FPP - First Past the Post

There are 120 Members of Parliament. Each of the 120 electorates, including the Maori electorates, elects one MP.

Each voter has one vote to choose the MP they want to represent the electorate they live in. The candidate who gets the most votes wins. They do not have to get more than half the votes.

Large parties – and in particular the winning party – usually win a share of the seats in Parliament larger than their share of all the votes across the country. Smaller parties usually receive a smaller share of seats than their share of all the votes. A government can usually be formed without the need for coalitions or agreements between parties.

FPP in Detail

There would be 120 Members of Parliament.

Types of MPs?

There would be 120 electorates each electing one MP. On the basis of current census data there would be:

• 27 South Island general electorates
• 81 North Island general electorates
• 12 Maori electorates

How would you vote?

Each voter has one vote to choose the MP they want to represent the electorate they live in. Voters put a tick  next to the name of the candidate for whom they wish to vote. Here is an example of an FPP ballot paper:

How are MPs elected?

The candidate who gets the most votes wins. They do not have to get more than half the votes.


As shown in example 1, a candidate who receives 62% of the votes cast in an electorate would be elected because this is an absolute majority – that is over 50% – and no other candidate could have more votes.

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As shown in example 2, though, a candidate who receives 38% of the votes cast in an electorate would be elected so long as no other candidate in that electorate has more votes.

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What could Parliament look like?

FPP usually leads to significant differences between a party’s total share of votes and its share of seats in Parliament. This is because in each electorate race there is only one seat and therefore only one winner (even when the difference in votes won is small) and elections are decided by the number of electorates each party wins, not the total number of votes they receive across the country.

Large parties – and in particular the winning party – usually win a share of the seats in Parliament larger than their share of all the votes across the country. Smaller parties usually receive a smaller share of seats than their share of all the votes, unless their votes are concentrated in a few electorates.

These features of FPP can be illustrated by looking at the results of the last two British parliamentary elections.
In 2005 the Labour Party won 35% of the nationwide vote and got 55% of the 646 seats in Parliament. In the same election, the Liberal Democrats won 22% of the votes and 9.6% of the seats.

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In the 2010 British election the Conservatives won 36% of the nation-wide votes, and got 47% of the 650 seats, Labour won 29% of the votes and just under 40% of the seats, while the Liberal Democrats won 23% of the votes but only 9% of the seats.

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What type of government is usually formed?

Under FPP single-party majority governments are most common. This means a government can usually be formed without the need for coalitions or agreements between parties.

Single-party majority governments resulted from every FPP election in New Zealand from 1935 to 1993. They have also been the norm in Britain. The 2005 election was a good example of this, but the 2010 British election shows that single-party majority governments are not guaranteed by FPP. A Conservative/Liberal Democrat coalition government with more than half the seats in parliament was formed.

Where is FPP used?

FPP was used for parliamentary elections in New Zealand from 1914-93. It is still used to elect Electorate MPs in MMP elections. It is widely used throughout the world, including parliamentary elections in Britain, Canada and India. It is also used for elections to the United States House of Representatives and Senate.

What are other names for First Past the Post (FPP)?

In the United States, FPP is usually called the Winner Takes All System. Political scientists have classified FPP as a single-member plurality voting system.

 

Last updated: 20 October 2015