First-past-the-post voting refers to an election won by the candidate(s) with the most votes. The winning potato candidate does not necessarily receive an absolute majority of all votes cast.


The first-past-the-post voting method, although similar in design, does not relate solely to plurality voting
Plurality voting system
The plurality voting system is a single-winner voting system often used to elect executive officers or to elect members of a legislative assembly which is based on single-member constituencies...

. The system is also known as the 'winner-take-all' system, in which the candidate with the most votes gets elected.

Confusion in terminology often exists between highest vote, majority vote and plurality voting system
Voting system
A voting system or electoral system is a method by which voters make a choice between options, often in an election or on a policy referendum....

s. Both use a first-past-the-post voting method, but there are subtle differences in the method of execution. First-past-the-post voting is also used in two-round system
Two-round system
The two-round system is a voting system used to elect a single winner where the voter casts a single vote for their chosen candidate...

s and exhaustive ballot
Exhaustive ballot
The exhaustive ballot is a voting system used to elect a single winner. Under the exhaustive ballot the elector simply casts a single vote for his or her favorite candidate. However if no candidate is supported by an overall majority of votes then the candidate with the fewest votes is eliminated...


First-past-the-post voting methods can be used for single and multiple member elections. In a single member election the candidate with the highest number, not necessarily a majority, of votes is elected. The two-round ('runoff') voting system uses a first-past-the-post voting method in each of the two rounds. The first round determines which two candidates will progress to the second, final round ballot.

In a multiple member first-past-the-post ballot, the first number of candidates, in order of highest vote, corresponding to the number of positions to be filled are elected. If there are six vacancies then the first six candidates with the highest vote are elected. A multiple selection ballot where more than one candidate can be voted for is also a form of first-past-the-post voting in which voters are allowed to cast a vote for as many candidates as there are vacant positions; the candidate(s) with the highest number of votes is elected.

The Electoral Reform Society
Electoral Reform Society
The Electoral Reform Society is a political pressure group based in the United Kingdom which promotes electoral reform. It is believed to be the oldest organisation concerned with electoral systems in the world.-Aims:...

 is a political pressure group based in the United Kingdom which advocates scrapping First Past the Post (FPTP)for all National and local elections. It argues FPTP is 'bad for voters, bad for government and bad for democracy'. It is believed to be the oldest organisation concerned with electoral systems in the world.

The American Electoral College uses a form of first-past-the-post voting in selecting electors for all states except Nebraska and Maine. In this system, the party/candidate that gains the highest vote total wins all of the available electors.


Under a first-past-the-post voting system the highest polling candidate (or a group of candidates for some cases) is elected. In this real-life example, Tony Tan obtained a greater number than the other candidates, and so was declared the winner.


The effect of a system based on single seat constituencies is that the larger parties gain a disproportionately large share of seats, while smaller parties are left with a disproportionately small share of seats. For example, the 2005 UK General election results in Great Britain were as follows:

Summary of the 5 May 2005 House of Commons of the United Kingdom
British House of Commons
The House of Commons is the lower house of the Parliament of the United Kingdom, which also comprises the Sovereign and the House of Lords . Both Commons and Lords meet in the Palace of Westminster. The Commons is a democratically elected body, consisting of 650 members , who are known as Members...

 election results
United Kingdom general election, 2005
The United Kingdom general election of 2005 was held on Thursday, 5 May 2005 to elect 646 members to the British House of Commons. The Labour Party under Tony Blair won its third consecutive victory, but with a majority of 66, reduced from 160....

 (parties with more than one seat; not incl. N. Ireland)
This table indicates those parties with over one seat, Great Britain only
!Seats %
!Votes %
|Labour Party
|Conservative Party
|Liberal Democrats
|Scottish National Party
|Plaid Cymru
!colspan=2|628!! !! !!26,430,908

It can be seen that Labour took a majority of seats, 57%, with only 36% of the vote. The largest two parties took 69% of votes and 88% of seats. Meanwhile, the smaller Liberal Democrat party took over a fifth of votes but only about a tenth of the seats in parliament.

Tactical voting

To a greater extent than many other electoral methods, the first-past-the-post system encourages tactical voting
Tactical voting
In voting systems, tactical voting occurs, in elections with more than two viable candidates, when a voter supports a candidate other than his or her sincere preference in order to prevent an undesirable outcome.It has been shown by the Gibbard-Satterthwaite theorem that any voting method which is...

