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  1. 1. Political Issues in the UK Electoral Systems, Voting and Political Attitudes Exam questions in this section tend to concentrate on one of two themes; either a comparison of First Past The Post versus another voting system, or a question on the factor which has the greatest influence on voting behaviour. NOTE: First past the post is also often referred to the Simple Majority System First Past The Post – arguments for and against USED TO ELECT: MPs to the UK Parliament FPTP is very simple; voters get one ballot paper and then mark an ‘X’ next to their chosen candidate. Whoever gets most votes wins. SIMPLICITY OF USE Strengths Weaknesses Incredibly simple to use; voters just have System may be simple but it is also unfair to put a cross next to their chosen and unrepresentative. Due to the spread candidate. Also simple, quick and of voters, smaller parties tend to lose out transparent to count; most counts whilst bigger parties get more seats than usually done on the night giving a fast they should e.g. in Scotland, the result. Higher turnout for UK elections Conservatives got 16% of vote in 2005 using FPTP (c.60-65%) than Holyrood and but only 2% of seats. No point in simple council elections (c.50%). system if voters don’t get their choice. ACCOUNTABILITY Strengths Weaknesses It is very obvious who your one local MP Only one MP elected per ward, so all is, which helps if you need to contact other voters may feel they are not them, or want to vote them out e.g. represented. Also creates ‘safe seats’ Sandra Osborne is the MP for Ayr, where the same party wins all the time, Carrick and Cumnock. In the event of a which puts people off voting. In 2005 by-election voters can have a ‘protest 70% of voters did not vote for a winning vote’ to send a message to the parties candidate. e.g. SNP Glasgow North East win in 2008.
  2. 2. STRONG GOVERNMENT Strengths FPTP usually delivers strong, stable government e.g. 7/8 elections since 1979 using FPTP have resulted in a majority government. This allows the government to do the job they were elected for e.g. in 2005 Labour were elected with a majority of 66 MPs. Weaknesses FPTP does not always produce an overall winner e.g. Conservative/Lib Dem coalition in 2010. It is also undemocratic if a government is elected with less than half the vote, as usually happens e.g. the 2005 Labour government had a majority of 66 MPs but only got 35% of the vote. Single Transferable Vote – arguments for and against USED TO ELECT: Local councillors in Scotland In STV elections voters get one ballot paper. They rank chosen candidates in order of preference (1,2,3, etc). All the ‘1’ votes are then counted; if no candidate is elected the bottom candidate drops out and their ‘2’ votes counted until there is a winner. SIMPLICITY OF USE Strengths Weaknesses Whilst it might be slightly more difficult Can be seen as complex. Voters have to to use the ultimate result it gives is rank candidates with numbers, instead closer to the wishes of the electorate of putting an ‘X’ next to one name; this than FPTP. 2007-2012, 2/32 Scottish may put people off e.g. in 2007 there councils had a majority party; 2012were tens of thousand of spoiled ballot 2017, 6/32 councils have a majority papers when STV was introduced. Low party. This is in line with voters who do turnout in 2012 elections (32%) suggests not, as a majority, back any single party. voters put off too. ACCOUNTABILITY Strengths Weaknesses Voters have a great deal of choice about There is more than one representative which candidates they vote for, unlike for each ward (3 or 4), this can create FPTP e.g. you rank candidates 1,2,3 so confusion e.g. who is your local can select multiple parties and councillor that you know to contact? candidates. In Glasgow in 2012, Labour Also leads to ‘donkey voting’ where and the SNP stood multiple candidates in voters simply vote for candidates from each ward; voters could choose to vote the same party 1,2,3 in alphabetical for some or all of them. This forces order, rather than choosing best councillors to work hard for votes. candidate; SNP Adams beats SNP Wilson! 2
  3. 3. STRONG GOVERNMENT Strengths STV produces coalitions which are more representative of what people want, rather than government being elected by less than half the population. It is also more representative because it ensures that more parties are elected, rather than one or two dominating under FPTP e.g. Glasgow council 2012-2017, six different political parties represented Weaknesses STV elections almost always result in coalitions; this is undemocratic as noone votes for a coalition and can lead to secret deals being made being between parties after elections e.g. 2012-2017, Edinburgh Council run by SNP/Labour. Can give smaller parties too much power by making them the ‘king makers’ who get to choose which party runs council. Additional Member System – arguments for and against USED TO ELECT: MSPs to the Scottish Parliament In AMS elections voters get two ballot papers. The first is for the Constituency and works the same as a FPTP election. The second is for the Region and here they vote for a political party. Parties receive List MSPs based on their total Regional vote. SIMPLICITY OF USE Strengths Weaknesses Only slightly more complex than FPTP; Sometimes accused of being more caused no problems in 1999, 2003 and confusing than FPTP, because it has two 2011 elections. Results in voters being ballot papers. Massive confusion in 2007 better represented; they have 8 MSPs to when STV was introduced alongside choose to contact (1 constituency, 7 AMS, resulting in thousands of spoiled Regional) e.g. Ayr’s MSP is John Scott but papers. there are 7 South of Scotland MSPs too ACCOUNTABILITY Strengths Weaknesses Two votes give voters more choice; they Gives power to parties; voters choose a can vote for one party in their party but parties decide who becomes a constituency and a different party on the List MSP; hard to remove unpopular List Regional List. Results in more parties MSPs. Leads to ‘unelected’ MSPs; if a List being elected and represented e.g. 1999- MSP resigns they are just replaced by the 2011, various smaller parties (Scottish next List candidate e.g. Lib Dem Andrew Socialists and Senior Citizens Party) and Arbuckle became MSP overnight after independents were elected. Keith Raffan resigned. 3
