First Past the Post
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First Past the Post

A first-past-the-post ballot. The voter must mark one (and only one).

In a first-past-the-post (FPTP; sometimes FPP, or (incorrectly) winner takes all (winner-take-all actually refers to any voting system that is not proportional)[1] - formally called single-member plurality voting - electoral system members of the electorate cast their vote for the candidate of their choice and the candidate who receives the most votes wins, even if they did not receive a majority of the votes. First-past-the-post voting is a plurality voting method. FPTP is a common electoral system, especially in systems that use single-member electoral divisions.

While most countries use forms of proportional representation, FPTP is used in about a quarter of the world's countries, usually in the English-speaking world (the United States, the United Kingdom, India, Pakistan, Canada and other countries in the British Commonwealth).

Overview

Countries that use a first-past-the-post voting system

First-past-the-post can be used for single- and multiple-member electoral divisions. In a single-member election, the candidate with the highest number (but not necessarily a majority) of votes is elected. In a multiple-member election (or multiple-selection ballot), each voter casts (up to) the same number of votes as there are positions to be filled, and those elected are the highest-placed candidates corresponding to that number of positions. For example, if there are three vacancies, then voters cast up to three votes and the three candidates with the greatest number of votes are elected.

The Electoral Reform Society is a political pressure group based in the United Kingdom that advocates abolishing the first-past-the-post method (FPTP) for all elections. It argues FPTP is "bad for voters, bad for government and bad for democracy". It is the oldest organisation concerned with electoral methods in the world.

In the US, 48 of the 50 states and the District of Columbia use first-past-the-post voting to choose the electors of the Electoral College (which in turn elects the president); Maine and Nebraska use a variation where the electoral vote of each congressional district is awarded by first-past-the-post, and the statewide winner is awarded an additional two electoral votes. In states that employ FPTP, the presidential candidate gaining the greatest number of votes wins all the state's available electors (seats), regardless of the number or share of votes won, or the difference separating the leading candidate and the first runner-up.[2]

The multiple-round election (runoff) voting method uses first-past-the-post voting method in each of two rounds. The first round, held according to Block Voting rules, determines which candidates may progress to the second and final round.

Illustration

Under a first-past-the-post voting method, the highest polling candidate is elected. In this real-life illustration from 2011, Tony Tan obtained a greater number of votes than any of the other candidates. Therefore, he was declared the winner, although the second-placed candidate had an inferior margin of only 0.35% and a majority of voters (64.8%) did not vote for Tony Tan:

e o d Summary of the 27 August 2011 Singaporean presidential election results[3][4][5]
Candidate Symbol Results
Votes % of valid votes
Tony Tan Spectacles-SG2001-transparent.png 745,693 35.20
 
Tan Cheng Bock Traveller's palm logo, Singaporean presidential election, 2011.svg 738,311 34.85
 
Tan Jee Say Heart-SG2001-transparent.png 530,441 25.04
 
Tan Kin Lian (Loses deposit) Hand-SG2001-transparent.png 104,095 4.91
 
Valid votes 2,118,540 98.24% of total votes cast
Rejected votes 37,849 1.76% of total votes cast
Total votes cast 2,156,389 Voter turnout: 94.8% of electorate
Absent 118,384
Electorate 2,274,773

Effects

The effect of a system based on plurality voting spread over a number of separate districts is that the larger parties, and parties with more geographically concentrated support, gain a disproportionately large share of seats, while smaller parties with more evenly distributed support gain a disproportionately small share. It is more likely that a single party will hold a majority of legislative seats. In the United Kingdom, 19 of the 24 general elections since 1922 have produced a single-party majority government; for example, the 2005 general election results were as follows:

e o d Summary of the 5May 2005 House of Commons of the United Kingdom election results
(parties with more than one seat; not including N. Ireland)
Party Seats Seats % Votes % Votes
Labour Party 355 56.5 36.1 9,552,436
Conservative Party 198 31.5 33.2 8,782,192
Liberal Democrats 62 9.9 22.6 5,985,454
Scottish National Party 6 1.0 1.6 412,267
Plaid Cymru 3 0.5 0.7 174,838
Others 4 0.6 5.7 1,523,716
Total 628 26,430,908

In this example, Labour took a majority of the seats with only 36% of the vote. The largest two parties took 69% of the vote and 88% of the seats. In contrast, the Liberal Democrats took more than 20% of the vote but only about 10% of the seats. FPTP wastes less votes when it is used in two-party contests.

