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Electoral Systems

Summary of the key points of AQA AS G&P Unit 1 Part 2

dianah baker

on 2 February 2016

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Transcript of Electoral Systems

Electoral Systems
'The cogs which keep the wheels of democracy properly functioning.'
Free and fair elections are a key indicator of a liberal democracy.
They allow for popular participation and are often people's only from of participation.
They provide those in power with a mandate.
Typically single issue
Normally phrased as a ' Yes/No' question
Use of referendums varies from country to country
Referendums are not the same as initiatives, which are another form of direct democracy
Clement Attlee (UK Prime Minister, 1945-51) described referendums as 'a tool of demagogues and dictators...a device so alien to all our traditions.'
Being used more at local level
There are a variety of electoral systems (the mechanism by which popular votes are translated into seats in a legislature or by which a candidate is selected to fill a particular office (eg Mayor of London,[AQA, 2008]):

Majoritarian/Plurality - Each constituency elects one candidate. The party with the majority (over 50% of seats) forms the government. In the case of no overall majority the party with the most votes will seek to form a coalition. NOTE, Majoritarian = candidate receives over 50% of the votes, Plurality = candidate receives more votes than any other candidate.

Proportional - More complex. Each constituency elects several candidates. Candidates are awarded seats to reflect a party's proportion of the vote (i.e. 40% of the vote = 40% of the seats). These systems are more complex than majority systems.

Hybrid - a mixture of majoritarian and proportional systems.
The Value of Elections
Wide right to vote
Encourage participation
Encourage a focus on a particular issue
Renew/provide a mandate
Provide and answer when government is deadlocked
Provide a resolution to difficult moral questions
Undermine the notion of representative democracy/ parliamentary sovereignty
Too many = voter fatigue
Most issues hard to condense into simple Y/N
Different funding levels create issues of fairness
Possible 'rigging' of Qs
Return referendums make them meaningless
Initiatives allow citizens to call a public ballot on a question of their choosing by petition.

Typically, a predetermined number/ proportion of signatures triggers a referendum. E.g. In California, petitions must secure 5% of the total votes cast for state governor at the previous election.

Many US states allow initiatives, and many (though not all) see the proposed measures pass into law.

E.g. California's Propositon 8 banned same-sex marriage (http://bit.ly/XcR0v)

So, if 1,000,000 voted for Governor at the last election, the initiative petition requires at least 50,000 signatures
Referendums in the UK
No formal circumstances in which referendums are legally required (unlike most other countries)
It is accepted they help legitimize major constitutional changes
Act as a kind of 'people's veto' (A.V.Dicey 1835-1922)
1973: Should NI stay in the UK?
1973: Should UK stay in the EEC?
1979: Should there be a Scottish Parliament?
1979: Should there be a Welsh Parliament?
1997: Should there be a Scottish Parliament?
With tax-varying powers?
1997: Should there be a Welsh Assembly?
1998: A London mayor and London Assembly?
1998: Approve the Good Friday Agreement?
2004: A regional assembly for the North East?
2011: AV for Westminster elections?
2014: An independent Scotland?
>98% YES (58% turnout)
>65% YES (63% turnout)
51.6% YES (63% turnout)
approx 80% NO (58% turnout)
approx 75% YES (60% turnout)
>60% YES (60% turnout)
50.3% YES (50% turnout)
>70% YES (
>70% YES (
78% NO (48% turnout)
68% NO (42% turnout)
55% NO (85% turnout)
'the 40% rule'
Wrecking amendment
George Cunningham MP
Wording of the 1975 EEC referendum was accused of being phrased to encourage a positive response
(Do you think the UK should stay in the European Community (Common Market)?)
For a similar reason, the SNP's proposed Scottish Independence Referendum question was rejected:
“Do you agree that Scotland should become an independent country?”
In the 1975 EEC referendum campaign, the Yes camp was said to have outspent the No camp by 3 to 1.
The Political Parties, Elections and Referendums Act (2000) says future referendums should be state-funded with 'yes' and 'no' campaigns both receiving £600,000
Local Referendums
Greater London Authority (Mayor and Assembly) established after a referendum in 1998.
Since then over 30 separate referendums have been held over whether to establish directly elected local mayors in various places in the UK.
Turnout has been variable (between 10-64%)
Although the Congestion Charge in London was introduced by Ken Livingstone using his executive powers, attempts to introduce one in Edinburgh (2005) and Manchester (2008) involved referendums.
Both referendums saw the CC rejected by approximately 3/4 of voters.
This meant that proposals that many considered necessary, and that had already had much money spent on them, could not be put in place.
The vote was 'very clear...not just a vote "no" for congestion charging, it is a vote "no" to improvements on the trams, railways and buses and now there will be no improvements.'
Lord Peter Smith, Chair, Greater Manchester Authorities
What Affects Turnout?
Types of election - do voters value the institution involved?
Political apathy/disengagement - the POWER report* suggested voters increasingly felt elections make little diiference and UK political parties are converging ideologically.
'Hapathy' - are people 'too content' to vote?
Relative Value - do people live in safe seats or marginal ones, where they feel their vote can effect change?
Type of electoral system - are people more inclinde to vote in a PR system rather than first-past-the-post?
The role of the media - is the intense media covereage, stimulating people to vote?
*a 2006 independent inquiry
*a 2006 independent inquiry
The role of elections in a democracy
Electoral Systems
The Nature of Representation
First Past The Post (FPTP)
Simple plurality
- the candidate with more seats than any other wins. E.g:

