Report on December’s general election reveals scale of tactical voting and voters ‘systematically ignored’ 

Posted on the 2nd March 2020

A new report from the UK’s leading pro-democracy group lays bare the ‘crisis of legitimacy’ faced by parliament, following an election that saw voters marginalised on an extraordinary scale.

The Electoral Reform Society’s comprehensive analysis of December’s general election, titled Voters Left Voiceless: The 2019 General Election, reveals:

  • Nearly one in three voters (32%) ‘held their nose’ and opted for a so-called lesser evil in December’s election, according to previously unreleased YouGov polling for the ERS (regional figures and by party are available). Similar analysis for the ERS in 2017 suggested around 20% planned to vote tactically then [1].
  • Over two thirds (71%) of votes – or 22.6 million – were ignored – i.e. they weren’t decisive to the local result. This is up from the 68% of votes ignored in the 2017 election [2]. In seven constituencies, more than 90% of the votes were ignored (regional figures and by party are available). Of the 32 million votes cast, only 9.4 million votes (29% of the total) were ‘decisive’ in securing a candidate’s election. (Full tables at bottom of press release). And 35% of MPs were elected without a majority of support (229 out of 650).
  • Warped Westminster: This was a ‘grossly disproportionate’ election. Voters in Scotland and the South West of England were handed the most disproportionate results, closely followed by the South East. Around a third of seats in Scotland, the South West, the South East and East of England were ‘unearned’ in proportional terms. (The scale of disproportionality was a DV score of 16, far higher than the 2017 election score of 9 and the 5-8 score norm for elections with PR systems).
  • Disunited Kingdom: Westminster’s voting system is leading to ‘absurd’ inequalities in representation. For example, in Scotland a substantial Conservative vote share (25%) yielded just six seats (10%), while over 90% of Scottish Labour votes went unrepresented. And there are warning signs for Labour in Wales under First Past the Post (with a drop in seats higher than their vote fell by).
  • How it could have been: The ERS have modelled the results under different voting systems, including the Additional Member System (used for the Welsh Senedd and the Scottish Parliament) and the Single Transferable Vote (used for elections in the Republic of Ireland, Northern Ireland and Scottish locals), based on previously unreleased YouGov polling (see table in notes)

Dr Jess Garland, Director of Research and Policy at the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“It is no wonder trust in politics is at rock bottom – the vast majority of people’s votes are being systematically ignored by a voting system that is morally and politically bankrupt.

“Westminster cannot go on like this – all parties must get behind reform of this broken system at long last.

“It’s time Westminster caught up with the rest of the UK and ensured seats in parliament reflect how people actually want to vote. No more ‘holding your nose’ tactical votes, ignored votes and warped results. Voters are tired of feeling voiceless – and it doesn’t have to be this way.

“This research exposes the scale of disenfranchisement that is happening under one-party-takes-all voting. But we can build a fairer politics, where everyone is heard and your vote counts no matter where you are. It’s time for proportional representation and real democracy at Westminster.”

The ERS back the Single Transferable Vote [3], used for elections in Ireland and local councils in Scotland.

Unrepresented voters

Voters in Scotland and Northern Ireland fare particularly badly in terms of unrepresented voters, with the choices of 54 percent (Scotland) and 55 percent (NI) of voters going to non-elected candidates. That means that over half of voters there don’t have an MP they voted for, in contrast to proportional systems.

Overall, across the UK, over half (51%) of Labour voters saw their votes go unrepresented – i.e. to non-elected candidates – compared to just under a quarter (24%) of Conservative voters.

The Conservative Party was highly over-represented in the South East (88% of seats on 54% of the votes in this region), while Labour was over-represented in the North East (66% of the seats for 43% of the votes) – but both parties lost out in other regions, leading to a ‘warped political map’. For example, in the East of England, where Labour received just under 750,000 votes, 84 percent of their voters were unrepresented, while in London, over half (55%) of Conservative voters went unrepresented.

UK-wide, 92 percent of Liberal Democrat voters went unrepresented, 96 percent of 865,697 Green Party voters, and all of the Brexit Party’s 644,255 voters.

ERS analysis also reveals the startling difference in votes needed per party per seat:

  • SNP – 25,882
  • Conservatives – 38,264
  • Labour – 50,835
  • Lib Dem – 336,038
  • Green – 856,000

Shoe-in seats vs electoral deserts

BMG polling for the ERS revealed that those living in seats classed as marginal received far more election literature than those seats classed as safe for one party or another. Just one in four people (25%) in safe seats reported receiving four or more election leaflets or other pieces of communication through their door compared to almost half (46%) of those in potential swing seats. Nearly three times as many people in potential swing seats (14%) reported receiving 10 or more leaflets or other pieces of communication, compared to just five percent of those in safe seats.

Alternatives

Using exclusive (as yet unreleased) YouGov polling immediately after the election, the ERS have projected the results under different electoral systems – with all three systems more fairly reflecting how voters wanted to be represented.

ENDS

Notes to editors

Embargoed link available here: https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/wp-content/uploads/2020/02/2019-General-Election-Report.pdf

Graphs are available for use with accreditation. High-quality versions available on request.

[1] https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/publications/the-2017-general-election-report/#sub-section-5 

[2] https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/publications/the-2017-general-election-report/#sub-section-7

[3] https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/voting-systems/types-of-voting-system/single-transferable-vote/

The appendix of the report features full tables of ignored votes by party and by region. Ignored votes are votes to non-elected candidates plus the surplus votes for the winning party that had no impact on increased representation, in contrast to PR systems where these votes would be redistributed based on voters’ other preferences.

YouGov methodology note: All figures, unless otherwise stated, are from YouGov Plc. Total sample size was 8,237 adults. Fieldwork was undertaken between 13th – 19th December 2019. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). Cross-tabs available on request.

Graphs in report include:

Ignored Votes by Party: Ignored votes = votes for non-winning candidates, plus votes ‘surplus’ to what the winning party candidate needed, which would otherwise be redistributed under a PR system like STV

Ignored Votes by Nation (regional tables in report appendix)

National Breakdown (English regional tables in report appendix)

UK

Number of Votes Percentage of Total
Total Votes 32,013,750 100%
Decisive Votes 9,356,557 29.2%
Ignored Votes 22,657,193 70.8%
  • Unrepresented Votes
14,515,081 45.3%
  • Surplus Votes
8,142,112 25.4%

 

England

Number of Votes Percentage of Total
Total Votes   26,911,305 100%
Decisive Votes 7,763,500 28.8%
Ignored Votes   19,147,805 71.2%
  • Unrepresented Votes
  11,787,348 43.8%
  • Surplus Votes
7,360,457 27.4%

 

Scotland

Number of Votes Percentage of Total
Total Votes   2,759,053 100%
Decisive Votes 869,357 31.5%
Ignored Votes   1,889,696 68.5
  • Unrepresented Votes
  1,481,582 53.7%
  • Surplus Votes
408,114 14.8%

 

Wales

Number of Votes Percentage of Total
Total Votes 1,544,357 100%
Decisive Votes 500,077 32.4%
Ignored Votes 1,044,280 67.6%
  • Unrepresented Votes
806,116 52.2%
  • Surplus Votes
238,164 15.4%

 

Northern Ireland

Number of Votes Percentage of Total
Total Votes 799,035 100%
Decisive Votes 223,623 28%
Ignored Votes 575,412 72%
  • Unrepresented Votes
440,035 55.1%
  • Surplus Votes
135,377 16.9%

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