How general election vote shares have changed over the years

This graph shows the UK-wide vote shares for each of the three main parties, along with the total Conservative plus Labour share. As you can see, the proportion of people voting for one of the two largest parties dropped again this time, hitting another record post-war low.

The combination of this and our voting system means that the Conservative Party’s share of the vote was sufficient to make the party the largest, but at any previous election it would have been a vote share that would have sent the party to defeat rather than 10 Downing Street. The Liberal Democrat vote share was the party’s second best since the war whilst Labour’s was its second worst.

General election vote shares graph

(Click on graph for larger version)

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This entry was posted in General Election.


  • Gwyn Williams 17th May '10 - 11:03am

    Although the Con Lab vote share decline since 1951 is dramatic, when we include the fall in turnout, the figures are staggering. In 1951 79.5% nearly 4out of 5 people voted Con(including Unionist,Scottish Unionist and National Liberal)or Lab by 2005 that figure fell to 41% or 2in 5 of the total electorate.

  • paul barker 17th May '10 - 1:43pm

    And unless this 60 year trend dissapears we will become the 2nd & then the largest Party.

  • It would be interesting to plot these as shares of the total electorate, rather than shares of those who voted. As in, is our support actually staying constant in terms of raw numbers/share, whilst the other declines?

  • Paul McKeown 17th May '10 - 5:24pm

    At a 65.1% share the majoritarian duopoly is creaking. At 60% (34% -v- 26%) is starts to fall apart, as no party can achieve a majority. People increasingly want clear, relatively narrowly defined political choices, rather than the broad church bullies who hold their “coalition forming” debates internally, rather than outwards towards the public, as in the recent Lib Con formation. Lib Dems should encourage people on the right of the Conservative party to vote UKIP and people on the left of the Labour party to vote Green. After all, what sort of political party can honestly reconcile the beliefs e.g. of both David Cameron and Bill Cash? Our victory, in forming part of the government and getting many of our key policies implemented should quash the ideas that (a) a vote for us is merely oppositional and hence wasted and (b) that we are some sort of Labour lite party. Both factors should help us harden our vote share. Furthermore we should encourage people who might like to vote for us but fear letting in their most hated choice amongst the majoritarian duopolists, that we can actually moderate the worst excesses of the red & blue, by forming part of the government.

  • Paul McKeown 18th May '10 - 2:14pm

    @Democratic Socialist Dave

    Thank you very much for collecting this data. I assume your 3rd stab at it is correct. I think it would be very useful to have this analysed in detail, with reference to historical events.

    Some initial observations:
    1) From 1945 to 1997, the majoritarian duopoly never failed to poll less than a combined 21.5 million votes, usually much, much more
    2) From 2001 to 2010, the majoritarian duopoly never managed to poll more than the recent 19.3 million votes
    3) “Liberal Democrat” votes imploded from 1945 to 1951 and failed to recover to their previous levels until 1964. Is this due to those Liberal icons (1) Jo Grimond and (2) the Orpington bye-election, or did the party simply contest more seats from 1964? Data needed…
    4) “Liberal Democrat” votes surged dramatically from 1970 (2.1 million) to 1974 (6.1 million). Why?
    5) Since 1974 the LD vote has remained high, with the lowest marks being 4.3 million (1979) and 4.8 million (2001), which presumably marks the magnitude of the LD core vote.
    6) The high points of LD vote have been 7.8 million (1983) and 6.8 million (2010), both times in which a great deal of publicity made the LDs much more visible, but yet failed to achieve a greater breakthrough by turning the surge in votes into concentrations sufficient to return large numbers of seats. The LDs need better campaign policies to deal with vote surges to ensure that they do indeed lead to dramatically increased seats returned.
    7) Most interesting of all has been the incredible growth in votes for others from a low of two hundred thousand to the recent return of 3.6 million. Besides the continued strength of the LD vote, this is the real message of the failure of the duopoly to command a majority in the Commons. As I suggested in an earlier posting, voters are genuinely looking for real choices.

    In 1951 “LD” and “others” polled a combined nine hundred thousand. In 2010, they topped ten million for the first time (10.4 million). Liberal Democrats should NEVER talk up tactical voting, but encourage people to vote where their hearts really lie, whether that is with us, or indeed UKIP, the Greens or the SNP, etc. That is how we will finally succeed in breaking the red/blue stranglehold in politics.

  • Paul McKeown 22nd May '10 - 12:57am

    I was suggesting not that UKIP and Green would necessarily soak up the non-voters, but that they might attract Conservatives to the right of their party and Labourites to the left of theirs. Your point is well made, though, that any such speculation needs to be backed up by polling, et cetera.

  • Paul McKeown 22nd May '10 - 1:07am

    Love your charts – great work. They do illustrate strongly the decline in blue/red votes, the increase in non-voters, the increase in “others” and how the LD vote has been maintained. If the trend were to continue, it is clear that two party politics would end.

  • Paul McKeown 22nd May '10 - 11:31pm

    Thanks for that, good illustration.

    Non-voters came close to the sum of Con + Lab in 1992 for the first time, with a moderate (but not large) improvement for voters since. Others has been increasing steadily since 1987 and Lib Dem has remained high since 1974. If trends continue, the Blue and Red duopoly will be broken permanently within one or two general elections. It would seem that they are unable to persuade voters to support them, but the question of course remains as to whether they can be persuaded to support other parties, if politics were to open up.

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