A = 10 votes
B = 7 votes
C = 6 votes
Additional Member System (AMS)
Hybrid - both FPTP and Closed List
Voters typically have 2 votes. The first vote elects a candidate by FPTP. This is typically used to fill 50-80% of seats in parliament.
The second vote allows the voter to choose a party. Candidates are then selected from lists made by each party to 'top-up' the remaining seats according to the proportion of votes they have recieved.
Sometimes the top-up seats are used to add to the FPTP seats to make the seats in total roughly proportional (Mixed Member PR or MMP), in other systems the top-up seats are divided proportionally without considering the FPTP seats (Supplementary Member or SUP or SM)
This short clip helps illustrate: http://bbc.in/GGdF24
Single Transferable Vote (STV)

- Voters write 1,2,3 and so on by candidates to indicate their preferred candidate, second preference and so on. If there is only 1 seat to win, this is the same as AV (Alternative Vote).

HOWEVER, if there are multiple seats, the election proceeds as follows:

a) A quota of votes is set that any winners must achieve. It is calculated by using a formula based on the number of votes and number of seats.
b) Any candidate achieving the quota wins a seat. Any excess votes (over the quota) are transferred to other candidates on the basis of the next preference, and candidates then achieving the quota are awarded seats.
c) If more seats need to be filled, the votes of the candidate with the least votes are transferred according to preference, and then the next least, until all seats are filled.

