I was having trouble finding this question here, though I'm pretty it must have been answered.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of a winner-take-all system for deciding electors for a state?

The reason I imagine is that it would be easier for a team of likeminded people to make progress, rather than nothing ever getting done. Was that indeed the original intent, and if so, has that proven true in practice? (If not, what was the intent?) When and why did Maine and Nebraska opt not to follow this system?

  • @yeah22 - Hm, I'd never heard of the term "First Past the Post." Does that not mean timewise? If so, that doesn't really mean winner-takes-all. If not, that's a confusing name. – Andrew Cheong Nov 5 '20 at 6:54
  • @yeah22 - I'm also confused by the first term of the accepted answer. "Simple plurality voting." It sounds like it means, "Simple. Winner is winner, 1 elector per win." But I think they actually mean FPTP. Given I'm confused about several things already, I'm going to say... no, it doesn't answer my question well. I was also looking for advantages, because there must be a reason it was proposed this way, no? – Andrew Cheong Nov 5 '20 at 6:58
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    This is about UK, but addresses advantages: politics.stackexchange.com/questions/8222/… – Hulk Nov 5 '20 at 7:35
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    Are you talking about the fact that all but two states allocate all of their electoral college votes to whoever gets the most votes in that state? If so, this is not a duplicate, and the current answer doesn't answer that question. You might want to edit this question; or failing that, create a new one, which makes that (even more) explicit - and makes clear that you're not talking about first-past-the-post, which is not quite the same thing. – Steve Melnikoff Nov 5 '20 at 9:29
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    The electoral college is (in most states) "winner-take-all" and (in all states) "first-past-the-post". In the context of the US electoral college they are not the same thing: "winner-takes-all" means the winner of a state gets all the electoral votes; "first-past-the-post" means the winner is decided by having a plurality of votes in the state (or district, in the case of Nebraska or Maine). I agree with @SteveMelnikoff that this definitely not a duplicate of the linked question. – PGnome Nov 5 '20 at 19:16

The first and most obvious problem is minority rule. If there are five different candidates and the results turn out like this: (A - 20%; B - 17%; C - 23%, D - 21%, E - 19%), then C would turn out to be the winner. This seems fair at first, until you notice that 77% of the voters didn't vote for candidate C, but wanted somebody else to represent them.

The second problem is the eventual devolving of a winner-takes-all system into two-party rule. Over time, voters lose faith in smaller candidates, not wanting their vote to be "wasted" on a party unlikely to win the majority. This ultimately ends up with two parties controlling politics.

The third problem stems from an attempt to reverse the effects of the second: vote splitting. If a third candidate joins the race, thinking that they may be able to offer a new alternative, they may draw votes from a major candidate with a similar ideology. This is the effects of vote splitting, and it is usually in the opposite candidate's favor. For example, if the first candidate A gets 40% in the final vote, but both second candidate B and our new third candidate C, similar in ideology, each get 30% of the vote, candidate A will win under winner-takes-all, even though 60% of the voters did not want A.

These problems are the main reasons why many consider the winner-takes-all voting system to be flawed. If you are looking for alternatives, perhaps consider instant-runoff voting, or the single transferable vote.

  • Thanks. With so many disadvantages, why would anyone pick this system to begin with? What was the original intent? (Also, so far this answers my questions more clearly than the other answer you suggested.) – Andrew Cheong Nov 5 '20 at 7:00
  • @AndrewCheong See politics.stackexchange.com/questions/8222/… - it is about the UK, but the same principles apply. It provides locality, and it automically eliminates some extreme minority views (as you need be at least the largest minority to win). – Hulk Nov 5 '20 at 7:40
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    @AndrewCheong Probably because it seems the most intuitive at first, until you start to think about its consequences. – yeah22 Nov 5 '20 at 14:48

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