Analyzing the Impact of the Electoral System on the UK Election

Yesterday’s UK general election saw the Conservative party elected to a majority government with 331 of the 650 seats. With just under 37% of the popular vote across the UK, the Conservatives now have 51% of the seats in the House of Commons.

The voting patterns and results produced by the first-past-the-post electoral system can be fascinating, and a few notable observations can be made.

First, the Conservatives won a majority with only 36.9% of the popular vote, which is at the low end for securing a majority. For comparison, in Canada the Conservatives won a majority in Canada in 2011 with 39.6% of the vote, and the Liberals won a majority in 2000 with 40.8% of the vote.

The first-past-the-post system tends to reward both the largest, broad-based party as well as regionally-focused parties, while punishing the second and third placed broad-based parties. Looking at the results of individual parties shows that yesterday’s election was no exception.

First, lets look at the 2 largest nationally-based parties, the Conservatives and Labour. The Conservatives received over 11 million votes across the UK, and won a majority. Labour, with 30.4% of the votes, were elected in 232 seats (36%).

The Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the Greens were all punished by not having their widespread support fall short in almost every constituency from what is required to win the seat. The Liberal Democrats had 7.9% of the votes and won 8 seats (1.2%). This is the same number of seats as the Democratic Unionist Party, which they won win only 0.6% of the votes. The UKIP and the Greens each won only 1 seat, despite the UKIP having 12.6% of the popular vote (almost 4 million votes for 1 seat!) and the Greens having 3.8% of the vote.

Contrast the UKIP’s 1 seat from 3,881,129 votes to the 3 seats won by the Social Democratic & Labour Party from only 99,809 votes.

The biggest regional party, the Scottish National Party, with 4.7% of the votes, now have 56 seats (8.6%).

As expected, the Liberal Democrats, UKIP and Greens were punished the most by the electoral system. The party with the most votes (Conservatives) and regional parties both big and small (SNP, DUP, Northern Ireland parties) benefited the most from the electoral system.

 

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