We wanted to test whether first past the post (FPP) voting systems have an influence on the rate of voter participation in general elections around the world.
Here is a table to summarise our findings:
Very few nations with populations comparable to the UK’s still use FPP. A list of all those who do would show them to be mostly small states and island territories.
We found seventeen candidate nations with published statistics for recent general elections and discounted four of them. These latter were associated with both observations and allegations of irregularities, street violence and repression of opponents in the lead ups to and during voting. Indonesia used FPP back in 2014 but by its 2019 election it had switched to a French style presidential election with a PR system for its legislature.
We have included India with some serious reservations. It has been reported that over 1,500 people involved in the 2019 count died of exhaustion from overwork and that hundreds more were taken ill. In such distressingly stressful circumstances, it must be difficult to vouch for the reliability of the official returns.
USA, UK and Canada are the three remaining developed world economies who use FPP.
We first show the official turnout statistics reported by the authorities (Columns 7 and 8). Malaysia ranked top with 82.3%. The Philippines were just behind and Brazil third. No other country recorded a turnout of 70% or more. The lowest was Nigeria at 34.8%.
But official returns overstate the level of real participation. That is because in all countries the register of voters never matches the voting age population. In the UK, for example, who rank fifth, unregistered voters are estimated to number around three million. The absolute number is less important though than the width of the discrepancy in percentage terms. Let us first look at how taking this factor into account affects the rankings in the table.
Columns 9 and 10 now place Brazil at the top with an implied turnout of 73.4%. Voting is compulsory in Brazil for those aged 18-70.
Malaysia goes down to third place due to its implied turnout rate being nearly 16% lower than official returns. The Philippines also shows a large difference of 10%. Neither of these countries have automatic voter registration. Nor do most states in the USA where the aggregated national statistics do not appear to account for an estimated 20 to 40 million unregistered voters. Even so its turnout at 55.5% is already below the 57.8% average for all the countries in the table.
The findings compare very unfavourably with the analysis in our table that details European rates of participation. Excluding France and the UK, who do not use proportional representation, the average for the European countries is 73.6%, a higher figure than any one country in the FPP table.
This has been a simple snapshot. We have found a statistically significant difference that suggests turnout is suppressed under FPP systems. This data may not be entirely accurate but we have found no evidence to suggest that FPP voting is a neutral influence on turnout nor that it has a beneficial effect.
All the same this site will in due course research discrepancies between voting registers and voter age populations in European countries. We may also look into proportional representation systems in large non-European states in search of a fuller overall picture.
We will shortly be making available further details via a link to our Statistics section when you will be able to find the above table reproduced with notes, qualifications and a list of potential reasons for the discrepancies in people numbers we have referred to here.
We hope you find our analysis to date informative and of interest.