Waste of votes and minority governments are more likely when large groups of voters vote for three, four or more parties as in Canadian elections. Canada uses FPTP and only two of the last six federal Canadian elections produced single-party majority governments.

Benefits

The benefits of FPTP are that its concept is easy to understand, and ballots can more easily be counted and processed than those in preferential voting systems.[]

First past the post's tendency to produce majority rule[6] allows a government to pursue a consistent strategy for its term in office and to make decisions that, though unpopular, may have socially beneficial outcomes.[]

Supporters also argue that electoral systems using proportional representation (PR) often enable smaller parties to become decisive in Parliament, thus gaining disproportionate leverage. First past the post generally reduces this likelihood, except where parties have a strong regional basis. A journalist at Haaretz noted that Israel's highly proportional Knesset "affords great power to relatively small parties, forcing the government to give in to political blackmail and to reach compromises."[7][8]

Criticisms

Unrepresentative

FPTP is most often criticized for its failure to reflect the popular vote in the number of seats awarded to competing parties. Critics argue that a fundamental requirement of an election system is to accurately represent the views of voters, but FPTP often fails in this respect. It often creates "false majorities" by over-representing larger parties (giving a majority of the seats to a party that did not receive a majority of the votes) while under-representing smaller ones. The diagram here, summarizing Canada's 2015 federal election, demonstrates how FPTP can misrepresent the popular vote.

Geographical problems

Regional Parties achieve proportionally more seats than their vote share. Votes (left) v Seats (right) 2019 UK general election with Conservative & Labour removed.

Geographical favouritism

Generally FPTP favours parties who can concentrate their vote into certain voting districts (or in a wider sense in specific geographic areas). This is because in doing this they win many seats and don't 'waste' many votes in other areas.

The British Electoral Reform Society says that regional parties benefit from this system. "With a geographical base, parties that are small UK-wide can still do very well".[9]

On the flip side, minor parties that do not concentrate their vote usually end up getting a much lower proportion of seats than votes, as they lose most of the seats they contest and 'waste' most of their votes.[10]

The British Electoral Reform Society says that in First Past the Post elections using many separate districts "small parties without a geographical base find it hard to win seats".[9]

Make votes matter say in the 2017 UK general election, "the Green Party, Liberal Democrats and UKIP (minor, non-regional parties) received 11% of votes between them, yet they shared just 2% of seats". and in the 2015 UK general election "The same three parties received almost a quarter of all the votes cast, yet these parties shared just 1.5% of seats."[11]

According to make votes matter, and shown in the chart below,[12] in the 2015 UK general election UKIP came in third in terms of number of votes (3.9 million/12.6%), but gained only one seat in Parliament, resulting in one seat per 3.9 million votes. The Conservatives on the other hand received one seat per 34,000 votes.[11]

A graph showing the difference between the popular vote (inner circle) and the seats won by parties (outer circle) at the 2015 UK general election

Distorted Geographical Representation

The winner-takes-all nature of FPTP leads to distorted patterns of representation, since it exaggerates the correlation between party support and geography. For example, in the UK the Conservative Party represents most of the rural seats, and most of the south of the country, while the Labour Party represents most of the cities and most of the north. This pattern hides the large number of votes for the non-dominant party. Parties can find themselves without elected politicians in significant parts of the country, heightening feelings of regionalism. Party supporters (who may nevertheless be a significant minority) in those sections of the country are unrepresented. In the 2019 Canadian election Conservatives won 98 percent of the seats in Alberta/Saskatchewan with only 68 percent of the vote. All but Conservatives are pretty much unrepresented; the general appearance is that all residents of those two provinces are Conservative, which is an exaggeration.[13]

Tactical voting

To a greater extent than many others, the first-past-the-post method encourages tactical voting. Voters have an incentive to vote for a candidate who they predict is more likely to win, in preference to their preferred candidate who may be unlikely to win and for whom a vote could be considered as wasted.

