Electoral reform has long been a topic of debate in the UK, even prompting a nationwide referendum in 2011. The referendum saw the UK’s ‘First Past the Post’ voting system upheld as the UK public rejected a change to an ‘Alternative Vote’ system. Under the current First Past the Post system, the candidate with the highest number of votes in a given constituency wins a seat in Parliament. Some criticize the winner-takes-all feature of this system and instead advocate for a system of Proportional Representation, whereby parties are assigned a number of seats in Parliament based on the total percentage of votes reached across the UK. Under this system, election results could look extremely different.
We at Redfield & Wilton Strategies recently polled Britons about their opinions on electoral reform, and found a plurality (42%) of respondents said they would support the UK switching to a Proportional Representation voting system.
A significant 31% of respondents said they would neither support nor oppose switching to Proportional Representation, suggesting that almost a third of the public lacks a strong opinion on the topic. Meanwhile, only 15% said they would oppose switching to this voting system.
Support for abandoning the First Past the Post system in favour of Proportional Representation is particularly heightened for 18-to-24-year-olds, half (51%) of whom said they would support such a reform. For the other age groups, support ranges between 39% to 43%. Conversely, opposition is highest among those aged 65 and over, 22% of whom indicated they would oppose changing to Proportional Representation.
Respondents who voted Conservative (39%) in the 2019 General Election are less likely to support the UK switching to Proportional Representation than those who voted Labour (49%). Indeed, the Conservatives would have won 77 fewer seats in the 2019 Election under a Proportional Representation voting system. The biggest benefactors of Proportional Representation are typically smaller parties, which are often unable to claim the plurality of votes within a constituency needed to win a seat under First Past the Post. Still, a plurality of Conservative voters support switching to Proportional Representation.
While there is considerable support for switching to a system of Proportional Representation, Britons are split on whether this would impact the way they vote: 26% of respondents said they would be likely to change the way they vote under a Proportional Representation system, 29% said they would be unlikely to change the way they vote, and 32% said they would be neither likely nor unlikely to change the way they vote.
Those who support switching to Proportional Representation are indeed more likely to say they would be likely to change their vote under such a system: 50% of respondents who said they would strongly support switching to a Proportional Representation system also said they would be likely change the way they vote under that system.
The age group that is most supportive of switching to Proportional Representation, 18-to-24-year-olds, likewise said they would be likely to change the way they vote (35%) in a greater proportion than all other age groups. By contrast, the plurality of respondents aged 55 to 64 (37%) and 65 and over (39%) said they would be unlikely to change how they vote.
Further, a larger proportion of 2019 Labour voters (31%) than Conservative voters (22%) said they would change the way they vote if elections were held under a Proportional Representation system. In fact, 38% of Conservative voters said they would be unlikely to change the way they vote.
The proposal to scrap the UK’s First Past the Post voting system and replace it with Proportional Representation has considerable support among the British public, especially its younger members. Nevertheless, while opposition to the idea is low, much of Britain appears to lack a strong opinion on the matter, possibly indicating a preference to maintain the status quo.