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First past the post explained

October 29th, 2014 · Posted by Skuds in Politics · No Comments · Politics

This is a bit annoying, because I happen to think that proportional representation would be a good thing, but I thought of a good analogy to explain how first past the post isn’t necessarily unfair if a party gets fewer votes but wins more seats.

I should throw in the caveat that by ‘good’ I don’t mean good in the absolute sense, just better than my usual crappy standard of analogies.Anyway, you know how the arguments go, that Labour could, for example, get an overall majority in Parliament with 34% of the popular vote and so that must be unfair. I have a lot of sympathy with that point of view, unless it comes from Tories who are happily ignoring the fact that they have held overall majorities with less than 50% of the vote, and hold huge majorities in county councils after getting well under 50% of the votes.

It gets worse when the possibility crops up that Labour could win more seats than the Tories with fewer votes than them. Again, what winds me up most about the complaints is when they come from Tories who would be happy if they had more seats than all the other parties put together but not as many votes as all the other parties put together – its like they want the system to be unfair but only up to a point and only in one specific direction.

But it can all be explained away by comparing it to football. You just have to imagine that each constituency is like a football match and votes are like goals in that match. You could easily end up with the league being won by a team that had scored fewer goals than the team below them and had a much worse goal difference. That would happen if the first team won most of its games one-nil or two-one and lost one game but the second team won most of its games by several goals and drew a few games.

Everyone would be quite happy to see a team win the league on points even though another team scored twice as many goals or had a much larger goal difference. You could also explain it in terms of tennis, where you can win more points in a match but just win then in the wrong games for them to count so you can lose overall.

I think the comparison holds up. I just happen to disagree with the first past the post system for lots of other reasons.


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