Confused by the election? These 12 graphs will make sense of it

8 May 2015


As the dust settles, and evening falls on our new Conservative majority government, we must ask ourselves: how did we get here? What happened on the day to overturn all the predictions (including our own) and produce such a different result?


Sadly, we don't have all the answers, but what we do have are really cool graphs, that should help demystify some of the strangeness of this election. 



Who won? What happened? I wasn't paying attention...



The key thing is that the Conservatives won the most seats, taking more than the 326 required to form a majority. Labour came second with 232, and the SNP came in third with 56 seats. 


These are just the seats, though. Looking at votes tells a different story:



That's a pretty huge change from last time in terms of seats, and in terms of votes. 


The biggest surprises are that the SNP has gone up by 50 seats, and that the Liberal Democrats lost 49 seats


That's pretty bad from the latter, putting them back by about two decades, both in terms of seats and votes. 



You can see that in 1992, the Lib Dems won 17.8% of the popular vote, and 3% of the seats (more on the quirks of First Past the Post later). Having made progress through the 90s and the 2000s, they're now back in duldrums, with only 1% of the seats, and a measly 8% of the vote. 


The complete collapse of the former coalition party really shows when you compare them to their competitors:



Every other major party won more of the popular vote in 2015 than it did in 2010, with UKIP's support rising dramatically by 10.7%


Vote share isn't the same as votes, though, and one of the interesting facts of the system is that you can end up Prime Minister with relatively few votes. 



As you can see, when John Major won a second term as Prime Minister in 1992, his party got more than 14 million votes, but when Tony Blair took over 5 years later, he had far fewer votes, but many more seats in the House of Commons, winning one of the biggest majorities ever. This is partly because Labour tends to win urban seats, where turnout – the number of people who bother to vote – is very low, whilst the Conservatives win lots of rural seats, where loads of people turn up to vote, and so they win loads and loads of votes, but not necessarily that many seats. 


Speaking of 1992, lots of people have been saying that this election was another 1992. What happened in that year was that all the polls suggested Neil Kinnock's Labour Party would be able to form a majority government after 11 years of Margaret Thatcher and two years of John Major. Then, at the last minute, the Conservatives won the election, mostly thanks to shy Tories – people who don't say they're going to vote Tory when people doing polls ask them. This caused the Conservatives to do much better than everyone expected, and in many ways the same thing has happened with David Cameron this year. 


The results aren't exactly the same, though: 



Though having said that, the polls really were quite wrong. 



The grey bar shows the highest percentage each party achieved in any poll in the month before the election, whilst the black bar shows the actual result on the night. As you can see, nobody thought the Tories were going to get more than 35%, when they ended up getting almost 37%. Similarly, when Labour were performing best in the polls, they were supposed to get 35%. They ended up with only 30%. The Green Surge that everyone was talking about never really happened either. A few months before the election, some polls showed the Greens taking around 10% of the vote. In the month before polling day, this came down to 6%, and on the day they only received 4% of the vote. 


One of the most interesting elements of this election was the huge surge in support for the SNP. They went from having only 6 seats in the House of Commons to having 56, all bar three of Scotland's seats. But, again, the SNP's success demonstrates the problem with First Past the Post elections. 



You'd have thought that with that many seats, the SNP would have taken at least 80% of the vote. As it was, Nicola Sturgeon's party only received 50%.


Whereas the SNP exploited the FPP system, UKIP lost out because of it. Despite increasing their share of the vote by 10.7%, UKIP actually lost an MP – Mark Reckless, in Rochester & Strood. However, they did very well to get themselves into second place in a remarkable number of seats in England. 



Out of England's 533 constituencies, UKIP came second in 114 of them. Lots of people have been saying that this is all to do with northern voters being fed up of Labour. However, this theory doesn't correlate with the stats from the election. Examining the seats in which UKIP came second shows that many of them are in Tory heartlands in the South East and West. 



In fact, UKIP came second in 40% of the seats in the South East of England


UKIP's failure to win more seats is all down to the way the system works, as the graph below shows. The vertical line evidences the range of constituency vote shares for a party in the 2015 election. For example, Labour's worst performance was under 10%, and their best performance was over 80%. The block shows the area in which the party wins seats – so the SNP's least-convincing victory (as it were) saw them take just shy of 40% of the votes, whilst their most saw them take over 60%. 



As you can see, Labour and the Lib Dems can win seats by taking less than a third of the votes, but the Conservatives and the SNP need almost 40% before they start winning. This is partly because the Lib Dems often win seats that are very tight – seats where both Labour and the Conservatives do well, polling around 30%, but the Lib Dems just get just a little bit more. 


For UKIP and the Greens, though, they have to go a long way before they can take a seat. That's why they only win seats when they get at least 40%, though as we've seen above there are lots of seats where they're doing pretty well. 


So what does all this mean?


With five more years of Conservative government in the running, it's very unlikely that electoral reform will be on the agenda, which means that we're stuck with a system that produces very strange, inconsistent results. Many more people voted Labour this time round than in 2010, and yet the party lost seats. The Conservatives only increased their share of the vote by a very small margin, and yet they were able to sweep into government. That's not even mentioning the fact that UKIP received four million votes, the Greens one million, and yet they only won one seat each. 


That means 2020 will be as strange, confusing, surprising, and frustrating as 2015. 2020 will still see millions of voters denied a voice in parliament, and it will still see many of us choose to vote 'tactically' rather than voting for the party we really believe in.


Who knew graphs could be so dramatic? 



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