Survey claims millions of voters ignored at general election

A new survey from the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) has revealed that almost half of voters’ voices go unheard, with calls growing for a move from the current first-past-the-post electoral system towards one that distributes seats in the House of Commons proportional to the total amount of votes cast.

Voting in a ballot box
Voting in a ballot box
Green World

Just under half of all voters cast a vote for a non-elected candidate at the 2019 general election, according to the Electoral Reform Society (ERS).

In a survey conducted by the organisation that campaigns to change the existing electoral system from first-past-the-post (FPTP) to proportional representation, it was found that some 14.5 million people’s votes went unheard.

The survey, entitled Voters Left Voiceless and which used data from polling company YouGov, states that, while not all votes should secure representation, the current FPTP ‘forces voters into tactical choices’ rather than voting for their preferred party – 32 per cent of voters voted tactically in 2019.

The number of votes needed to elect an MP for each party differ substantially – it took 38,264 votes to elect a Conservative MP, compared to 50,835 for a Labour MP and a huge 865,697 votes to elect a single Green MP.

In a stinging rebuke of the current UK voting system, the report states: ‘When the vast majority of votes go ignored, something is seriously wrong with our political system. The 2019 general election showed, once again, that Westminster’s voting system is short-changing both voters and parties. 

‘Huge numbers of votes thrown on the electoral scrapheap and significant disproportionality in the results – for all parties – should sound alarm bells. This one-party-takes-all approach is skewing the electoral map and leaving voters locked out of their one chance to have a say in the running of their country.’

The ERS survey takes particular aim at the number of safe seats under the current voting system – just 79 seats, or 12 per cent of all UK parliamentary seats, changed hands at the 2019 election – arguing that safe seats lead to voters being taken for granted and lock parties with substantial vote shares out of representation.

The report adds: ‘Changes in votes are not being represented by changes in the House of Commons, with two artificially inflated blocs propped up by safe seats and many voters locked out of having a meaningful influence on our politics.’  

The ERS calls for a move to proportional representation and models how the results of the general election would have looked using three different proportional electoral systems: Party List Proportional Representation (List PR), the Additional Member System (AMS) and the Single Transferable Vote (STV).

The Green Party performs notably better under each system, gaining a far more representative number of seats for its vote share, winning 12 seats under List PR, 38 seats under AMS, though only two under STV.

Speaking to the Independent, Dr Jess Garland, Director of Research and Policy at the ERS, said: “It is no wonder trust in politics is at rock bottom; the vast majority of people’s votes are being systematically ignored by a voting system that is morally and politically bankrupt. 

“Westminster cannot go on like this — all parties must get behind reform of this broken system at long last. It’s time Westminster caught up with the rest of the UK and ensures seats in Parliament reflect how people actually want to vote. 

“No more ‘holding your nose’ tactical votes, ignored votes and warped results. This research exposes the scale of disenfranchisement that is happening under one-party-takes-all voting. It’s time for proportional representation and real democracy at Westminster.”

Amelia Womack, Deputy Leader of the Green Party, added: “The voting system in this country is fundamentally broken. It ignores and marginalises the voices of millions and keeps crucial issues off the political agenda.

“FPTP encourages people to just vote for the lesser evil, rather than what they actually believe in. This means millions of people never get the politics that represents them.

“It is morally wrong that at the last general election it took the Greens more than 800,000 votes to win a seat, while the Conservatives needed just 38,300.

“Electoral reform is vital if we are to restore the public’s trust in politics and make sure people are able to vote on the issues which really matter to them.”