By Josiah Mortimer
Jun 1, 2015
We’ve just released our new report on the May 7th General Election, 'A Voting System in Crisis'. And it makes for worrying reading for fans of democracy.
The report, launched today, has already hit the headlines, with ERS Chief Executive Katie Ghose appearing on BBC Breakfast, the Today programme, Daily Politics, Radio 5 Live, Sky, ITN and Channel 5 to discuss it already. We found:
- 50% of votes in the election (15m) went to losing candidates, while 74% of votes (22m) were ‘wasted’ – i.e. they didn't contribute to electing the MP
- 2.8m voters were likely to have voted ‘tactically’ – over 9% of voters
- Under a more proportional voting system – the Single Transferable Vote – the Conservatives would have won 276 seats to Labour’s 236, while the SNP would have secured 34, UKIP 54 and the Lib Dems 26. The Greens would have won two more seats – in Bristol and London
- The ERS was able to call the winner correctly in 363 of 368 seats - a month before polling day - due to the prevalence of ‘safe seats’ under First Past the Post
- This election saw an MP win on the lowest vote share in electoral history – 24.5% in South Belfast
- 331 of 650 MPs were elected on under 50% of the vote, and 191 with less than 30% of the electorate.
The problem goes deeper than these shocking statistics though. First Past the Post is artificially exaggerating divides in the UK – giving the SNP nearly all Scottish seats on half the vote, while excluding Labour from the South of England and over-representing them in Wales and under-representing the Conservatives in the North of England and Scotland.
At the same time, cross-community parties in Northern Ireland got a tenth of the vote and no seats, yet the DUP received nearly half the seats on just a quarter of the vote. This situation is unsustainable if the Prime Minister truly wants a ‘one nation’ Britain.
It doesn’t have to be like this
But it’s not all terrible news. There are better ways of doing elections – after all, we’re the last country in Europe to use the outdated and broken system of First Past the Post.
We commissioned YouGov to find out voters' party preferences so that we could work out what the results might have looked like under different voting systems:
Here at the ERS, we support the Single Transferable Vote system, used for local elections in Scotland and most elections in Northern Ireland and Ireland. Not only does it produce fairer results, but you get to have your cake and eat it, because it also keeps the constituency link between you and your representatives. The constituencies are slightly larger and you have a team of MPs - at least one of whom you are likely to have voted for, unlike under First Past the Post.
It’s quite simple – you rank your candidates. If your first choice doesn’t have enough support to be elected, your second choice is used instead. The candidates with the least votes are eliminated until the 3-5 seats in your area are filled. Not only do seats better reflect how people vote this way, tactical voting is almost eliminated – you don’t have to vote for a ‘lesser evil’ anymore. ‘Safe seats’ become a thing of the past. And every contest becomes just that – a real contest.
This report lays out the problem – and the alternatives. We can’t afford to see a repeat of the 2015 election, with the majority of MPs elected on less than half the vote and a government winning a majority on just over a third of votes.
The government now needs to act to ensure people aren’t driven even further from politics. As we’ve shown today, democracy doesn’t have to be like this. It’s time for our voting system to move into the 21st century.
Read 'The 2015 General Election: A Voting System in Crisis' here