It is COMPLICATED - this animation makes it clearer: http://bit.ly/STVani
Alternative Vote (AV)
- Voters write 1,2,3... next to candidates on ballot paper to indicate their preferred candidate, second preference and so on.
If a candidate receives over 50% of the votes, they win.
If not, the second preference votes of the candidate with the least first pref votes are redistributed. This process continues until one of the candidates has over 50% of the votes.
Typically it provides s
table, single-party governments
. This means -
a clear winner post-election (no long period of negotiation)
it is clear which party is responsible for government successes/failures and the electorate can vote in response at the next election
The government comprises one party, with a clear manifesto, reducing the need for in-government bargaining and negotiation
Single-seat constituencies create
a close link
between MP and constituency.
Citizens feel they have a clear representative in parliament
MPs can be approached about local issues
The system is
to understand - it takes a couple of lines to explain and so people are confident in the process.
Whilst not proportional, it does provide a
reflection of popular opinion
, leading to unpopular governments being 'given the boot' by the electorate.
does not reflect the views of the electorate
as a whole. This is because:
a party could win 100% of the seats with 40% (or less) of the votes,
so long as in each constituency, they had secured more votes than anybody else.
As a result, the
winning party and often the second party are typically over-represented
in the number of seats they secure, whereas the
smaller parties are normally significantly under-represented.
This has meant since 1945 no winning party has secured a majority of the votes (>50%).
This leaves voters voting for smaller parties of against the incumbent in 'safe' seats,
The pressure on one candidate to win a seat (rather than multiple candidates for multiple seats) means parties are inclined to '
play it safe
' and so not pick candidates that stand out because of their gender, ethnicity, religion etc. This helps keep the
House of Commons white, male and middle class.
The 20th century only saw coalition governments in the UK
during times of major crisis
(Two World Wars and the Great Depression). There have been times when there have been minority governments (the party in government holding less than half the seats and relying on one or more other parties to vote with them on essential business), including 1974 (Labour, Harold Wilson PM), 1977 (Labour, James Callaghan PM) and 1997 (Conservative, John Major PM), but
generally one party has clearly held power
after each general election.
A majority of people when surveyed say they
know the name of their local MP
and many MPs develop close links with constituencies they represent for many years.
Examples of the power of removing an unpopular government from power include:
Conservative [Churchill]
Labour [Attlee]
) - people believed Labour would better rebuild the country after war, especially with the promise of the Welfare State.
Labour [Callaghan]
Conservative [Thatcher])
- After the Winter of Discontent people believed the Tories would curb the power of the unions.
Conservative [Major]
Labour [Blair]
) - 'Sleaze' scandals and economic crisis meant the public were dissatisfied with the Tories and Labour stood on a more centrist platform, making them more attractive to many.
The February 1974 general election saw the Labour Party win 301 seats and the Tories win 297 even though the Conservatives won 37.9% of overall votes compared to Labour's 37.2%.
Examples of the winning and/or second party gaining more seats than votes and smaller parties doing worse:
Votes - 42%
Seats - 58%
Votes - 31%
Seats - 35%
Votes - 23% (SDP-Lib)
Seats - 3% (SDP-Lib)
Votes - 4%
Seats - 4%
Votes - 32%
Seats - 31%
Votes - 35%
Seats - 55%
Votes - 22%
Seats - 10%
Votes - 11%
Seats - 4%
In 2015, UKIP secured 13% of the vote but only 1 seat out of 650.
The gender and ethnic make-up of the House of Commons is as follows:
MALE = 78% FEMALE = 22%
90% of MPs went to university and a third of these went to Oxford or Cambridge (NB, only 31% of the UK population have been educated to university level).
This system produces a
good connection between votes and seats
, because it minimises 'wasted' votes. So long as a voter has chosen a number of preferences, their vote will go to support one of their preferences.
It is
fairer to smaller parties
, as it is less partisan. This is because votes for a candidate from one party can be transferred under the preference system to a candidate from another party.
Voters can choose between candidates from the same party.
This means
parties may be willing to allow less typical candidates to stand
(women, ethnic minorities) as they are able to put up more than one candidate.
This can generate a more diverse parliament,
more representative of society
It also allows voters to choose between candidates representing different party traditions or wings.
The system is
more likely to produce coalitions
, which can provide more stability and continuity (rather than governments lurching from left to right), tend to be more consensual and encourage compromise.
It is one of the more complicated systems:
Voters may be deterred as they do not understand the system.
The complexities of calculating results can delay a result. This situation has improved with the increasing use of computers during voting and counting.
It makes coalitions more likely, and these can be problematic
They can take time to form, with negotiations between prospective parties going on for some time. They can also be more inclined to split if there are policy disagreement.
There is no clear manifesto as no one votes for a coalition - bargaining must be done.
Policy tends to remain middle-of-the-road, which can be a problem if something radical is required.
The third party may gain undue influence as it partners one or other of the two main parties from parliament to parliament.
The link of one MP to one constituency is lost.
It can encourage parties to fragment internally as candidates from the same party compete against each other. Some suggest this can lead to 'clientelistic' politics, where politicians offer electoral bribes to voters.

