When two choices are evenly matched, luck will determine the outcome. If a coalition is needed, the only certain victor is the one in third place…

Bit of a Friday ramble coming up…

“When votes are split 50:50, it doesn’t mean half the people
were correct. It means most people were guessing.”

In the majority of democratically-elected nations, there are two main parties – one in power, and one in opposition. Traditionally representing views to the left and right of common ground. If the party in power shifts too far from the centre, either left or right, then enough voters become disengaged to cause a shift in the opposite direction. And so the pendulum keeps swinging…

But in recent years, certainly in the UK, the main political parties have both moved closer to the centre. When that happens, neither party has enough differentiation to be certain of securing a majority win and a coalition with a minority party (or parties) becomes the most likely outcome.

…and that’s when third place matters.


Assuming a coalition between the dominant two parties will not happen, if one of the remaining parties manages to secure a strong third place, they are the only ones who can be confident of being in government before the votes are even counted.

Historically, the Liberal Democrats have held that position comfortably. But this time around, their position has altered because they’re part of the current coalition. They have a track record to account for.

Here are the summary results for the 2010 election:


What will happen this time? The most recent election to consider was last year’s European Parliament election. Here is the UK voting record:


Yes, UKIP (UK Independence Party) really did capture more votes than the main two political parties. This has led many to say they will perform much more strongly in this year’s UK election than previously. I’m not so sure. The turnout for the European votes was low and some may have used it as an opportunity to show their feelings about the current state of politics. The same happens in local UK elections. Sanity usually returns for general elections.

Complicating predictions is that the winners are determined by number of seats won, not an aggregate percentage of votes. The seat count for the 2010 general election reveals a different picture:

Only three parties are listed this time because no other party made it above single digits for the remaining 29 seats. Regardless of whether the Liberal Democrats do better or worse or no different to last time, it is unlikely that UKIP or anyone else will make a sufficiently large dent on the results. Although if I were the Lib Dems, I’d be doing more to be certain of that outcome.

What about first place? Neither of the main two parties is showing a strong lead. Which means events that unfold in the run up to the election will have an abnormal effect on voting decisions. The result is going to involve luck.

Flip a coin by Rob

In sporting endeavours, it is not uncommon for victories to happen by luck. At the top of any game, players are often pretty evenly matched. Skill gets you a place in the final. But external factors – luck – often decide who takes the trophy on the day.

That’s fine in sports. Luck evens out over a career. Those with the most skill still end up with the fullest trophy cabinet.

It’s not fine when deciding who governs a nation. When an election outcome comes down to luck, the political process is broken.


flickr-pendulumsFeatured images: ‘Pendulums‘ by Ricky Romero and Call! by Rob. Both kindly shared on Flickr.


Join the conversation! 3 Comments

  1. That is happening in many European countries, just add Spain to your comments and the result could be the same according to current polls… good post

  2. Thanks! And indeed, it highlights how out of sync the political process seems to be with the wants and needs of the population being governed, on a global scale.

  3. […] When third place matters most […]

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: