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First Past The Post
Everything you need to know about First Past The Post
First Past the Post

First Past The Post (FPTP), also known as Simple majority voting or Plurality voting


How does First Past The Post work?

Under First Past The Post (FPTP) voting takes place in single-member constituencies. Voters put a cross in a box next to their favoured candidate and the candidate with the most votes in the constituency wins. All other votes count for nothing. We believe FPTP is the very worst system for electing a representative government. Find out why First Past the Post is bad for democracy...


Where is First Past The Post used?

Where is FPTP used?
  1. UK to elect members of the House of Commons
  2. USA to elect the US Congress
  3. To elect members of the lower houses in India and Canada
FPTP is the second most widely used voting system in the world, after Party List-PR.

In crude terms, it is used in places that are, or once were, British colonies. Of the many countries that use First Past The Post , the most commonly cited are the UK to elect members of the House of Commons, both chambers of the US Congress, and the lower houses in India and Canada.

First Past The Post used to be even more widespread, but many countries that used to use it have adopted other systems. Find out more about reform overseas...

Pros and cons of First Past The Post

The case for

The arguments against

It's simple to understand and thus doesn't cost much to administer and doesn't alienate people who can't count.

Representatives can get elected on tiny amounts of public support as it does not matter by how much they win, only that they get more votes than other candidates.

It doesn't take very long to count all the votes and work out who's won, meaning results can be declared a handful of hours after polls close.

It encourages tactical voting, as voters vote not for the candidate they most prefer, but against the candidate they most dislike.

The voter can clearly express a view on which party they think should form the next government.

FPTP in effect wastes huge numbers of votes, as votes cast in a constituency for losing candidates, or for the winning candidate above the level they need to win that seat, count for nothing.

It tends to produce a two-party system which in turn tends to produce single-party governments, which don't have to rely on support from other parties to pass legislation.

FPTP severely restricts voter choice. Parties are coalitions of many different viewpoints. If the preferred-party candidate in your constituency has views with which you don't agree, you don't have a means of saying so at the ballot box.

It encourages 'broad-church' centrist policies.

Rather than allocating seats in line with actual support, FPTP rewards parties with 'lumpy' support, i.e. with just enough votes to win in each particular area. Thus, losing 4,000 votes in one area can be a good idea if it means you pick up 400 votes in another. With smaller parties, this works in favour of those with centralised support.

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With relatively small constituency sizes, the way boundaries are drawn can have important effects on the election result, which encourages attempts at gerrymandering.

 

Small constituencies also lead to a proliferation of safe seats, where the same party is all but guaranteed re-election at each election. This not only in effect disenfranchises a region's voters, but it leads to these areas being ignored when it comes to framing policy.

 

If large areas of the country are electoral deserts for a particular party, not only is the area ignored by that party, but also ambitious politicians from the area have to move away from their homeland if they want to have influence within their party.

 

Because FPTP restricts a constituency's choice of candidates, representation of minorities and women suffers from 'most broadly acceptable candidate syndrome', where the 'safest' looking candidate is the most likely to be offered a chance to stand for election

 

Encouraging two-party politics can be an advantage, but in a multi-party culture, third parties with significant support can be greatly disadvantaged.


Further reading

A recent IPPR report outlines the case for why First Past the Post needs to go. View report Worst of Both Worlds.


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