The position is sometimes summarised, in an extreme form, as "all votes for anyone other than the runner-up are votes for the winner."[14] This is because votes for these other candidates deny potential support from the second-placed candidate, who might otherwise have won. Following the extremely close 2000 U.S. presidential election, some supporters of Democratic candidate Al Gore believed one reason he lost to Republican George W. Bush is because a portion of the electorate (2.7%) voted for Ralph Nader of the Green Party, and exit polls indicated that more of them would have preferred Gore (45%) to Bush (27%).[15] This election was ultimately determined by the results from Florida, where Bush prevailed over Gore by a margin of only 537 votes (0.009%), which was far exceeded by the 97488 (1.635%) votes cast for Nader in that state.

In Puerto Rico, there has been a tendency for Independentista voters to support Populares candidates. This phenomenon is responsible for some Popular victories, even though the Estadistas have the most voters on the island, and is so widely recognised that Puerto Ricans sometimes call the Independentistas who vote for the Populares "melons", because that fruit is green on the outside but red on the inside (in reference to the party colors).

Because voters have to predict in advance who the top two candidates will be, results can be significantly distorted:

  • Some voters will vote based on their view of how others will vote as well, changing their originally intended vote;
  • Substantial power is given to the media, because some voters will believe its assertions as to who the leading contenders are likely to be. Even voters who distrust the media will know that others do believe the media, and therefore those candidates who receive the most media attention will probably be the most popular;
  • A new candidate with no track record, who might otherwise be supported by the majority of voters, may be considered unlikely to be one of the top two, and thus lose votes to tactical voting;
  • The method may promote votes against as opposed to votes for. For example, in the UK (and only in the Great Britain region), entire campaigns have been organised with the aim of voting against the Conservative Party by voting Labour, Liberal Democrat in England and Wales, and since 2015 the SNP in Scotland, depending on which is seen as best placed to win in each locality. Such behaviour is difficult to measure objectively.

Proponents of other voting methods in single-member districts argue that these would reduce the need for tactical voting and reduce the spoiler effect. Examples include preferential voting systems, such as instant runoff voting, as well as the two-round system of runoffs and less tested methods such as approval voting and Condorcet methods.

Effect on political parties

Duverger's law is an idea in political science which says that constituencies that use first-past-the-post methods will lead to two-party systems, given enough time. Economist Jeffrey Sachs explains:

The main reason for America's majoritarian character is the electoral system for Congress. Members of Congress are elected in single-member districts according to the "first-past-the-post" (FPTP) principle, meaning that the candidate with the plurality of votes is the winner of the congressional seat. The losing party or parties win no representation at all. The first-past-the-post election tends to produce a small number of major parties, perhaps just two, a principle known in political science as Duverger's Law. Smaller parties are trampled in first-past-the-post elections.

-- from Sachs's The Price of Civilization, 2011[16]

However, most countries with first-past-the-post elections have multiparty legislatures, the United States being the major exception.[17][18]

There is a counter-argument to Duverger's Law, that while on the national level a plurality system may encourage two parties, in the individual constituencies supermajorities will lead to the vote fracturing.[19]

It has been suggested that the distortions in geographical representation provide incentives for parties to ignore the interests of areas in which they are too weak to stand much chance of gaining representation, leading to governments that do not govern in the national interest. Further, during election campaigns the campaigning activity of parties tends to focus on marginal seats where there is a prospect of a change in representation, leaving safer areas excluded from participation in an active campaign.[20] Political parties operate by targeting districts, directing their activists and policy proposals toward those areas considered to be marginal, where each additional vote has more value.[21][22][10]

Wasted votes

Wasted votes are seen as those cast for losing candidates, and for winning candidates in excess of the number required for victory. For example, in the UK general election of 2005, 52% of votes were cast for losing candidates and 18% were excess votes--a total of 70% 'wasted' votes. On this basis a large majority of votes may play no part in determining the outcome. This winner-takes-all system may be one of the reasons why "voter participation tends to be lower in countries with FPTP than elsewhere."[23]

Gerrymandering

Because FPTP permits many wasted votes, an election under FPTP is more easily gerrymandered. Through gerrymandering, electoral areas are designed deliberately to unfairly increase the number of seats won by one party, by redrawing the map such that one party has a small number of districts in which it has an overwhelming majority of votes, and many districts where it is at a smaller disadvantage.

Manipulation charges

The presence of spoilers often gives rise to suspicions that manipulation of the slate has taken place. A spoiler may have received incentives to run. A spoiler may also drop out at the last moment, inducing charges that dropping out had been intended from the beginning.

