arrangement. This is never going to happen. The party simply wouldn’t permit it.

Being backed by two parties would also raise other issue when candidates become elected and arrive in the Commons. They’d potentially experience contradictory whipping operations. Would they be permitted into the 1922 or would their loyalties be questioned? Many Labour MPs have dual ‘identities’ as Labour and Co-op Party MPs. The difference is that the Co-op Party doesn’t stand against Labour MPs and there is no Co-op whip as would surely be the case with UKIP. Conservative and UKIP MPs could pose as many problems as solutions. All in all this seems a clunky response to the fragmented state of British politics and avoiding the bigger problem further upstream – the electoral system itself.

    It’s worth casting more than a moment’s glance at what might have been for the blue party. The electoral system that would suit the Conservatives the most right now is the one they campaigned hard against early in the parliament – the Alternative Vote.

This would have effortlessly allowed right-leaning voters to support UKIP first and Conservative second without fear of ‘splitting the vote’ and letting in Lib Dems or Labour.

Instead David Cameron’s Conservatives are now going to have to try and win back the support of UKIP while not alienating their more moderate supporters. Not an easy task. It’s all well and good Boris Johnson arguing that the rise of UKIP is good news for conservative ideas – but here speaks a man who isn’t going to be held account for the outcome of the next general election and has to fret about marginal seats.

What does seem strange looking back is how the official Yes 2 AV campaign went out of its way not to include UKIP in its campaign. Instead as a result it gave the impression of being a liberal middle class enterprise rather than one based on some wider democratic concerns with First Past the Post that would have almost certainly included UKIP. Comfort zone politics at its worst. If an AV campaign and referendum were re-run today I wonder if the result would different with Farage on the platform? I’m pretty sure it would.

    Is there any regret at all among Tories that they opposed AV in the referendum? I don’t see any sign of it despite it possibly being a pivotal moment for the party.

Will much of the UKIP vote come to the Conservatives closer to election as some at CCHQ hope? I’m not certain. It’s starting to look like First Past the Post could make it harder for Conservative Party to win power in the years ahead – it’s certainly helped give it a stinking headache with UKIP now.

    Despite his support for it, Ed Miliband could well be the biggest beneficiary of AV’s defeat. As with the avoidable collapse of boundary changes, the Labour leader is starting to look lucky.

Henry G Manson


Electoral reform – Coming sooner than you think?

Wednesday, April 17th, 2013

A few days ago, Simon Hughes speaking in the Financial Times, about potential future coalition negotiations in 2015, said

“If the time did come for more coalition negotiations, the experience of coalition the first time will be clearly taken on board when we think through what we would do a second time.

“The constitutional reform agenda and particularly reform of the Lords would have to be a part of the package.”

Now a hung parliament is a possibility, especially if the polls continue to narrow as has ICM recently. I wonder if the price for a referendum on Europe for the Tories will be to allow House of Lords reform and a referendum on the electoral system, such as STV?

Perhaps Tory backbenchers and High command will accept this as the cost of doing business?

In the event of a hung parliament with Labour as the largest party, Labour might be inclined to acquiesce to the Liberal Democrat plans for electoral reform, especially if Scotland votes for Independence in September 2014, as England in the last two general election, a plurality have voted Tory, there maybe a desire on the centre-left for a realignment in the remainder of the UK once Scotland has departed, and taken away fifty two Labour and Lib Dem MPs.

In the event of a Labour majority, that would be wiped by the departure of Scottish MPs, Labour may also offer a referendum on the electoral process, we could be potentially a couple of years away from Electoral reform.

Paddy Power have a market up on electoral reform

Applies to the ‘first past the post’ system in us for Westminster parliamentary elections being amended to allow more proportional representation. Must be passed and effective before the first day of 2021.

Yes 7/1

No 1/20