  4. 4. STRONG GOVERNMENT Strengths Outcome is more in line with what public want e.g. 1999-2011, coalition or minority government were public’s choice; 2011, SNP won a majority. Coalition or minority government a good thing; means more viewpoints listened to, which is a good thing if no one party gets more than half the vote. Weaknesses AMS tends to result in coalitions or minority governments; this can be undemocratic as no-one votes for a coalition and it leads to secret deals e.g. Labour/Lib Dem coalition, 1999-2007. SNP minority government, 2007-2011 was often defeated by other political parties e.g. minimum alcohol pricing. Party List – arguments for and against USED TO ELECT: MEPs to the European Parliament In Party List elections voters get one ballot paper. They put an ‘X’ next to their chosen political party. All votes in Scotland are then counted together and parties given MEPs based on share of the vote e.g. if you get 1/3 of vote, you get 2/6 MEPs SIMPLICITY OF USE Strengths Weaknesses Simple to use and the fairest (most Simple to use but takes power away representative) of all voting systems e.g. from voters e.g. all voters can do is in Scotland in 2009, SNP got 30% of vote choose a party; they cannot decide and 33% of MEPs, Conservatives got 16% which candidate they want elected. of vote and 17% of MEPs. This means the Parties too powerful. Can be harder to end result is closest to what the public as get unrepresented groups elected e.g. a whole wants. only one female MEP in Scotland out of six; no ethnic minorities ACCOUNTABILITY Strengths Party List ensures a much wider range of parties and views get elected, in line with public wishes e.g. out of six Scottish MEPs, there are four different parties represented. Also helps smaller parties get elected e.g. the UK has a Green MEP and UKIP MEPs too Weaknesses Takes away the voter/ constituency link; MEPs are not directly elected to represent a specific area e.g. Scotland elects six MEPs for whole country. This makes it hard for voters to get rid of an unpopular MEP. 4
  5. 5. STRONG GOVERNMENT Strengths Coalitions are most likely outcome; this is a good thing as it is closer to what the public wants than a minority vote party winning the election on its own e.g. forces parties from across Europe to join together in voting groups to best represent what European voters want. Weaknesses Much more likely to result in coalitions; this can be undemocratic as no-one votes for a coalition and it leads to secret deals after the elections. Coalitions unstable and can fall apart e.g. UK Conservative MEPs left EU Conservative Group over disagreements. This next section will examine the different voting influences which exist. It will discuss long-term factors i.e. things that generally don’t change over time such as race, gender, class, etc. It will also look at short-term factors which can be different at each election i.e. issues, the media and the party’s campaigns/personalities. Voting influences – Long terms factors SOCIAL CLASS Arguments for Arguments against Traditionally the main voting influence in Since 1970s class has become less the UK; working class = Labour, middle/ relevant in society and so less important upper class = Conservative. ABC1 voters to party support (dealignment). More still most likely to vote Conservative, people now floating voters (willing to C2DE voters still most likely to vote change between elections). In 2010 Labour e.g. in 2010 election, 44% of AB election biggest share of C2 women men voted Conservative, 45% of DE voted Conservative (41%). women voted Labour GENDER Arguments for Arguments against Traditionally women most likely to vote Class, not gender, important. Poor Conservative; in 2010 men and women women most likely to vote Labour e.g. were most likely to vote Tory (38% and 45% of DE women voted Labour in 2010. 36% respectively). Parties have also Rich women more likely to vote spent huge amounts of money targeting Conservative e.g. 39% of C1 in 2010. specific women e.g. ‘School Gate Mum’ Variations depending on age too e.g. (working mums with responsibilities) most 25-34 year old women vote Labour. 5
