View from the Street: 'Winner takes all' is not a winning system


View from the Street: 'Winner takes all' is not a winning system

Although it feels like longer, it has been just a week since the world woke up to a grinning President-elect Donald Trump making his victory speech.


So unexpected was Trump’s triumph that the New York Times was forced to pull a front page featuring the headline ‘Madam President’ at the last minute and two bookmakers had already paid out on a Clinton win.


The scale of the US electorate means that votes are still being counted and we are unlikely to have a final tally for several days yet. However, at last count, Clinton had 61,964,263 whilst Trump was on 60,961,967 – representing a Clinton lead of over a million votes.


Whilst ultimately meaningless due to the Electoral College – in broad terms a winner-takes-all system in first-past the-post ‘constituencies’, i.e. states – which handed Trump a 306-232 winning margin, the popular vote count does slightly undermine the ‘people’s revolution’ argument made by Trump supporters and media commentators.


It also calls into question the fairness of first-past-the-post systems; more people voted for Hillary to be president so why won’t she be the next occupant of the Oval Office?


Much of the rationale behind the Electoral College system is to ensure that the interests of big states do not hold undue sway. In a straight popular vote, campaigning would be carried out more or less exclusively in the large, densely populated states such as California or New York, leaving the needs of more rural and less populous states like Wyoming or Idaho largely ignored.


By no means do the smaller states have parity but it does ensure that their voices are at least heard.


However, FPTP has its flaws, namely that in some instances, such as the infamous 2000 Presidential Election and the 1974 UK General Election, the candidate or party that receives the most votes does not necessarily end up victorious.


It also results in the ballots of those who usually vote in contrast to the way their state does going to waste, which in turn can lead to voter apathy. According to the Electoral Reform Society, 52 per cent of votes cast at the 2010 General Election were ‘wasted’ i.e. they did not contribute to an MP being elected.


If you’ve got this far, you can probably sense where this is going so it’s only fair that I lay my cards on the table; I am a Liberal Democrat - a once commonplace but now fairly rare species – so come at this subject from a pro-reform angle.


Sure, part of this certainly stems from self-interest. Under a directly proportional structure, the Liberal Democrats’ measly 8 per cent share of the vote in 2015 would have yielded 52 seats as opposed to eight, whilst in 2010, Nick Clegg would have led a parliamentary party of 143.


But there is also a strong element of wanting to shake things up: the eradication of safe seats where the same MP can represent the same area for 20 or more years regardless of quality, mitigating feelings of disenfranchisement and apathy that result from wasted votes, and creating more choice.


Even if you don’t agree with the means I’m proposing, surely those are goals we can all get on board with?


Adam Shaw is a Senior Associate at Charlotte Street Partners. After graduating from the University of Aberdeen in 2013 with a degree in International Relations and Hispanic Studies, Adam moved to London and spent three years with a City-based public relations consultancy where he advised a range of clients in the financial services industry. He joined the team in September 2016.