First-past-the-post voting

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First-past-the-post voting
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(File:Plurality ballot.svg|thumb|right|A ballot paper for a first-past-the-post voting system, with the voter required to mark only one candidate){{Electoral systems}}A first-past-the-post (FPTP; sometimes FPPWEB,weblink More about FPP, Affairs, The Department of Internal,, en, 2019-02-17, ) electoral system is one in which voters indicate on a ballot the candidate of their choice, and the candidate who receives the most votes wins. This is sometimes described as winner takes all. First-past-the-post voting is a plurality voting method. FPTP is a common, but not universal, feature of electoral systems with single-member electoral divisions, and is practised in close to one third of countries. Notable examples include Canada, India, the United Kingdom, and the United States, as well as most of their current or former colonies and protectorates.


(File:Countries That Use a First Past the Post Voting System.png|thumb|Countries that use a first-past-the-post voting system)First-past-the-post voting methods 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 the three candidates with the greatest numbers 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 U.S., all states and the District of Columbia use a winner-take-all form of simple plurality, first-past-the-post voting, to appoint the electors of the Electoral College; Maine and Nebraska use a variation where the electoral vote of each Congressional district is awarded by first-past-the-post, in addition to the statewide winner taking two votes. In winner-take-all, the presidential candidate gaining the greatest number of votes wins all of the state's available electors, regardless of the number or share of votes won, or the difference separating the leading candidate and the first runner-up.WEB,weblink U. S. Electoral College: Frequently Asked Questions, 23 October 2015, The multiple-round election (runoff) voting method uses first-past-the-post voting method in each of two rounds. The first round determines which candidates will progress to the second and final round.


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 the declared winner:{{Singaporean presidential election, 2011}}


The effect of a system based on plurality voting is that the larger parties, and parties with geographically concentrated support, gain a disproportionately large share of seats, while smaller parties with more evenly distributed support are left with a disproportionately small share. It is more likely that a single party will hold a majority of legislative seats. In the United Kingdom, 18 of the 23 general elections since 1922 have produced a single-party majority government; for example, the 2005 general election results were as follows:{{electiontable|United Kingdom parliamentary election, 2005}}'''Summary of the 5 May 2005 House of Commons of the United Kingdom election results (parties with more than one seat; not incl. N. Ireland)!colspan=2|SeatsParties with over one seat, for Great Britain only!Seats %!Votes %!Votes
Labour Party|9,552,436
Conservative Party|8,782,192
Liberal Democrats|5,985,454
Scottish National Party|412,267
Plaid Cymru|174,838
!colspan=2|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.Another example would be the UK General Election held on 7 May 2015:{| class=wikitable ; text-align:center;"!colspan=2|Party!colspan=2|Votes!colspan=2|Seats!align=center |Votes per Seat
Conservative Party11,334,920 (36.8%){{percentage bar|0087DC}} 331 (50.9%)

Labour Party 9,344,328 (30.4%){{percentage bar|DC241f}} 232 (35.7%)

UK Independence Party 3,881,129 (12.6%){{percentage bar|800080}} 1 (0.2%)

Liberal Democrats 2,415,888 (7.9%){{percentage bar|FFD700}} 8 (1.2%)

Scottish National Party 1,454,436 (4.7%){{percentage bar|FFFF00}} 56 (8.6%)

Green Party 1,154,562 (3.8%){{percentage bar|66cc33}} 1 (0.2%)

Democratic Unionist Party 184,260 (0.6%){{percentage bar|D46A4C}} 8 (1.2%)

Plaid Cymru 181,694(0.6%){{percentage bar|008142}} 3 (0.5%)

Sinn Féin 176,232 (0.6%){{percentage bar|800080}} 4 (0.6%)

Ulster Unionist Party 114,935 (0.4%){{percentage bar|800080}} 2 (0.3%)

Social Democratic & Labour Party 99,809 (0.3%){{percentage bar|800080}} 3 (0.5%)

Here, the Conservatives took 51% of the seats with only 37% of the vote. Of the smaller parties, the SNP received a greater share of seats than votes, whereas UKIP and the Liberal Democrats gained very little representation compared to the share of the vote they received.


The benefits of FPTP are that its concept is easy to understand, and ballots can more easily be counted and processed than in preferential voting systems.First past the post's tendency to produce majority ruleBOOK, Andy Williams, UK Government & Politics,weblink 1998, Heinemann, 978-0-435-33158-0, 24–, allows a government to pursue a consistent strategy for its term in office and to make decisions that may have socially beneficial outcomes, but be unpopular.Tony Blair, defending FPTP, argued that other systems give small parties the balance of power, and influence disproportionate to their votes.BOOK, P. Dorey, The Labour Party and Constitutional Reform: A History of Constitutional Conservatism,weblink 17 June 2008, Palgrave Macmillan UK, 978-0-230-59415-9, 400–, . Allowing people into the UK parliament who did not finish first in their constituency was described by David Cameron as creating a "Parliament full of second-choices who no one really wanted but didn't really object to either."David Cameron. "Why keeping first past the post is vital for democracy." Daily Telegraph. 30 Apr 2011 Winston Churchill criticised the electoral outcomes of the alternative vote as "determined by the most worthless votes given for the most worthless candidates."BOOK, Larry Johnston, Politics: An Introduction to the Modern Democratic State,weblink 13 December 2011, University of Toronto Press, 978-1-4426-0533-6, 231–, 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".WEB, Ilan, Shahar,weblink about blackmail power of Israeli small parties under PR,, 8 May 2010, WEB,weblink Dr.Mihaela Macavei, University of Alba Iulia., 8 May 2010,


