How would Westminster look using the German electoral system?

German flag

Sunday’s election secured Merkel’s fourth term as chancellor, but what if the UK used the German voting system?

The UK currently uses the first-past-the-post voting system, which discriminates against smaller parties and inflates the success of larger ones. The 2015 election was one of the most disproportionate in history, with UKIP winning just shy of 13% of the vote yet only winning one seat.

Last weekend, the right-wing populist AfD stormed into third place from seemingly nowhere in the German election, winning a share of the vote remarkably similar to UKIP’s in 2015. While in the UK, Nigel Farage’s party emerged with just one seat, the AfD gained 94 seats in the Bundestag. Why the discrepancy?

Nigel Farage MEPs lay out their input for the upcoming European Council - with Nigel FARAGE (EFDD, UK)

The main reason for this difference is Germany’s voting system, which is called the mixed member proportional representation system. As well as getting a constituency representative, the electorate votes on a second ballot for their party of choice. Parties which suffer under the FPTP element of the voting system win top-up seats on the second ballot, making the election results much more reflective of how the country actually voted. In order to enter the Bundestag, parties must win seats in the FPTP part or win 5% of more of the vote.

In 2017, six parties met the threshold and entered the chamber for the first time.

Emmanuel Macron & Merkel European Council meeting

However, what if the UK used such a system? UKIP would have become Britain’s third party in terms of seats in 2015 and the Conservatives would not have won a majority.

As for the 2017 general election, the Electoral Reform Society produced a report that analysed the election in the context of electoral reform, and projected how Westminster would look under different voting systems.

One of the systems used in the report was the Additional Member System, which is used to elect MSPs and AMs in the Scottish Parliament and Welsh Assembly respectively. The system is basically the same as the German election except there is no 5% threshold, and there are regional lists, and a few other minor differences. That said, the report gives an idea for how the House of Commons would look using the German voting system:

  • Conservatives: 274 (-43)
  • Labour: 274 (+12)
  • Liberal Democrats 39 (+27)
  • UKIP: 11 (+11)
  • Greens: 8 (+7)
  • SNP: 21 (-14)
  • Plaid Cymru: 4 (0)
  • The Speaker and Northern Ireland are not included in the calculations.

As stated, the German electoral system has some significant differences to AMS and voters would act differently at elections under a different system, reducing the need for tactical voting. However, the Electoral Reform Society offers an insight into how different Westminster would be under a fairer voting system.