Smaller parties may reduce the success of the largest similar party

Under first-past-the-post, a small party may draw votes and seats away from a larger party that it is more similar to, and therefore give an advantage to one it is less similar to.[24]

Safe seats

First-past-the-post within geographical areas tends to deliver (particularly to larger parties) a significant number of safe seats, where a representative is sheltered from any but the most dramatic change in voting behaviour. In the UK, the Electoral Reform Society estimates that more than half the seats can be considered as safe.[25] It has been claimed that members involved in the 2009 expenses scandal were significantly more likely to hold a safe seat.[26][27]

However, other voting systems, notably the party-list system, can also create politicians who are relatively immune from electoral pressure.

Voting method criteria

Scholars rate voting methods using mathematically derived voting method criteria, which describe desirable features of a method. No ranked preference method can meet all the criteria, because some of them are mutually exclusive, as shown by results such as Arrow's impossibility theorem and the Gibbard-Satterthwaite theorem.[28]

Majority criterion

?Y

The majority criterion states that "if one candidate is preferred by a majority (more than 50%) of voters, then that candidate must win".[29] First-past-the-post meets this criterion (though not the converse: a candidate does not need 50% of the votes in order to win). Although the criterion is met for each constituency vote, it is not met when adding up the total votes for a winning party in a parliament.

Condorcet winner criterion

?N[30]

The Condorcet winner criterion states that "if a candidate would win a head-to-head competition against every other candidate, then that candidate must win the overall election". First-past-the-post does not[30] meet this criterion.

Condorcet loser criterion

?N[30]

The Condorcet loser criterion states that "if a candidate would lose a head-to-head competition against every other candidate, then that candidate must not win the overall election". First-past-the-post does not[30] meet this criterion.

Independence of irrelevant alternatives criterion

?N

The independence of irrelevant alternatives criterion states that "the election outcome remains the same even if a candidate who cannot win decides to run." First-past-the-post does not meet this criterion.

Independence of clones criterion

?N

The independence of clones criterion states that "the election outcome remains the same even if an identical candidate who is equally-preferred decides to run." First-past-the-post does not meet this criterion.

List of current FPTP countries

The following is a list of countries currently following the first-past-the-post voting system for their national legislatures.[31][32]