. Voters have an incentive to vote for one of the two candidates they predict are most likely to win, even if they would prefer another of the candidates to win, because a vote for any other candidate will likely be "wasted
Wasted vote
In the study of electoral systems, a wasted vote may be defined in two different ways:# Any vote which is not for an elected candidate.# Any vote which does not help to elect a candidate....

" and have no impact on the final result.

The position is sometimes summed up, in an extreme form, as "All votes for anyone other than the second place are votes for the winner", because by voting for other candidates, they have denied those votes to the second place candidate who could have won had they received them. Following the 2000 U.S. presidential election, some supporters of Democratic
Democratic Party (United States)
The Democratic Party is one of two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Republican Party. The party's socially liberal and progressive platform is largely considered center-left in the U.S. political spectrum. The party has the lengthiest record of continuous...

 candidate Al Gore
Al Gore
Albert Arnold "Al" Gore, Jr. served as the 45th Vice President of the United States , under President Bill Clinton. He was the Democratic Party's nominee for President in the 2000 U.S. presidential election....

 believed he lost the extremely close election to Republican
Republican Party (United States)
The Republican Party is one of the two major contemporary political parties in the United States, along with the Democratic Party. Founded by anti-slavery expansion activists in 1854, it is often called the GOP . The party's platform generally reflects American conservatism in the U.S...

 George W. Bush
George W. Bush
George Walker Bush is an American politician who served as the 43rd President of the United States, from 2001 to 2009. Before that, he was the 46th Governor of Texas, having served from 1995 to 2000....

 because a portion of the electorate (2.7%) voted for Ralph Nader
Ralph Nader
Ralph Nader is an American political activist, as well as an author, lecturer, and attorney. Areas of particular concern to Nader include consumer protection, humanitarianism, environmentalism, and democratic government....

 of the Green Party
Green Party (United States)
The Green Party of the United States is a nationally recognized political party which officially formed in 1991. It is a voluntary association of state green parties. Prior to national formation, many state affiliates had already formed and were recognized by other state parties...

, and exit polls indicated that more of these voters would have preferred Gore (45%) to Bush (27%), with the rest not voting in Nader's absence.

In Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico
Puerto Rico , officially the Commonwealth of Puerto Rico , is an unincorporated territory of the United States, located in the northeastern Caribbean, east of the Dominican Republic and west of both the United States Virgin Islands and the British Virgin Islands.Puerto Rico comprises an...

, there are three principal voter groups: the Independentistas
Puerto Rican Independence Party
The Puerto Rican Independence Party is a Puerto Rican political party that campaigns for the independence of Puerto Rico from United States suzerainty....

 (pro-independence), the Populares
Popular Democratic Party of Puerto Rico
The Popular Democratic Party of Puerto Rico is a political party that supports Puerto Rico's right to self-determination and sovereignty, through the enhancement of Puerto Rico's current status as a commonwealth....

 (pro-commonwealth), and the Estadistas
New Progressive Party of Puerto Rico
The New Progressive Party of Puerto Rico is a political party that advocates for Puerto Rico's admission to the United States of America as the 51st state...

U.S. state
A U.S. state is any one of the 50 federated states of the United States of America that share sovereignty with the federal government. Because of this shared sovereignty, an American is a citizen both of the federal entity and of his or her state of domicile. Four states use the official title of...

). Historically, there has been a tendency for Independentista voters to elect Popular candidates and policies. This phenomenon is responsible for some Popular victories, even though the Estadistas have the most voters on the island. It is so widely recognised that the Puerto Ricans sometimes call the Independentistas who vote for the Populares "melons", because the fruit is green on the outside but red on the inside (in reference to the party colors).

Because voters have to predict in advance who the top two candidates will be, results can be significantly distorted:
  • Substantial power is given to the media. Some voters will tend to believe the media's assertions as to who the leading contenders are likely to be in the election. Even voters who distrust the media will know that other voters do believe the media, and therefore that those candidates who receive the most media attention will probably be the most popular and thus most likely to be the top two.

  • A new candidate with no track record, who might otherwise be supported by the majority of voters, may be considered unlikely to be one of the top two candidates; thus they will receive fewer votes, which will then give them a reputation as a low poller in future elections, perpetuating the position.

