First Past the Post

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

First Past the Post

First Past The Post, also known as Single Member Plurality, Simple Majority Voting or Plurality Voting.

How does First Past The Post work?

First Past the Post is the electoral system used to elect the UK parliament. Under First Past The Post voting takes place in constituencies that elect a single MP each. Voters put a cross on a ballot paper next to their favoured candidate and the candidate with the most votes in the constituency wins. All other votes count for nothing. We believe First Past The Post is the very worst system for electing a representative government.

Where is First Past The Post used?

Where is First Past the Post 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

First Past The Post is the second most widely used voting system in the world, after Party List Proportional Representation. It is used across Africa in places that are, or once were, British colonies such as Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia and Uganda. 

First Past The Post used to be even more widespread, but whilst many countries have abandoned it, none have adopted it.

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.

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. In South Belfast, the SDLP candidate in 2015 broke the UK record for lowest winning share of the vote, at just 24.5%.

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 many voters vote not for the candidate they like the most, but against the candidate they most dislike.

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

The majority of votes have no impact, 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.

First Past the Post severely restricts voter choice. Parties are coalitions of many different viewpoints. If you support a party, but not your local candidate, you don't have a means of saying so at the ballot box.

Parties have to appeal to the centre ground to win elections, so it encourages centrist policies.

Rather than allocating seats in line with actual support, First Past the Post rewards parties with support concentrated in geographical areas, 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.


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 First Past the Post 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


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.

Voting Systems

Proportional Representation Mixed Systems Majoritarian Systems
More representative as seats are distributed according to vote share. Combines the features of majoritarian-style systems and Proportional Representation. Systems that are highly disproportional.
Single Transferable Vote Additional Member System First Past the Post
Party List PR Alternative Vote Plus Alternative Vote
    Borda Count
    Block Vote
    Limited Vote
    Supplementary Vote
    Two-Round System