|Part of the Politics series|
||The examples and perspective in this article deal primarily with the English-speaking world and do not represent a worldwide view of the subject. (July 2012)|
A safe seat is a seat in a legislative body (e.g., Congress, Parliament, City Council) which is regarded as fully secured, either by a certain political party, the incumbent representative personally or a combination of both. In such seats, there is very little chance of a seat changing hands because of the political leanings of the electorate in the constituency concerned and/or the popularity of the incumbent member. The opposite (i.e. more competitive) type of seat is a marginal seat.
In countries with parliamentary government, parties often try to ensure that their most talented politicians are selected to contest these seats. This is done in part to ensure that these politicians can stay in parliament, regardless of the specific election result, and that they can concentrate on ministerial roles without needing to spend too much effort on managing electorate-specific issues.
Unsurprisingly, candidate selection for a party's safe seats is usually keenly contested, although many parties restrict or forbid challenges to the nomination of sitting members. Other parties will often be compelled to nominate much less well-known individuals (such as backroom workers or youth activists in the party), who will sometimes do little more than serve as paper candidates who do little or no campaigning, or will be trying to use the contest to gain experience so that they become more likely to be selected for a more winnable seat.
Safe seats can become marginal seats (and vice versa) gradually as voter allegiances shift over time. However, this shift can happen more rapidly for a variety of reasons. The retirement or death of a popular sitting member may make a seat more competitive, as the accrued personal vote of a long-serving parliamentarian sometimes will have resisted countervailing demographic trends which come back in force upon retirement. An independent or third party candidate with an ideology close to that of the incumbent party may also be able to make a more credible challenge than more established parties. Also, traditionally safe seats can be more vulnerable in by-elections, especially for governing parties.
The fact that voters in safe seats usually have little chance to affect election outcomes - and thus, those voters' concerns can theoretically be ignored by political parties with no effect on election outcome - is often regarded as undemocratic, and is a major argument of supporters of various multi-member proportional representation election methods. These supporters also argue that safe seats receive far less political funding than marginal seats, as the parties will attempt to "buy" marginal seats with funding (a process known in America and Australia as "Pork Barrelling") while ignoring safe seats which can reliably fall to the same party every time.
Fully secured by the Pan-Democracy Camp:
- Education, formerly called Teaching in the colonial period, has been a safe seat of HKPTU since 1985 until now. Except the incumbent Ip Kin-yuen, the LEGCO member elected in this constituency are members of the Democratic Party Hong Kong.
- Legal - it has been a safe seat of Pro-democracy camp since 1985, and a safe seat for Civic Party since 2008.Ip Sik On, who was elected by this constituency in 1991, is the only one who is not from the Pro-democracy Camp.
Fully secured by the Pro-Beijing Camp:
|Winning 2PP vote||Margin||Classification|
|50 to 56%||0 to 6%||Marginal|
|56 to 60%||6 to 10%||Fairly safe|
|60 to 68%||10 to 18%||Safe|
|Over 68%||Over 18%||Very safe|
In Australia's federal system, most rural seats are safe seats for either the National Party or Liberal Party. Conversely, inner-city and poorer suburban seats are typically safe Australian Labor Party seats, and a few of the most affluent inner-middle urban seats are held by the Liberal Party. Marginals are generally concentrated in the middle-class outer-suburban areas of Australia's larger state capitals, which therefore decide most Australian federal elections.
At the 2007 federal election, the governing Australian Labor Party's safest seat was the seat of Division of Batman in Melbourne's inner-northern suburbs, with a two-party-preferred margin of 26.0%. The safest seat for the opposition Liberal Party was the rural Victorian electorate of Murray, with a margin of 18.3%. The Liberal Party's junior coalition partner, the National Party's safest seat was the division of Mallee, also located in rural Victoria, with a margin of 21.3%.
- Beauséjour, a riding in southeastern New Brunswick, which is considered a safe seat for the Liberal Party. In 1990, when Jean Chrétien needed an open seat to become Leader of the Opposition, he chose Beauséjour in a by-election and won.
- Central Nova, located in east-central Nova Scotia, which has been called a safe seat for the Conservative Party and its predecessor, the Progressive Conservative Party, having been held by either Elmer MacKay or his son Peter all but five of the last forty years. The only time the riding was not in Conservative control was from 1993 to 1997 when the Conservatives were reduced to just two seats and a socially-conservative candidate ran for the Liberals. In 1983, when Brian Mulroney needed a seat in the House of Commons, he chose to run in Central Nova.
- Crowfoot, a Conservative stronghold located in southern Alberta, which has been called the safest seat in the entire country. In the 2008 election, Conservative candidate Kevin Sorenson won 82.04% of the vote, and in a ranking measuring the electoral competitiveness of ridings by National Post reporter Dan Arnold, the district came in last in all of Canada, having an average margin of victory of 74%.
