Electoral Bias and the 2015 UK General Election
It’s a well stated electoral stat the in order for the conservatives to get a majority of 20 seats in the ‘House of Commons’ they need to secure a 13% lead over Labour. Yet to secure the same amount of seats Labour only needs a 4% lead over the Tories. The 2005 General Election was a prime example of this ‘quirk’ in the British electoral system when Tony Blair returned 35% of the popular vote which translated into 355 seats, contrast this with the 36% of the vote for 306 seats that David Cameron won in the 2010 General Election and this ‘bias’ towards the Labour party becomes clear. It is of no surprise then that some within the Ed Milliband camp have put an importance on securing 35% of the vote. Retaining the 29% of the vote from the previous election and carving 6% off the Lib Dem vote seems a highly achievable feat that would probably make labour the biggest party in government if not give them an outright majority. The Liberal Democrats also suffer from electoral bias; they secured 23% of the vote in 2010, only 6% less than Labour, but received 201 less seats! This article will briefly explain how this electoral bias manifests itself and look forward to its possible impact on the 2015 UK General Election.
The main factor attributed to the creation of this ‘bias’ is the existence of malapportionment in the British electoral system; which is the existence of unequal representation. Malapportionment manifest itself in the UK electoral system in the guise of differing constituency sizes. Constituency sizes in the UK vary greatly ranging from 110,000 people on the ‘Isle of Wight’ to the mere 22,000 constituents of ‘Na h-Eileanan an Iar’, effectively meaning voters in the Isle of Wight have a vote with relatively less ‘power’.
Unequal constituency sizes develop into a bias due to the voting habits of constituencies on either end of the scale. A ‘UK Polling Report’ article states that 9 out of the 10 smallest constituencies in England are held by Labour and 7 of the 10 biggest ones are held by the Conservatives. Simply this means that on average it takes more votes to win a conservative seat
A further cause of the ‘bias’ arises from the over-representation of Wales in terms of MPs per head. With 40 MPs it is estimates the Wales is over-represented by around 8 MPs. The issue this creates is due to the fact Labour are particularly strong in Wales with over 20 MPs; redrawing the boundary lines to reduce the amount of MPs in Wales by 8 would by some estimates lead to around a loss of 5 MPs for Labour.
Liberal Democrats suffer from ‘ineffective votes’ which are classified as surplus and wasted votes. In a first past the post system voting system, like the UK has, if a party gains 20,000 votes in a constituency but comes second they have received 20,000 wasted votes. Optimal election strategy would be to gain no votes in a seat you lose and to gain one vote more than the party coming second in a seat you win. However the Liberal Democrats often return the exact opposite type of results and suffer heavily from ‘ineffective’ votes. The electoral system creates a bias against the Liberal Democrats and it is estimated around 87% of the votes they receive are classified as ‘ineffective votes’. For every seat they win around 100,000 ‘ineffective votes’ are attributed to the Liberal Democrats; this is five times more than both the Conservatives and Labour.
What affects may arise at the 2015 UK General Election due to this inherent electoral bias? After Conservative proposed constituency boundary changes were torpedoed by their coalition partners this electoral bias will make it very difficult for the Conservatives to gain an overall majority at the next election. The boundary changes would have alleviated some of the bias and in essence made some Conservative constituencies smaller and some Labour ones bigger. The failure of the Conservatives to enact the boundary changes may create an interesting situation where Labour and the Conservatives have very similar vote shares, say 35%, but Labour may have a majority of Parliamentary seats. Smaller parties like the ‘Greens’ and UKIP, as well as the Liberal Democrats will continue to suffer from electoral bias and underrepresentation in terms of Parliamentary seats compared to their national vote share.
Electoral bias and the Conservatives failure to push through boundary changes that would have lessened the bias have made it very hard for David Cameron to gain an overall majority. Labour could take advantage of the bias and secure governance with a relatively small vote share either through an overall majority or being the largest party in a coalition. Liberal Democrats, UKIP and the ‘Greens’ will remain underrepresented but the British people turned down the chance to implement a new, more ‘representative’ voting system via the 2011 AV referendum with nearly three in four people voting to stick with ‘first past the post’. By and large electoral bias may help to create a fascinating post election Parliament after the 2015 UK General Election.