How democracy works

A rugby team (15 blokes) walk into a bar…

The player holding the whip asks what everyone wants to drink.

Five of them don’t want to be there because it’s a loud, annoying bar with no real ale and they’d rather be in the pub down the road where they could hear each other speak and drink proper beer. Those five really don’t care what they’re going to drink in this bar because none of it is what they want. Some of them say this loudly, others just shrug.

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The BBC reports on Trump’s victory in the US Presidential election


The rest slag those five off for not joining in.

Of the other ten, who are at least pretending they want to be there, three want Guinness, two lager, two cider, two want rum and coke and one wants a glass of red wine

  1. British first past the post system: All 15 drink Guinness
  2. A referendum: Two are refused a vote, the question is over simplified down to two options that weren’t what anyone wanted. The eight choose between vodka or gin – all 15 drink gin
  3. The US presidential electoral college: the half-backs’ votes are worth more in the electoral college and they voted lager – all 15 drink lager.
  4. Alternative vote (and supplementary vote): The red wine drinker’s second choice is rum and coke, knocking out cider and lager whose second choices transfer to either Guinness or rum and coke – all 15 end up all drinking rum and coke
  5. Single Transferable Vote: All ten list in order of preference every single drink available in the pub and by the time the winning drinks have been calculated fairly the pub has closed, nobody drinks anything

None of these democratic systems guarantee a majority of the team gets what they want.

Democracy is a seriously flawed way of making decisions about anything.


  1. In the 2015 UK general election (BBC) the Tories got 36.9% of votes cast, or 24.4% of the electorate. That gave them 331 seats, just over half the seats in Parliament. The five real ale drinkers represented 15.7 million Brits.
  2. In the 2016 EU referendum (BBC), there were no options for hard or soft Brexit, or for various reforms of the EU that many citizens would like to see. It was oversimplified to leave or remain. Leave got 51.9% of the vote or 37.4% of the electorate. The five real ale drinkers represented 12.9 million Brits.
  3. In the US election 2016, so far – 46 states out of 50 declared (BBC) Trump has 47.5% of the vote to Clinton’s 47.6% but Trump had gone way past the 270 electoral college votes he needed to win (278 to Clinton’s 218). Clinton is set to become the fifth US presidential candidate to have lost, despite getting more votes ( **I will update this**. In 2012, Obama (Washington Post) got just 50.6% of the vote, getting 332, or more than 60%, of the electoral college seats. Turnout was below 60%, (Bipartisan Policy) meaning the five real ale drinkers represented 93 million Americans.
  4. In the 2016 London Mayoral election (BBC) Sadiq Khan got 44.2% of the first choice votes, or 20% of the electorate. With added second choice votes he got 65.8% of the vote or 22.8% of the electorate – he got 1,148,716 first and second choice votes. The five real ale drinkers represented the majority (54.7%) of London’s electorate, or 3.1 million.

Related posts

Do votes count? – UK General election 2015: More than four out five people in the UK did not vote Conservative. More than half the UK population (52%) did not (or could not) vote at all

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One Response to How democracy works

  1. Pingback: EU elections and the D'Hondt system in the UK | Chris Wheal

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