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It is at least theoretically possible for a party to win a majority in parliament while an opposing party wins a majority of the popular vote. There are 650 seats in Commons, and an average of about 73,000 voters per constituency. So, in principle, party A could win 326 seats by 37,000 to 36,000, lose the remaining 324 seats with 0 votes to 73,000, and thus end up with 326 to 324 seats in Parliament while only winning 12,062,000 votes compared to the other party winning 35,388,000 seats. Obviously such an extreme scenario is wildly unlikely, but it means that it's POSSIBLE to win the most MPs while losing the popular vote. So ... has this ever happened? I couldn't find any statistics on it on line.

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  • There is not only the possibility of winning all of the needed seats by the minimum, the fact that not all the constituencies have the same number of voters come into play. For example, for s time we're the rotten boroughs with only a handful of voters
    – SJuan76
    Commented May 11 at 8:49
  • 6
    The term popular vote is misleading in this question. The general elections do not ask which party people like most, only which persons in their constituencies. It's not known how a party vote would turn out. Commented May 11 at 13:51
  • In general modelling the UK as a 2-party system is an oversimplification. It's common for the 3rd- (and even 4th-)placed candidates to get more than the difference between the top 2. It's also common for the centre/left parties to get considerably more votes between them than the tories, but the tory to get elected.
    – Chris H
    Commented May 12 at 11:10
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    @NoDataDumpNoContribution Oh, c'mon - almost everyone votes for a candidate based simply on their party - as they rationally should, given that most candidates don't say anything to distinguish themselves from any other generic party drone in their election materials. Three quarters of the population - most of whom vote - can't even name their local MP, so irrelevant and interchangeable are most of the individuals. If the system changed so that we officially voted for parties and not individual MPs, the results would surely be almost identical to the status quo.
    – Mark Amery
    Commented May 12 at 11:27
  • @ChrisH Yes, quite true, and I was simplifying by describing it as a contest between two parties. The existence of multiple parties could make the scenario I am describing easier: A party could win considerably less than a majority, but still get "their man" as PM by forming a coalition with other parties.
    – Jay
    Commented May 12 at 11:31

1 Answer 1

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In 1951, the Conservatives took 321 seats with 13,717,851 votes while Labour took just 295 seats with 13,948,385 votes. That is, Labour had more votes but the Conservatives won more seats.

It happened again in 1974, although this time it was Labour who won 301:297 in terms of seats but with fewer votes.

You can read more on the Electoral reform society website.

Speaking very technically, neither of these qualifies for your question, because you asked for majorities. In neither case did anyone have more than 50% of the vote. It's more accurate to say that the losing parties lost in spite of taking a plurality of the votes. Nevertheless, these are clearly examples of parties with a parliamentary majority in spite of losing the popular vote.

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  • Thanks, that's exactly the sort of case I was looking for. Yes, I said "majority" it my question but (as Chris H pointed out) that's an oversimplification. In a multi-party system like the UK you don't need an absolute majority to form a government.
    – Jay
    Commented May 12 at 11:34
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    A party winning >50% of votes but losing the election last happened in 1874, as far as I could tell. Any party winning >50% of the vote last happened in 1931.
    – Jan Kue
    Commented May 12 at 11:41
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    @JanKue Also worth mentioning that parliamentary majorities can be won on notably small shares of the overall vote. Blair won his 3rd election on 35.2% of the vote and Cameron won 2015 with just 36.8%. Wilson won his majority in the second 1974 election with 39.2%
    – matt_black
    Commented May 12 at 16:30
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    @JanKue I suspect once you get back to 1874, there are a significant number of MPs being returned unopposed because each big party didn't bother fielding candidates in constituencies it had no chance of winning, which makes the nationwide popular vote a bit meaningless. Commented May 12 at 23:10

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