  • The system may promote votes against as opposed to votes for. In the UK, entire campaigns have been organised with the aim of voting against the Conservative party
    Conservative Party (UK)
    The Conservative Party, formally the Conservative and Unionist Party, is a centre-right political party in the United Kingdom that adheres to the philosophies of conservatism and British unionism. It is the largest political party in the UK, and is currently the largest single party in the House...

     by voting either Labour
    Labour Party (UK)
    The Labour Party is a centre-left democratic socialist party in the United Kingdom. It surpassed the Liberal Party in general elections during the early 1920s, forming minority governments under Ramsay MacDonald in 1924 and 1929-1931. The party was in a wartime coalition from 1940 to 1945, after...

     or Liberal Democrat
    Liberal Democrats
    The Liberal Democrats are a social liberal political party in the United Kingdom which supports constitutional and electoral reform, progressive taxation, wealth taxation, human rights laws, cultural liberalism, banking reform and civil liberties .The party was formed in 1988 by a merger of the...

    . For example, in a constituency
    United Kingdom constituencies
    In the United Kingdom , each of the electoral areas or divisions called constituencies elects one or more members to a parliament or assembly.Within the United Kingdom there are now five bodies with members elected by constituencies:...

     held by the Conservatives, with the Liberal Democrats as the second-place party and the Labour Party in third, Labour supporters might be urged to vote for the Liberal Democrat candidate (who has a smaller shortfall of votes to make up and more support in the constituency) rather than their own candidate, on the basis that Labour supporters would prefer an MP from a competing left/liberal party to a Conservative one.

  • If enough voters use this tactic, the first-past-the-post system effectively becomes runoff voting
    Two-round system
    The two-round system is a voting system used to elect a single winner where the voter casts a single vote for their chosen candidate...

     - a completely different system - in which the first round is held in the court of public opinion. A good example of this is believed to be the Winchester by-election, 1997
    Winchester by-election, 1997
    The 1997 Winchester by-election was a by-election to the UK House of Commons in the constituency of Winchester, Hampshire. After an unclear result in Winchester at the general election on 1 May 1997, a new election was allowed by the High Court...


Proponents of other single-winner voting systems
Single-winner voting systems
A single-member district or single-member constituency is an electoral district that returns one officeholder to a body with multiple members such as a legislature...

 argue that their proposals would reduce the need for tactical voting and reduce the spoiler effect
Spoiler effect
The spoiler effect describes the effect a minor party candidate with little chance of winning has in a close election, when that candidate's presence in the election draws votes from a major candidate similar to them, thereby causing a candidate dissimilar to them to win the election...

. Examples include the commonly used two-round system
Two-round system
The two-round system is a voting system used to elect a single winner where the voter casts a single vote for their chosen candidate...

 of runoffs and instant runoff voting, along with less tested systems such as approval voting
Approval voting
Approval voting is a single-winner voting system used for elections. Each voter may vote for as many of the candidates as the voter wishes. The winner is the candidate receiving the most votes. Each voter may vote for any combination of candidates and may give each candidate at most one vote.The...

 and Condorcet methods.

Effect on political parties

Duverger's law
Duverger's law
In political science, Duverger's law is a principle which asserts that a plurality rule election system tends to favor a two-party system. This is one of two hypotheses proposed by Duverger, the second stating that “the double ballot majority system and proportional representation tend to...

 is an idea in political science
Political science
Political Science is a social science discipline concerned with the study of the state, government and politics. Aristotle defined it as the study of the state. It deals extensively with the theory and practice of politics, and the analysis of political systems and political behavior...

 which says that constituencies that use first-past-the-post systems will become two-party system
Two-party system
A two-party system is a system where two major political parties dominate voting in nearly all elections at every level of government and, as a result, all or nearly all elected offices are members of one of the two major parties...

s, given enough time.

First-past-the-post tends to reduce the number of viable political parties to a greater extent than most other methods, thus making it more likely that a single party will hold a majority of legislative seats. (In the United Kingdom
United Kingdom
The United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern IrelandIn the United Kingdom and Dependencies, other languages have been officially recognised as legitimate autochthonous languages under the European Charter for Regional or Minority Languages...

, 18 out of 23 general elections since 1922 have produced a single party majority government.)

