Snap Elections, Put Simply

Written by our campaign agent Sophie Church

A snap election is simply an election called earlier than expected. Snap elections usually arise when there is an urgent issue that needs resolving, or when an opportunity appears for a party to capitalise on. The results of the snap election usually result in a larger majority for the ruling party, since it was they who called for the election in the first place. Though unlikely, there have been cases of a snap election backfiring and the ruling party losing power. One such example of this was the 1990 snap election in Ontario, three years into Premier David Peterson’s term. Peterson was polling at 54%, but his decision to call the snap election came across as a sign of arrogance, which led to the loss of his seat to a relative newcomer.

Before the Fixed-term Parliaments Act 2011 came into force, the Prime Minister had sole control over triggering a snap election. However, it is now the case that the PM has to win a 2/3 majority vote of MPs to effectuate the election.

Snap elections can also be called for when there is a no confidence motion passed. One such instance was the 1979 general election, which was held 6 months before the deadline. The Conservative Party, led by Margaret Thatcher, initiated a motion of no confidence against Labour leader James Callaghan. Her success following this snap election led to an 11 year position as Prime Minister.

Similar but not exactly:

Recall elections are initiated by a public vote, rather than triggered by a head of government. The public can remove an elected official before his or her time has ended in power.  In 2011, there were at least 150 recall elections in the United States of America.  Of these, 75 officials were recalled, with 9 officials resigning anyway under the threat of losing their position.

By-elections are a product of a space becoming vacant in office before the designated time of service has ended. By-elections happen mostly when an incumbent dies or resigns.  They can also occur when an incumbent becomes ineligible to continue in office. In the United States, by-elections are dubbed “Special Elections”, in that they do not occur on Election Day.

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