Long running survey finds majority support proportional representation

Ian Simpson, Research Officer

Posted on the 23rd September 2022

The publication of the latest findings from the long-running British Social Attitudes (BSA) survey this week saw a record-breaking high in public support for electoral reform. Since 1983, the following question has been included on the annual survey over twenty times. 

Some people say we should change the voting system for general elections to the UK House of Commons to allow smaller political parties to get a fairer share of MPs. 

Others say that we should keep the voting system for the House of Commons as it is to produce effective government. Which view comes closer to your own? 

While we would not agree that the First Past The Post (FPTP) voting system produces effective government, this is an argument commonly made by supporters of the system and the BSA question seeks to balance this with the more pro-reform argument that a change to the system would result in fairer electoral outcomes. The strength of the BSA data is that exactly the same question has been asked many times over decades, thus providing a robust indication of real changes in public opinion. 

Prior to the release of this latest data, collected between September and October 2021, those answering this particular question always preferred the status quo, though the gap had narrowed dramatically in the other two most recent years the question was asked (2015 and 2017). Now, for the first time, over half of people (51%) want the electoral system changed, while only 44% want to retain the current system. 

Of particular interest, on the eve of a Labour party conference where a pro-electoral reform motion is set to be debated, is the dramatic change in views of Labour party supporters identified in the latest BSA data. For the first time in the BSA series, more Labour supporters are in favour of changing the system than want to retain the status quo. And the balance of opinion is not even close. Sixty one percent of Labour supporters now favour changing the electoral system, compared with only 34% who favour keeping it.  

As Professor Sir John Curtice writes in his BSA report chapter that focuses on constitutional reform issues, ‘much of the explanation for our finding…that, for the first time…we now see a majority in favour of electoral reform, lies…in a sharp change in the attitudes of Labour identifiers during the course of the last decade. Meanwhile… support for change among Liberal Democrat supporters has hovered around a record level of seven in ten (while those who do not identify with a party are for the first time marginally in favour of a change). It would seem that, in the event of a future hung parliament in which Labour and the Liberal Democrats might be seeking to reach an agreement that could pave the way to the formation of a new government, a commitment to take steps towards electoral reform would be likely to prove popular with the supporters of both parties’. 

Other survey data also indicates strong support for changing the electoral system among Labour supporters. For example, the latest YouGov tracker data, collected in August 2022, shows 64% of Labour voters in favour of changing to a PR system and just 14% in favour of keeping FPTP. 

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