[EM] Re: British Election and Duverger's Law

James Gilmour jgilmour at globalnet.co.uk
Sun May 8 15:03:21 PDT 2005

Bart Ingles Sent: Sunday, May 08, 2005 5:55 PM
> I wonder how many districts actually have Liberal Democrats as one of 
> the top two parties?

Analysis in one of today's Sunday newspapers gives provides some relevant data.  The Liberal Democrats were second in
187 of the 626 districts (single-member constituencies) in Great Britain.  (There are also 18 single-member districts in
Northern Ireland, but the NI seats are contested by quite different parties from those in the rest of the UK.)

The Liberal Democrats' share of the votes was remarkably consistent across Great Britain.  Figures are immediately
available for the electoral "regions" we use to elect our Members of the European Parliament (MEPs).  Scotland and Wales
are counted as "regions" along with the nine electoral regions in England.

The Liberal Democrat share of the votes in Great Britain averaged 23%.  In Wales it was 18.4%, in Scotland 22.6% and in
the regions of England from north to south: 19.5%, 21.3%, 20.7%, 18.4%, 18.6%, 21.8%, 21.9%, 25.4% and 22.8%.

The vote shares for the two largest parties were much more variable by region.  For example, in the North-east, Labour
got 52.9% and Conservatives got 23.3%, but in the South-east, Labour got 24.4% and Conservatives got 45.0%.

This was a classical election to show all the defects of FPTP in single-member districts.  The Labour Party won 355
seats, a majority over all other parties of 66 seats, with just 36% of the votes.  The Conservatives got 33% of the
votes but won only 197 seats.  The Liberal Democrats won only 62 seats for their 23% share of the votes.  And although I
haven't seen the full data yet, I suspect that more than half of the votes were wasted votes.  In UK FPTP elections the
proportion of wasted votes is always around 50%, sometimes a little more, sometimes a little less.  The only good thing
to come out of this is that it might, just might, hasten the day of reform.

With regard to Duverger's "Law",  I have always thought "Duverger's hypothesis" might have been a more appropriate and
more accurate description.

James Gilmour

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