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first-past-the-post


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A name for the electoral system in which the person winning the most votes in a district or constituency is elected. It is used in Britain, Canada, India, the USA, and other countries associated with British colonialism. It is also known as the (single ballot, single member) simple plurality electoral system. Sometimes it is referred to as a majoritarian or as the simple majority system, which is misleading since a candidate only has to win a plurality (i.e. the most votes), not a majority. Indeed, it is often the case that constituencies are won without a majority. It is also true that parties can win a majority of the seats in the legislature under this system without even a plurality of votes. In the British general election of 1951 the Conservatives won a majority of seats whilst winning fewer votes than the Labour party, and in February 1974 the Labour Party won a plurality of seats without a plurality of votes. Since then all British governments have won parliamentary majorities without a majority of the votes. Whilst these outcomes are seen as unfair by some, the system has been defended by others who believe that majority governments are preferable to minority or coalition governments for reasons of efficacy and accountability.

The system is thought to penalize small parties both in the aggregation of votes into seats and by providing incentives to vote tactically. Thus Duverger described a tendency towards a two‐party system among countries using the first‐past‐the‐post system.

SF

Subjects: Politics.


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