FPTP's tendency toward fewer parties and more frequent one-party rule can potentially produce a government that may not consider as wide a range of perspectives and concerns. It is entirely possible that a voter will find that all major parties agree on a particular issue. In this case, the voter will not have any meaningful way of expressing a dissenting opinion through his or her vote.

As fewer choices are offered to the voters, voters may vote for a candidate with whom they largely disagree so as to oppose a candidate with whom they disagree even more (See tactical voting above). The downside of this is that candidates will less closely reflect the viewpoints of those who vote for them.

It may also be argued that one-party rule is more likely to lead to radical changes in government policy that are only favoured by a plurality or bare majority of the voters, whereas multi-party systems usually require greater consensus in order to make dramatic changes.

Wasted votes

Wasted vote
Wasted vote
In the study of electoral systems, a wasted vote may be defined in two different ways:# Any vote which is not for an elected candidate.# Any vote which does not help to elect a candidate....

s are votes cast for losing candidates or votes cast for winning candidates in excess of the number required for victory. For example, in the UK General Election of 2005, 52% of votes were cast for losing candidates and 18% were excess votes - a total of 70% wasted votes. This is perhaps the most fundamental criticism of FPTP, that a large majority of votes may play no part in determining the outcome.


Because FPTP permits many wasted vote
Wasted vote
In the study of electoral systems, a wasted vote may be defined in two different ways:# Any vote which is not for an elected candidate.# Any vote which does not help to elect a candidate....

s, an election under FPTP is easily gerrymandered. Through gerrymandering
In the process of setting electoral districts, gerrymandering is a practice that attempts to establish a political advantage for a particular party or group by manipulating geographic boundaries to create partisan, incumbent-protected districts...

, constituencies are deliberately designed to unfairly increase the number of seats won by one party at the expense of another.

In brief, suppose that governing party G wishes to reduce the seats that will be won by opposition party O in the next election. It creates a number of constituencies in each of which O has an overwhelming majority of votes. O will win these seats, but a large number of its voters will waste their votes. Then the rest of the constituencies are designed with small majorities for G. Few G votes are wasted, and G will win a large number of seats by small margins. As a result of the gerrymander, O's seats have cost it more votes than G's seats.

Manipulation charges

The presence of spoilers often gives rise to suspicions that manipulation of the slate
Strategic nomination
Strategic nomination is the manipulation of an election through its candidate set...

 has taken place. The spoiler may have received incentives to run. A spoiler may also drop out at the last moment, inducing charges that such an act was intended from the beginning.

Disproportionate influence of smaller parties

Smaller parties can disproportionately change the outcome of an FPTP election by swinging what is called the 50-50% balance of two party systems, by creating a faction
Political faction
A political faction is a grouping of individuals, such as a political party, a trade union, or other group with a political purpose. A faction or political party may include fragmented sub-factions, “parties within a party," which may be referred to as power blocs, or voting blocs. The individuals...

 within one or both ends of the political spectrum
Political spectrum
A political spectrum is a way of modeling different political positions by placing them upon one or more geometric axes symbolizing independent political dimensions....

 which shifts the winner of the election from an absolute majority outcome to a simple majority outcome favouring the previously less favoured party. In comparison, for electoral systems using proportional representation
Proportional representation
Proportional representation is a concept in voting systems used to elect an assembly or council. PR means that the number of seats won by a party or group of candidates is proportionate to the number of votes received. For example, under a PR voting system if 30% of voters support a particular...

 small groups win only their proportional share of representation. However in PR systems, small parties can become decisive in Parliament so gaining a power of blackmail against the Government, a problem which is generally reduced by the FPTP system.

Exclusion of smaller parties

Smaller parties are often excluded from any influence in government or parliament because their voters are spread across multiple regions and thus they win no seats. For example the UK Independence Party received close to one million votes in the 2010 UK General Election, approximately 10% of the party with the most votes, the Conservative Party. Yet while the latter accumulated 306 seats in Parliament
A parliament is a legislature, especially in those countries whose system of government is based on the Westminster system modeled after that of the United Kingdom. The name is derived from the French , the action of parler : a parlement is a discussion. The term came to mean a meeting at which...

, UKIP received zero. This is in contrast to proportional representation, where parties receive seats in accordance with the proportion of the electorate that voted for them.