List of former FPTP countries

See also

References

  1. ^ The Department of Internal Affairs, Government of New Zealand. "More about FPP". dia.govt.nz. Retrieved 2019.
  2. ^ "U. S. Electoral College: Frequently Asked Questions". Retrieved 2015.
  3. ^ Singapore Presidential Election 2011
  4. ^ Presidential Elections Results. Singapore Elections Department. 28 August 2011.
  5. ^ Polling Day Voter Turnout. Singapore Elections Department. 28 August 2011.
  6. ^ Andy Williams (1998). UK Government & Politics. Heinemann. p. 24. ISBN 978-0-435-33158-0.
  7. ^ Ilan, Shahar. "Major Reforms Are Unlikely, but Electoral Threshold Could Be Raised". Haaretz.com. Retrieved 2010.
  8. ^ Dr.Mihaela Macavei, University of Alba Iulia, Romania. "Advantages and disadvantages of the uninominal voting system" (PDF). Retrieved 2010.CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  9. ^ a b "First Past the Post". www.electoral-reform.org.uk. Retrieved 2019.
  10. ^ a b "First Past the Post". www.electoral-reform.org.uk. Retrieved 2019.
  11. ^ a b "Make Votes Matter--Everything wrong with First Past the Post--Proportional Representation". Make Votes Matter. Retrieved 2019.
  12. ^ "File:First-past-the-post 2015.svg", Wikipedia, retrieved 2019
  13. ^ "First Past the Post". www.conservativeelectoralreform.org. Conservative Action for Electoral Reform. Archived from the original on 15 November 2017. Retrieved 2017.
  14. ^ Begany, Brent (30 June 2016). "The 2016 Election Proves The Need For Voting Reform". Policy Interns. Retrieved 2019.
  15. ^ Rosenbaum, David E. (24 February 2004). "THE 2004 CAMPAIGN: THE INDEPENDENT; Relax, Nader Advises Alarmed Democrats, but the 2000 Math Counsels Otherwise". The New York Times.
  16. ^ Sachs, Jeffrey (2011). The Price of Civilization. New York: Random House. p. 107. ISBN 978-1-4000-6841-8.
  17. ^ Dunleavy, Patrick (18 June 2012). "Duverger's Law is a dead parrot. Outside the USA, first-past-the-post voting has no tendency at all to produce two party politics". blogs.lse.ac.uk.
  18. ^ Dunleavy, Patrick; Diwakar, Rekha (2013). "Analysing multiparty competition in plurality rule elections" (PDF). Party Politics. 19 (6): 855-886. doi:10.1177/1354068811411026.
  19. ^ Dickson, Eric S.; Scheve, Kenneth (2010). "Social Identity, Electoral Institutions and the Number of Candidates". British Journal of Political Science. 40 (2): 349-375. CiteSeerX 10.1.1.75.155. doi:10.1017/s0007123409990354. JSTOR 40649446.
  20. ^ "First Past the Post is a 'broken voting system'". www.ippr.org. Institute for Public Policy Research. 4 January 2011. Retrieved 2017.
  21. ^ Terry, Chris (28 August 2013). "In Britain's first past the post electoral system, some votes are worth 22 times more than others". www.democraticaudit.com. London School of Economics. Retrieved 2017.
  22. ^ Galvin, Ray. "What is a marginal seat?". www.justsolutions.eu. Retrieved 2017.
  23. ^ Drogus, Carol Ann (2008). Introducing comparative politics: concepts and cases in context. CQ Press. pp. 257. ISBN 978-0-87289-343-6.
  24. ^ The Problems with First Past the Post Voting Explained, retrieved 2019
  25. ^ "General Election 2010: Safe and marginal seats". www.theguardian.com. Guardian Newspapers. 7 April 2010. Retrieved 2017.
  26. ^ Wickham, Alex. ""Safe seats" almost guarantee corruption". www.thecommentator.com. Retrieved 2017.
  27. ^ "FactCheck: expenses and safe seats". www.channel4.com. Channel 4. Retrieved 2017.
  28. ^ David Austen-Smith and Jeffrey Banks, "Monotonicity in Electoral Systems", American Political Science Review, Vol 85, No 2 (Jun. 1991)
  29. ^ Single-winner Voting Method Comparison Chart Archived 28 February 2011 at the Wayback Machine "Majority Favorite Criterion: If a majority (more than 50%) of voters consider candidate A to be the best choice, then A should win."
  30. ^ a b c d Felsenthal, Dan S. (2010) Review of paradoxes afflicting various voting procedures where one out of m candidates (m >= 2) must be elected. In: Assessing Alternative Voting Procedures, London School of Economics and Political Science, London, UK.
  31. ^ "Countries using FPTP electoral system for national legislature". idea.int. Archived from the original on 6 October 2014. Retrieved 2018.
  32. ^ "Electoral Systems". ACE Electoral Knowledge Network. Archived from the original on 26 August 2014. Retrieved 2015.
  33. ^ Milia, Juan Guillermo (2015). El Voto. Expresión del poder ciudadano. Buenos Aires: Editorial Dunken. pp. 40-41. ISBN 978-987-02-8472-7.
  34. ^ "Law 14,032". Sistema Argentino de Información Jurídica.
  35. ^ Encarta-encyclopedie Winkler Prins (1993-2002) s.v. "Kiesstelsel. §1.1 Federale verkiezingen". Microsoft Corporation/Het Spectrum.
  36. ^ https://www.vrt.be/vrtnws/en/2019/03/20/elections-2019-the-european-parliament/
  37. ^ Bhuwan Chandra Upreti (2010). Nepal: Transition to Democratic Republican State : 2008 Constituent Assembly. Gyan Publishing House. pp. 69-. ISBN 978-81-7835-774-4.
  38. ^ Encarta-encyclopedie Winkler Prins (1993-2002) s.v. "Kiesstelsel. §1.1 Geschiedenis". Microsoft Corporation/Het Spectrum.
  39. ^ "PNG voting system praised by new MP". ABC. 12 December 2003. Archived from the original on 4 January 2005. Retrieved 2015.
  40. ^ "Which European countries use proportional representation?". www.electoral-reform.org.uk. Retrieved 2019.

External links


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