An example of how the system is more representative, taken from the 2007 Scottish local elections:
Votes - 28.1%
Seats - 28.5%
Votes - 15.6%
Seats - 11.7%
Votes - 12.7%
Seats - 13.6%
Votes - 27.9%
Seats - 29.7%
Votes - 10.9%
Seats - 15.7%
Votes - 4.9%
Seats - 0.8%
Lib Dem
This system produces fairly proportional results, because each voter's second vote is used proportionally.
It is
fairer to smaller parties
, thanks to the proportional portion of the system.
The closed list nature of the system, means voters are voting for a party, not a candidate. This meant parties can actively nominate women and ethnic minority candidates, securing greater diversity in parliament.
It makes coalitions more likely, with the advantages discussed above.
It still allows a link between MP and constituency with each voter's first vote.
It is not as proportional as some other proportional systems (e.g. closed lists and STV), the proportionality depends on the percentage of candidates elected through the proportional part of the system.
There are concerns over how the 'top-up', proportional MPs are viewed - who do they represent? Are they 'second-class' MPs?
The system makes coalitions more likely, with the disadvantages discussed above.
In the UK, used in Northern Ireland for regional assembly, European and local government elections, and in Scotland for local government elections. It is the system preferred by the Electoral Reform System and the Liberal Democrats.
Used for parliamentary (general) elections in Ireland (Eire) and Malta. A modified system is used in Australia.
In the UK, used in Scotland for the Scottish Parliament, Wales for the National Assembly and London for the London Assembly.
Also in Germany, New Zealand and some other countries.
In the UK, it is used to elect MPs to the House of Commons.
The same system is used in the USA and in many parts of the commonwealth for example India and Canada.
Other Key Terms
Popular Vote: The winner of the popular vote is the candidate who secures the largest share of the total vote. The workings of the electoral system used may mean that despite winning the largest % of votes, they do not win the election.

Wasted votes: Votes that count for nothing because the candidate they are for either has such a large percentage of the vote they do not require them or because the candidate they are placed for has no hope of winning.

Marginal seat/constituency (swing seat): A constituency where the seat is held by a small number of votes, meaning it would take only a small 'swing' to result in change.

Safe seat: A seat held by so many votes that it would require a massive swing to change hands. This creates many wasted votes and may result in low turnout as voters feel they can have little affect.

The main disadvantage given of PR (not necessarily STV) in general, is that it leads to multi-partyism which creates weak, unstable coalitions with many parties involved.
Their previous experience of this is often given as a reason that people in 1930s Germany were impressed with the Nazi party'e promise of strong leadership.
Another country in which PR is seen to create problems is Israel, where coalitions have been seen to fall apart over different issues over the course of a parliament (E.g. under Ehud Barak, 1999-2001).

In the 2 devolved elections held in Scotland (1999, 2003), people felt there was more point voting for smaller parties, this saw 6 (1999) and then 7 (2003) parties represented (and 2 independent candidates). There was a move away from the major parties (SNP and Labour).
An example of a party that benefited from AMS in these elections was the Greens, who gained 7 seats in 2003, under the 2nd Vote, list element of the system.
A similar move from larger parties was seen in Welsh Assembly elections (to Plaid Cymru) and the London Assembly (to Lib Dems, Greens and UKIP).
As with STV, there are issues related to the coalitions that may result from a PR system.
Additionally, if poorly managed and explained, the possibility of having two votes, may confuse some voters resulting in a large number of votes having to be rejected if they are incorrectly completed.
This occurred in the 2007 Scottish Parliament elections, when 7% of the vote was rejected. HOWEVER, THIS WAS NOT SIMPLE A RESULT OF CONFUSION OVER AMS but also because local elections using a different system were also held on the same day, creating even more confusion. It does however illustrate the issues that can be associated with more complex voting systems.
Party Lists
- Each party creates a list of candidates and voters places one vote, either for candidates (open list) or a party (closed list). Seats are then allocated proportional to the number of votes.
Lists are used in multi-seat constituencies (constituency/ regional list) or can be used nationally (national list).
The list system forms one part of the AMS system.
Electoral Reform in the UK
The debate over whether UK elections should be conducted under a different system goes back a long way. In 1910 a commission suggested to parliament that the UK should adopt AV.
Over the next 20 years, various attempts to introduce some form of PR for House of Commons elections were attempted, but failed.
In the 1980s, whilst out of power, the Labour party once again discussed the possibility of electoral reform.
In 1997, in the 1st term of the Blair government, the Scottish Parliament and London and Welsh Assemblies were formed with AMS as the chosen electoral system.
In the same year the Independent Commission on the Voting System (chaired by Lord Jenkins) was set up.
In 1999, under pressure to conform with the rest of the EU, UK EU parliamentary elections began to use list PR.
Although the Jenkins Report recommended AV+ (a hybrid mix of AMS and AV), it was not adopted for various reasons.
The coalition government held a referendum on AV, which resulted in 13m votes against (6.1m votes for).
Coalition plans to redraw constituency boundaries stalled when the Lib Dems removed their support.
The Jenkins Report
Jenkins proposed AV plus, with 80% of MPs elected as constituency MPs using AV and the remaining 20% elected from regional lists, allocated on a corrective basis (i.e. in an attempt to make the overall number of MPs more proportional, cf. MMP).

