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Why this week’s UK election will be so messy, in one chart

Britain's Prime Minister David Cameron (R) sits with Ed Miliband, leader of the Labour party, as they wait for Queen Elizabeth to arrive to address both Houses of Parliament at Westminster Hall in London.
Reuters/John Stillwell
  • Cassie Werber
By Cassie Werber

Cassie writes about the world of work.

Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

The UK general election is tomorrow, and the consensus is that there’s unlikely to be a consensus. Many pollsters have the two main parties, Labour and the Conservatives, about even on around 34% of the vote each.

Given the UK’s electoral quirks, this will translate into a larger share of parliament’s 650 seats. But neither party is expected to win anything close to a majority on its own, nor be able to form a majority coalition with smaller parties that share similar ideologies.

For decades, Labour and the Conservatives could regularly count on winning more than 90% of parliament’s seats between them. But this share has been falling, and is set to reach its lowest point in a long time:

In 2010, the Conservatives won 47% of the seats, and went into coalition with the Liberal Democrats to achieve a majority, the UK’s first formal coalition government since the 1940s. That was rather straightforward compared with the much messier, continental European-style system that seems to be developing, where neither of the two main parties—which the “first past the post” electoral system is designed to keep strong—can ever command a majority without the help of at least one additional party. One of the two main parties may even try to run a minority government—last seen in 1974, in a Labour administration that lasted for just seven months before a fresh election was called.

Whatever the case, voters have shown a growing preference for parties outside of the traditional mainstream, especially in Scotland. And while the Conservatives’ David Cameron and Labour’s Ed Miliband continue to claim that they will win a majority on the day, the polls tell a much different story.

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