By Dylan Difford. Dylan is a researcher specialising in elections and voting systems.

At the halfway point of this election campaign, we are now beginning to get a reasonable idea of what the result will likely look like. Pollsters have released their first MRP projections, which use large-sample polls to model constituency results based on demographics and past voting patterns, and they all predict clear Labour majorities, some pointing to the largest single-party majority since before the war. Obviously, these are just projections, not results, and there is a noticeable range between the predictions: More in Common’s Labour majority is just 114, while Survation’s is 324. Nonetheless, most experts expect the result will fall somewhere between the two, meaning, alarmingly for fans of fair votes, that this election is set to be the least representative general election in many respects in the UK’s democratic history.

Current state of play

Bar chart of the projected 2024 general election result, comparing vote share to seat share.

Taken together, the four early campaign MRPs predict a Labour landslide, with Keir Starmer’s party taking 451 seats to the Conservatives’ 115. Excluding the 1931 election, in which the Conservatives, Liberals and senior ex-Labour figures collectively won a massive 493-seat majority under the ‘National Government’ banner, it would be the most lopsided parliament since the introduction of mass suffrage in 1885. Bigger even than Tony Blair’s 1997 landslide – the largest in post-war election history – Labour’s projected majority would be achieved from a lower vote share, gaining 69% of the seats from just under 42% of the vote. A staggering overrepresentation.

Of course, one party taking more than their fair share of seats means others have to lose out. The Liberal Democrats, though expecting clear gains and likely to be more fairly represented than in recent elections, are still projected to win only 6% of seats from 11% of the vote. Meanwhile the Greens will be lucky to convert their 6% of the vote into even two seats. In Scotland, the SNP might be able to retain a slight overrepresentation, with the MRPs predicting they’ll take 40% of Scottish seats on a third of the Scottish vote, but this still comes at the exaggerated cost of half of their MPs losing their seats, despite the party only losing a quarter of its vote. 

It is the political right, however, who – if the MRPs are even remotely accurate – are going to be least fairly represented by this election result. The Conservatives and Reform UK may be set to win around 35% of the vote between them, but just 1 in 6 seats, not fairly split between the two. In terms of the two ‘sides’ of the political spectrum, this would be one of the most skewed democratic election results ever, with the voices of millions of right-of-centre Brits effectively absent from the national political conversation. On these numbers, Reform UK are unlikely to win any seats, despite winning 10% of the vote, though they have increased in the national opinion polls since and a constituency poll suggests Nigel Farage should win his seat of Clacton.

And remember, this is just an average of the projections. Some suggest an even larger Labour majority, with the Conservatives winning under 100 seats. There’s even a small but not insignificant chance of the Conservative vote distribution having become so inefficiently distributed – that’s receiving lots of votes but rarely enough to win individual constituency contests – that the Liberal Democrats, even if finishing fourth in vote terms, become the largest opposition party. Such a result would be a mockery of the British electorate, but is perfectly feasible due to First Past the Post.

Putting a number on it

It’d take a pretty ideological commitment to First Past the Post not to think such an election result was grossly unfair. For many, gut instinct alone can tell us that it’s just not right that our voting system can create a result that divorced from the reality of how the country actually voted. But to put such a result in historical and comparative perspective, we need to put a number on it.

There are three main measures of election disproportionality – the Loosemore-Hanby, Gallagher and Sainte-Laguë indexes. At present, each has a different answer to which is the least proportional UK general election result – 1918, 1931 and 2015 respectively. But the projected result of the 2024 election is so skewed that, no matter how you’re calculating it, all three measures say it will be the least proportional on record.

Line chart of general election disproportionality, 1885-present

Looking at the Gallagher Index – which is the measure generally favoured by academics – we can see that while most UK general elections are some degree of disproportional, by dint of First Past the Post, this election looks set to reach new levels of extreme distortion. Indeed, there is just a single post-war western legislative election that returns a worse score on this measure – the 1993 French National Assembly elections, where the majoritarian Two-Round vote gave the mainstream right 80% of seats from just 40% of the vote. For reference, the average result for most western European countries is a Gallagher score of less than 5.

Wasted votes

Bar chart of unrepresented votes in general elections, 1950-present

But aggregated representation of the parties is just one way of cutting how representative an election is. There’s also the question of ‘wasted votes’. Based on the MRP projections, just 46% of votes cast will elect a winning MP – the lowest proportion ever in a general election. This means that the majority of voters will have a representative whom they had no hand in electing, with this fate not falling evenly. While 80% of Labour voters are likely to elect a Labour MP, just 27% of Conservatives are set to have a voice of their choice in Parliament, with virtually all Green and Reform voters lacking a representative from their favoured party. The 80% figure for Labour voters might look good, but that is still below what would be expected of all voters under a proportional system. In Scotland, for instance, just 37% of voters are set to have an MP they backed after these Westminster elections, compared to the 87% that have at least one MSP of their choosing, thanks to the proportional Additional Member System used for elections to the Scottish Parliament.

73% of votes are similarly projected to have no material impact on the election result. In other words, almost three quarters of all votes cast will be for losing candidates or surplus votes for winners that, if they had not been cast, would make no difference to the number of seats won by the parties. This staggering figure is only pipped to the record worst score for this measure by the 2015 election’s 74%, a historic peak for ‘non-decisive’ or wasted votes and the impetus for the founding of Make Votes Matter.

Bar chart of non-decisive votes in general elections, 1950-present

Whether parties are proportionally representative of their voters matters too. With the projections suggesting the Conservatives will be wiped out in large parts of the country, there is real potential for such distortions to hit the Tories hard. For instance, even though a third of Conservative voters live in urban or suburban ‘Borough’ constituencies, just 7% of their projected MPs represent such seats. Similarly, while one-fifth of Conservatives live in the North of England and 22% of northerners favour them, they might win only seven of the 154 northern constituencies. This means that what’s left of the Conservatives after the election will likely not be representative of who votes for them, with the potential for this to warp the conversation around the direction of the party going forwards.

When we go to the polls, we deserve to have a vote that will impact results and expect that Parliament will at least broadly reflect how the country just voted. On 4th July, this will almost certainly not be the case. A party will likely win a gargantuan majority on a clear minority of the vote, while the choices of millions of Brits struggle for any representation at all. Nearly three-quarters of votes will have no bearing on the result, while an unpopular government is set to be punished far beyond what is proportional relative to their public support. It is a level of unrepresentativeness that can no longer be tolerated. We already knew our voting system was failing. This time it is set to fail more categorically than ever before.

Photo credit: Deniz Fuchidzhiev