The commission rejected STV as they believed constituencies would have to be too large for it to work, they thought there would be too many candidates to choose from, that the counting system was difficult to understand and that it was nothing like any other system used in the UK.

Despite the commission recommendations, the then Labour government rejected the idea. After experiencing coalitions resulting from AMS in Scotland and Wales, Blair argued it was unfair as it gave small parties more power than they should have, as they held the balance of power. Labour also rejected the ideas of the Arbuthnot Commission in Scotland and the Richard Commission in Wales, both seeking further electoral reform for their devolved parliaments.

NB: In 2010 (in the run up to an election in which it was suspected the Lib Dems may play an important role and with the electorate unimpressed with MPs after the expenses scandal), Gordon Brown declared support for AV.
*a 2006 independent inquiry
The 2011 AV referendum
As part of the 2010 Conservative-Lib Dem coalition agreement, the Lib Dems sought a referendum on PR for General Elections.

They were offered a referendum on AV (not a proportional system - the Lib Dems would like STV), which they accepted. They felt AV would still improve the chances of smaller parties and that to turn down the offer might result in no opportunity to achieve electoral reform whatsoever.

The referendum was held on May 5th, at the same time as various other local and regional elections. The result was a massive defeat for the 'Yes to AV' campaign (2:1 against).

Various reasons for the defeat were given including:

Holding the referendum alongside local elections which often have poor turnout and which could cause confusion.
The question - "Do you want the UK to adopt the 'alternative vote' system instead of the current 'first past the post' system for electing MPs to the House of Commons?" - was considered confusing by some.
That AV was preferred by nobody - the Yes campaign really wanted STV and the No camp wanted no change.
A poor 'Yes' campaign, which failed to get the key points across and strong No campaigning by the Conservatives.
*a 2006 independent inquiry
2011 Boundary Changes
The Conservative solution to Electoral Reform was to change the boundaries of English constituencies, trying to make the number of voters in each constituency more equal and to reduce the number of constituencies and therefore the number of MPs.
The reduction in constituencies (and therefore MPs) was thought likely to appeal to an electorate who had expressed unhappiness with the behaviour and cost of MPs (especially after the expenses scandal).
There were various complaints about the proposed boundary changes. Some analysis suggested that had the new boundaries existed in 2010, the Conservatives would have won a lot more seats. Also, some people felt that the new boundaries ignore historical boundaries and group places in an arbitrary manner.
Nadine Dorries MP (Conservative, Mid Bedfordshire) wrote: "To place part of Bedfordshire with Hertfordshire is frankly as big an anathema to the local population as though they had been grouped with Mars..."
Arguments for reform:
The current FPTP is unrepresentative and results in many wasted votes.

There is apathy with electoral politics and change may encourage engagement.

A parliamentary commission, having looked at all the evidence, felt there should be reform.

Other electoral systems are used in the UK and have been shown to work.
Arguments against reform:
The current FPTP typically provides strong, one-party government.

New systems may create confusion and reduce participation.

Given the opportunity to vote on reform (AV referendum), the public said 'no'.
The range of arguments against PR and hybrid systems.
The range of arguments against PR and hybrid systems.
Traditionally the UK has been an indirect, representative democracy.
There are countries such as Switzerland and the USA (in some states) that use different forms of direct democracy.
In the UK, the main form of direct democracy practised is the referendum.
Referendums are being used more in the UK and there are arguments for and against their increasing use.
Direct vs Indirect Democracy
Citizens have direct input
In Western democracies,
typically through REFERENDUMS...

