There isn’t only one electoral contest taking place on May 7th, but rather 650 local elections. When a voter casts their ballot it is not pooled into one great national voting pot but instead is calculated as part of that constituency’s vote. With your vote, you are being asked to decide not only the person you wish to represent your constituency but also who you want to run the country.
So what happens when the person you want to represent your constituency doesn’t belong to the party that you want to run the country? On Polling Day, some voters will find themselves preferring a certain candidate while disagreeing with elements of their party’s platform. This problem essentially describes the incumbency effect in which some voters decide to vote for a local party candidate despite the national party’s failings. The incumbency effect is particularly strong among the Liberal Democrats who could find 5-15% of their voting share resulting from the incumbency effect.
Alternatively, some voters may find themselves in the situation of supporting a party whose local candidate has no chance of winning in their constituency. What happens when a Lib Dem voter lives in a constituency with a strong Tory hold? They passionately believe that Nick Clegg is the right leader for the country but if they vote Lib Dem it won’t make a difference. In that case the voter might engage in tactical voting.
In fact, it is estimated that anywhere between 3% and 9% of British voters cast their vote tactically translating in around 35 parliamentary seats. These voters are put in the unfortunate position of having to choose either to vote for what they believe or vote tactically to avoid their worst case political scenario. These are the scenarios in which the British Electoral system fails its voters.
Despite many short falls, this is where the American political system seems to have an advantage over the parliamentary system. American voters are given the opportunity to make decisions and cast separate votes on both the legislative and executive branches of government.
Americans can vote directly for a Representative from their Congressional district and two Senators from their state separate and distinct from the presidential elections every four years. Voters can decide they prefer one Democratic senator and one Republican senator, and they may decide they want a Democratic Congressman to represent their district but they prefer a Republican president.
Maine is a perfect example of a state with a mixture of the two different parties representing them in Washington D.C. In the 2012 election 56% of Maine voters did so for President Obama. However, they also elected one Republican Senator, an Independent Senator, one Democratic Congressman, a Republican Congressman and a Republican Governor.
The voter who much prefers the Republican candidate for the Senate but doesn’t believe the GOP presidential candidate will be a strong leader is not forced into tactical voting. In the 2012 Presidential election, 45% of Independents and 6% of Republicans cast their vote for President Obama; and 17% of political conservatives and 56% of political moderates cast their vote for President Obama. In the US, therefore, we see the voter voting for the candidate and not the party. In the UK, however, it’s too often the case where an engaged voter feels their vote is either wasted or not truly representing their views.