So, how uncommon?

(Revised and extended.)

In the UK voting results, the top three parties’ voting percentages appear to be 36-29-23. So, let’s repeat the exercise from just before the election, based then on polling averages: how (un)common is such a close vote among the top three under first-past-the-post elections?

Of 210 elections in my database (20 jurisdictions, the most recent 6-17 elections in each jurisdiction as of 2006), how many saw the first party with less than 37% of the vote and the third with more than 22%?

Just four: Nova Scotia 1998 and 2003, Ontario 1975, and the last (2005) UK election. Quebec 2007 would add a fifth (and I am not aware of any others since 2006–till now.)

A related question is: how often has the third party been over 22% of the vote, yet under 10% of seats (as the LibDems almost certainly will be in the final result)? The answer is eight out of twenty three, but only one of those in which the first party was under 37%. That case was UK 2005. And among the larger set of severely under-represented third parties despite 22% (or more) of the vote, we also find the 1983 and 1987 UK elections.

Normally, that is, when a third party has as large a share of votes as the LibDems have won in the last two elections, that party has sufficient regional support to win a substantial share of seats. The UK, on the other hand, is unusual among FPTP systems in featuring a persistent third party that has relatively little in the way of regional strongholds. It has much of southwest England and a good presence in Scotland, but otherwise continues to run no better than second place in most of the country. And second just does not cut it under FPTP.

2 thoughts on “So, how uncommon?

  1. There’s no doubt that the Liberal Democrats remain substantially under-represented in the House of Commons – in fact the gap increased slightly, as their vote share went slightly up but their seat total dropped by five – but that said they
    are still doing far better in terms of seats than the old Alliance parties, which could only manage to win 22-23 on a comparable percentage of the vote.

    This outcome is full of ironies for the Liberal Democrats, given that 1) despite winning more votes than in 2005, they lost seats; yet 2) they hold the balance of power for the first time in thirty-six years; and 3) a month ago, when the party was struggling to reach twenty percent in opinion polls and Cleggmania had yet to emerge, this would have been seen as a not-so-bad result rather than the utter disappointment it turned out to be.

    A final irony is that for all the talk about the simplicity of FPTP, I see little or no criticism in the press about the convoluted (and sometimes mind-boggling) procedures needed to estimate (and often not very accurately) the distribution of House of Commons seats based on voting intentions: that seems to be taken for granted, yet far simpler proportional representation mechanisms are immediately dismissed as “complex.” Am I missing something?

  2. Here’s an idea: have 130 districts of 5 MPs each. 3 seats will be distributed to the candidates that reach the quota, while 2 seats are “top-ups”. I believe that Malta proposed that with 13 districts of 5 MPs a while ago.

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