Thursday, May 14, 2015

Some Electoral Statistical Anomalies

There is a lot of election post-mortem around at the moment. Did Labour lose because of policy or the personality of their leader? What will happen with the SNP? Why did no-one notice the Tories dividing and conquering their opponents and then nicking all the Lib Dem seats?

What's been more interesting is the resurgence of calls for electoral reform. The fact that UKIP got around 4 million votes but only one seat is probably a relief to many of us, but like it or not, it doesn't seem just. Likewise the SNP got just about half the Scottish votes cast, but nearly all of the seats.

It's not a new problem. Back in 1983 the SDP/Liberal Alliance got over 25% of the popular vote and only 23 seats. There's a classic John Cleese election broadcast all about it and PR 


The current election result would certainly look better for UKIP, the Greens and even the Lib Dems under a PR system, although the SNP might not be so keen! You can see an example result for 2015 here.

Here are some more anomalies. In 2015, the Conservative Party got 36.9% of the popular vote from a 66.1% turnout. That means 24.3% of the electorate gave them an overall majority. In 1979, the Labour Party got 36.9% of the popular vote (yes - the same figure) from a 76% turnout. That's 28% of the available voters. Yet the first is a victory with an overall majority, and the second was a defeat that put Labour in the political wilderness for years. Funny how times change, eh? The effect of other parties has shifted the level of support you need to win, and likely boundary changes will make it even easier for the Tories to stay in power.

Finally, the Daily Mirror came up with a fun statistic, although I think they took it a bit more seriously than I did. Apparently 901 Conservative votes switching to Labour in the seats with the smallest majorities would have stopped an overall majority. Doesn't prove anything other than votes really count in marginals, but not nearly as much in 'safe' seats (although 'safe' became a rather slippery term this election.)

Will we see PR for a UK general election. I doubt it. But politics is changing, and perhaps there will come a time when our electoral system needs review in order to reflect that properly.


1 comment:

Simon Nicholls said...

Thanks for the reminder of the John Cleese video. Depressing that 30 years later we're still just talking about this.