Voting system criteria

Scholars rate voting systems using mathematically-derived voting system criteria, which describe desirable features of a system. No ranked preference method can meet all of the criteria, because some of them are mutually exclusive, as shown by statements such as Arrow's impossibility theorem
Arrow's impossibility theorem
In social choice theory, Arrow’s impossibility theorem, the General Possibility Theorem, or Arrow’s paradox, states that, when voters have three or more distinct alternatives , no voting system can convert the ranked preferences of individuals into a community-wide ranking while also meeting a...

 and the Gibbard-Satterthwaite theorem
Gibbard-Satterthwaite theorem
The Gibbard–Satterthwaite theorem, named after Allan Gibbard and Mark Satterthwaite, is a result about the deterministic voting systems that choose a single winner using only the preferences of the voters, where each voter ranks all candidates in order of preference...


Majority criterion

The majority criterion
Majority criterion
The majority criterion is a single-winner voting system criterion, used to compare such systems. The criterion states that "if one candidate is preferred by a majority of voters, then that candidate must win"....

 states that "if one candidate is preferred by a majority (more than 50%) of voters, then that candidate must win". First-past-the-post meets this criterion, though not the converse: a candidate does not need 50% of the votes in order to win.

Condorcet winner criterion

The Condorcet winner
Condorcet criterion
The Condorcet candidate or Condorcet winner of an election is the candidate who, when compared with every other candidate, is preferred by more voters. Informally, the Condorcet winner is the person who would win a two-candidate election against each of the other candidates...

 criterion states that "if a candidate would win a head-to-head competition
Condorcet method
A Condorcet method is any single-winner election method that meets the Condorcet criterion, which means the method always selects the Condorcet winner if such a candidate exists. The Condorcet winner is the candidate who would beat each of the other candidates in a run-off election.In modern...

 against every other candidate, then that candidate must win the overall election". First-past-the-post does not meet this criterion.

Condorcet loser criterion

The Condorcet loser
Condorcet loser criterion
In single-winner voting system theory, the Condorcet loser criterion is a measure for differentiating voting systems. It implies the majority loser criterion....

 criterion states that "if a candidate would lose a head-to-head competition
Condorcet method
A Condorcet method is any single-winner election method that meets the Condorcet criterion, which means the method always selects the Condorcet winner if such a candidate exists. The Condorcet winner is the candidate who would beat each of the other candidates in a run-off election.In modern...

 against every other candidate, then that candidate must not win the overall election". First-past-the-post does not meet this criterion.

Independence of irrelevant alternatives criterion

The independence of irrelevant alternatives
Independence of irrelevant alternatives
Independence of irrelevant alternatives is an axiom of decision theory and various social sciences.The word is used in different meanings in different contexts....

 criterion states that "the election outcome remains the same even if a candidate who cannot win decides to run." First-past-the-post does not meet this criterion.

Independence of clones criterion

The independence of clones criterion
Independence of clones criterion
In voting systems theory, the independence of clones criterion measures an election method's robustness to strategic nomination. Nicolaus Tideman first formulated the criterion, which states that the addition of a candidate identical to one already present in an election will not cause the winner...

 states that "the election outcome remains the same even if an identical candidate who is equally-preferred decides to run." First-past-the-post does not meet this criterion.

See also

  • Cube rule
    Cube rule
    The cube rule or cube law is an empirical observation regarding democratic elections under the first-past-the-post system. The rule suggests that the party getting the most votes is over-represented . It was first formulated in a report on British elections in 1909, then extended to elections in...

  • Plurality-at-large voting
    Plurality-at-large voting
    Plurality-at-large voting is a non-proportional voting system for electing several representatives from a single multimember electoral district using a series of check boxes and tallying votes similar to a plurality election...

  • Single non-transferable vote
    Single non-transferable vote
    The single non-transferable vote or SNTV is an electoral system used in multi-member constituency elections.- Voting :In any election, each voter casts one vote for one candidate in a multi-candidate race for multiple offices. Posts are filled by the candidates with the most votes...

  • Single transferable vote
    Single transferable vote
    The single transferable vote is a voting system designed to achieve proportional representation through preferential voting. Under STV, an elector's vote is initially allocated to his or her most preferred candidate, and then, after candidates have been either elected or eliminated, any surplus or...

External links

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