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."{{citation needed|date=February 2017}} 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 that 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%).NEWS, Rosenbaum, David E.,weblink THE 2004 CAMPAIGN: THE INDEPENDENT; Relax, Nader Advises Alarmed Democrats, but the 2000 Math Counsels Otherwise, New York Times, 24 February 2004, 8 May 2010, The New York Times, 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 for Nader.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

File:First-past-the-post 2015.svg|right|thumb|A graph showing the difference between the popular vote (inner circle) and the number of seats won by major political parties (outer circle) at the 2015 United Kingdom general election2015 United Kingdom general electionDuverger'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:}}However, most countries with first-past-the-post elections have multiparty legislatures, the United States being the major exception.WEB,weblink 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, Patrick, Dunleavy,, 18 June 2012, JOURNAL
, Analysing multiparty competition in plurality rule elections
, Patrick
, Dunleavy
, Rekha
, Diwakar
, 10.1177/1354068811411026
, Party Politics
, 2013
, 19
, 6
, 855–886
,weblink There is a counter-force 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.JOURNAL, Social Identity, Electoral Institutions and the Number of Candidates, British Journal of Political Science, Eric S., Dickson, Kenneth, Scheve, 40, 2, 2010, 349–375, 40649446, 10.1017/s0007123409990354,,

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 â€“ 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."BOOK, Drogus, Carol Ann, Introducing comparative politics: concepts and cases in context, 2008, CQ Press, 978-0-87289-343-6, 257, registration,weblink


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 a large number of 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 such an act was 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 away from a larger party that it is most similar to, and therefore give an advantage to one it is less similar to.

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.WEB, General Election 2010: Safe and marginal seats,weblink, Guardian Newspapers, 15 November 2017, 2010-04-07, It has been claimed that MPs involved in the 2009 expenses scandal were significantly more likely to hold a safe seat.WEB, Wickham, Alex, "Safe seats" almost guarantee corruption,weblink, 15 November 2017, WEB, FactCheck: expenses and safe seats,weblink, Channel 4, 15 November 2017, However, other voting systems, notably the party-list system, can also create politicians who are relatively immune from electoral pressure.

Distorted geographical representation

The winner-takes-all nature of FPTP leads to distorted patterns of representation, since party support is commonly correlated with geography. For example, in the UK the Conservative Party represents most of the rural seats, and most of the south of the country, and the Labour Party most of the cities, and most of the north. This means that even popular parties can find themselves without elected politicians in significant parts of the country, leaving their supporters (who may nevertheless be a significant minority) unrepresented.WEB, First Past the Post,weblink, Conservative Action for Electoral Reform, 15 November 2017, Note in the chart above from the 2015 UK election that the UK Independence Party came in third in terms of sheer number of voters, but only gained one seat in Parliament despite having broad national support since its vote was not concentrated in local election districts.

Impact on party policy and campaigning

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.WEB,weblink, First Past the Post is a 'broken voting system', Institute for Public Policy Research, 15 November 2017, 2011-01-04, 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.WEB, Terry, Chris, In Britain's first past the post electoral system, some votes are worth 22 times more than others,weblink, London School of Economics, 15 November 2017, 2013-08-28, WEB, Galvin, Ray, What is a marginal seat?,weblink, 15 November 2017,

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 of the criteria, because some of them are mutually exclusive, as shown by results such as Arrow's impossibility theorem and the Gibbard–Satterthwaite theorem.David Austen-Smith and Jeffrey Banks, "Monotonicity in Electoral Systems", American Political Science Review, Vol 85, No 2 (Jun. 1991)

Majority criterion

{{Tick}} The majority criterion states that "if one candidate is preferred by a majority (more than 50%) of voters, then that candidate must win".Single-winner Voting Method Comparison Chart {{webarchive|url= |date=28 February 2011 }} "Majority Favorite Criterion: If a majority (more than 50%) of voters consider candidate A to be the best choice, then A should win." 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

{{Cross}} 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 notFelsenthal, 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. meet this criterion.

Condorcet loser criterion

{{Cross}} 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 meet this criterion.

Independence of irrelevant alternatives criterion

{{Cross}} 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

{{Cross}} 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.WEB,weblink Countries using FPTP electoral system for national legislature,, 3 December 2018,weblink" title="">weblink 6 October 2014, yes, dmy-all, WEB, Electoral Systems,weblink ACE Electoral Knowledge Network, 2015-11-03,weblink" title="">weblink 26 August 2014, yes, dmy-all, {{div col|colwidth=22em}} {{div col end}}

List of former FPTP countries

{{expand list|date=July 2016}}

See also



External links

{{voting methods}}{{United Kingdom Alternative Vote referendum, 2011}}{{Parliament of NZ}}{{Use dmy dates|date=May 2011}}

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