  6. 6. RACE Arguments for Arguments against Ethnic minorities only worth about 5% of Race is really class; EMs tend to be vote but often concentrated in certain poorer, which is the group most likely to constituencies, making it important. EMs vote Labour. Differences between most likely to vote Labour (party usually specific EM groups e.g. in 2005, rich promoted pro-EM laws e.g. Race Asians (Group AB) most likely to vote Relations Act). In 2005 56% of EM voted Conservative; 80% of British African EMs Labour, only 19% voted Conservative. voted Labour. GEOGRAPHY Arguments for Arguments against Clear link between area and voting; Labour/Conservative divide caused by Labour strong in cities, north of England two-horse nature of FPTP. Actually about and Scotland; Conservative strong in class; areas which are most likely to vote south east England e.g. 41/59 Scottish Labour (Scotland, north England) are MPs are Labour. Well-off constituencies traditionally poorer and have industrial vote Labour too e.g. Jim Murphy MP background; Conservative areas usually (Labour) elected in rich East richer e.g. Conservatives won wealthy Renfrewshire constituency. Richmond constituency, even though this is in north of England. Voting influences – Short terms factors THE MEDIA Arguments for Media is the main way that public finds out about politics, parties spend millions developing their media image e.g. spin doctors. Newspapers often back political parties e.g. since 1979 whichever party The Sun has backed has won most MPs. Newspapers are read by more than half the population each day and are often biased e.g. Daily Mail supports the Conservatives, Daily Record backs Labour Arguments against Media’s influence can be overstated; the fact that there are so many safe seats in the UK shows people vote on class, gender, etc and don’t change their vote. Many people also buy a paper based on which party they support; they don’t change their vote because of what they read. Also TV news (where most people watch politics) by law has to be neutral, so this can’t influence them either. 6
  7. 7. CAMPAIGNS/PERSONALITY Arguments for Arguments against UK elections moving towards a more Role of leader can be overstated e.g. in presidential system in recent years, 2005 Tony Blair’s Labour won most MPs focus on party leaders and their yet 61% of people thought Blair was background/personality. e.g. Web untrustworthy! Media is a big issue; Cameron internet site. Huge part of SNP most focus goes on Labour/Conservative, Holyrood success because of Alex so they win most seats. In 2011 The Sun Salmond’s famous profile, compared to backed Alex Salmond as First Minister Labour’s anonymous Iain Gray. and the SNP won a Holyrood majority. ISSUES Arguments for Arguments against Important issues change between Other factors such as class, gender, etc elections e.g. in 2005 health and also important; they don’t change education were top issues, in 2010 it was between elections. Issues can be unemployment and MPs expenses. This overstated e.g. Iraq War regularly given supports rise of floating voters who as a big issue in elections yet war started change vote each time. Scotland a good in 2003 and Labour re-elected in 2005. example; Labour wins most MPs in UK Media ultimately key; big issues in 2010 elections, SNP gets most MSPs in were MPs expenses and trust, all Scottish Parliament elections. because of the Daily Telegraph story. Voting influences – The Media NEWSPAPERS Arguments for Over half of adults read a newspaper each day, this has a huge influence e.g. since 1979 The Sun has backed the party which won most MPs. The Sun backed Alex Salmond as First Minister when the SNP won a Holyrood majority in 2011. Many newspapers are biased e.g. Daily Record backs Labour, etc. Social scientists W. Miller found most people were influenced by newspaper coverage. Arguments against Number of safe seats in the UK shows people vote on class, gender, etc and don’t change their vote. Many people also buy a paper based on which party they already support; they don’t change their vote because of what they read. In 2005 only 10% of people said they thought their vote was influenced by newspaper coverage; people are aware of bias so consider this when reading. 7
  8. 8. TELEVISION Arguments for Parties spend huge amounts on TV media training for leaders. TV is the way most adults get political news e.g. during elections 2/3 of adults say they have seen TV election coverage. Parties will fight to get equal coverage e.g. SNP took court action to try and get Alex Salmond onto 2010 UK leaders’ TV debate. Arguments against By law TV political coverage has to be balanced; they cannot take sides and must give all parties their say. Most voters (70%) say they have decided who to vote for before TV election coverage even starts. Like newspapers, TV coverage may also reinforce opinions already held. Many people get bored and switch off TV political coverage anyway. INTERNET/NEW MEDIA Arguments for Arguments against New media e.g. sites like You Tube and Only about 1% of people say internet is Facebook are the fastest growing type of their main source of political news e.g. media. Public finds out news instantly most read newspapers, watch TV. and can even directly communicate with Reinforcement here e.g. Labour voters politicians e.g. Twitter messages. Parties read Labour websites, same for the SNP, spend a lot of money on websites and etc. Voters are aware of lies and online campaigns, especially to try and inaccuracy on the internet so don’t let it engage younger voters. influence them. Younger people most likely to use Twitter, least likely to vote. 8
  9. 9. Electoral Systems, Voting and Political Attitudes Past Paper questions 2012 To what extent is media the most important factor affecting voting behaviour? 2011 “Some factors affecting voting behaviour are more important than others.” Discuss. 2010 “The Single Transferable Vote electoral system provides for better representation than First Past the Post.” Discuss. 2009 Critically examine the view that the media is the most important influence on voting behaviour. 2008 Assess the influence of social class on voting behaviour. 2007 “The Additional Member System gives voters more choice and better representation than does First Past The Post.” Discuss. 9