...but other examples exist e.g. Town Hall Meetings, New England, USA
Power and authority are placed in the hands of elected representatives
Once elected,
free to legislate independently

"Your representative owes you not his industry only,
but his judgement and he betrays you if he sacrifices it
to your opinion." Edmund Burke
1729-1797. Philosoper, political theorist and MP.
Representatives more educated and articulate than electorate
Representatives have access to research and information on which to base judgements
Independent representatives will ensure necessary but unpopular policies are implemented (e.g. taxation)
Independence ensures 'joined-up government', where policies are not disjointed and work poorly together
Long terms of office reduce the accountability of representatives
MPs toe the party line and don't represent constituents
People feel poorly representated leading to increased apathy and reduced participation
The risk of elitism with only a particular section of society being elected to parliament
also known as 'trustee' or 'Burkian'
Classic Example: Ancient Greece
NOT Delegates
1973: Should NI stay in the UK?
1975: Should UK stay in the EEC?
1979: Should there be a Scottish Parliament?
1979: Should there be a Welsh Parliament?
1997: Should there be a Scottish Parliament?
With tax-varying powers?
1997: Should there be a Welsh Assembly?
1998: A London mayor and London Assembly?
1998: Approve the Good Friday Agreement?
2004: A regional assembly for the North East?
2014: Scottish Independence?
>98% YES (58% turnout)
>65% YES (63% turnout)
51.6% YES (63% turnout)
approx 80% NO (58% turnout)
approx 75% YES (60% turnout)
>60% YES (60% turnout)
50.3% YES (50% turnout)
>70% YES (
>70% YES (
78% NO (48% turnout)
55% NO (89% turnout)
'the 40% rule'
Wrecking amendment
George Cunningham MP
E.g: Referendums on the introduction of a congestion charge in Manchester (2008) and Edinburgh (2005) resulted in overwhelming 'no' votes - 74.4% no in Edinburgh and 78.8% no in Manchester.
As commentators pointed out, people are unlikely to vote for what they see as a new 'tax'. However, the representatives in these cities understood that the charges were essential for a wholesale reform of transport in both cities.
With the exception of the particularly important N Ireland Good Friday Agreement and Scottish Independence referendums, recent UK referendums have seen a decline in participation - the 1998 London Mayor/Assembly referendum saw only 34% turnout, 2004 North East Assembly referendum saw 48% and the 2011 AV referendum saw 42%.
The proposed question for the Scottish Independence referendum (2014) was much discussed with the some Scottish ministers favouring a 2 part question asking about both independence and 'devo max', allowing voters to vote for more freedom even if they do not want independence. This was criticised as confusing and rejected.
In 2001 and 2008, the Republic of Ireland held second referendums to secure a 'Yes' vote for the ratification of the EU Treaties of Nice and Lisbon, after the initial referendums resulted in a 'No' vote.
The 1998 Good Friday Agreement referendum in Norther Ireland saw an 81% turnout. It could be argued that the referendum was able to engage votes actively in the momentous decisions being made. Similarly, the Scottish Independence referendum saw the highest turnout for a vote in the UK since WWII.
The Welsh and Scottish devolution referendums enabled a focus and outlet for nationalist sentiment in these two countries. Similarly, the Scottish independence referendum provided a focus for the argument for independence and gave the Scots and the British a focus and forum for debate.
The 2010-15 coalition government legislated so that any council seeking to raise council tax by more than a set threshold (currently 3.5%). If voters vote 'no', the council will have to reduce their increase to below the threshold as they will not have a mandate.
The 1973 EEC referendum was a classic example of this. The debate over EEC membership was damaging an already weak Labour government. The referendum allowed the PM, Harold Wilson to dissolve 'Cabinet collective responsibility' thereby enabling MPs (including ministers) from all parties to campaign on either side of the argument without causing a permanent rift.
Referendums in the UK have mainly been about constitutional issues. However, various referendums in the Republic of Ireland have covered topics such as abortion (1992, 2002), the death penalty (2001) and gay marriage (2014).
Remember when evaluating systems
Arrow's Impossibility Theorem
- No voting system can fulfill ALL desirable features.
- Some features are contradictory.
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