- Mount Royal, a Liberal stronghold in Montreal, Quebec, held by a succession of Liberal MPs since 1940. Liberal Irwin Cotler won over 75% of the vote in the 2004 federal election.
- Ottawa—Vanier, a Liberal stronghold in the eastern part of Ottawa. It has elected a Liberal Member of Parliament each federal election since its creation in 1935, often in landslide victories. In fact, the previous electoral district which comprises most of the constituency, Russell, had been solidly Liberal since 1887.
- Portage—Lisgar, one of many rural, southern safe seats in the Prairies for the Conservative Party of Canada.
- Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, another Liberal safe seat in Montreal. It has been held by the Liberals since its creation. In the 2004 federal election, incumbent Stéphane Dion won with over 65% of the vote, and over 21,000 votes more than his closest rival.
- Wild Rose, a Conservative stronghold, also in southern Alberta. The incumbent, Blake Richards, won 72.9% of the vote in the 2008 election in what ranked as the largest majority win in the history of the constituency. Richards' predecessor, Myron Thompson, won 72% compared to 10% for his closest rival in the 2006 federal election.
- York Centre, a safe seat for the Liberals in Toronto. Since the district's re-establishment in 1952, it has been out of Liberal hands only twice.
- The City of Toronto, which holds 23 ridings is often considered a Liberal stronghold, having shut out the Conservative Party from the city in the six elections between 1993 and 2008, and having lost at most two ridings in the 2004, 2006 and 2008 elections to the New Democratic Party. The 2011 Canadian Federal Election ended the Liberal fortress of Toronto when both Conservatives and New Democrats elected many new MPs in the 416.
- see also: Constituencies of Fiji
In Fiji, prior to the December 2006 military coup, elections were held under the 1997 Constitution, which allotted 46 of the House of Representatives' 71 seats on an ethnic basis. 23 were reserved for the indigenous majority, 19 for Indo-Fijians, 1 for Rotumans, and 3 for members of all other ethnic minorities. There was a strong tendency towards voting on ethnic lines. Thus, in the 1999 general election, although the indigenous seats were split between several parties, all 19 Indo-Fijian seats were won by the Fiji Labour Party - which won none of the indigenous seats. In the 2001 general election, the conservative indigenous nationalist Soqosoqo Duavata ni Lewenivanua party won 18 of the indigenous seats, with the other 5 going to the ultra-nationalist Conservative Alliance - which later merged into the SDL. All 19 "Indian" seats were retained by the Labour Party. In the 2006 general election, all Indo-Fijian seats remained safely Labour, while the SDL won all 23 indigenous seats. Among other minorities, only the communal seat of West Central was a safe seat for the ethnic United Peoples Party.
In New Zealand, many rural electorates, and those based in wealthy suburban areas, notably the North Shore and eastern suburbs of Auckland, are considered safe seats for the National Party. An example of a safe National seat is Taranaki-King Country, currently held by Shane Ardern, who gained 66% of votes in the 2005 election, with only 24.5% of votes going to his Labour rival.
By contrast, inner-city and poorer suburban electorates are safe Labour seats. For example, in 2005, the seat of Mangere was won by incumbent Labour MP Taito Phillip Field with 67.7% of the vote, his National rival getting only 12.5% of the vote. (Ironically, from the resignation of Field from the Labour Party early in 2007 to the general election in 2008, this safest of Labour seats was represented by an independent MP.)
Historically, some seats thought to be safe have witnessed surprise upsets. Perhaps the most dramatic recent case was the 1996 election, in which the Maori seats, safe Labour seats for the previous 60 years, were all won by the New Zealand First Party.
The adoption of proportional representation by New Zealand, beginning in 1996, has decreased the importance of winning votes in geographical electorates. It remains to be seen what long-term effect proportional representation will have on the safety of individual electorate seats.
|Party||Safe Seats||% safe seats|
|Northern Irish parties||11||2.88%|
Examples of safe seats for the Labour Party are in major urban areas and industrial heartlands such as: the North West (Liverpool, Manchester); the North East (Newcastle, Sunderland); South and West Yorkshire; the Central Belt of Scotland (Glasgow and Edinburgh); The Valleys of South Wales; the West Midlands county and parts of Inner London (e.g. Hackney and Newham).
An example of a safe Labour seat is Bootle, where in the 2010 general election Labour received 66% of the vote, giving them a 51% majority over the second-placed Liberal Democrats (at 15%). Beaconsfield is a safe Conservative seat; in 2010 the party gathered 61% of the vote there, giving it a 41.5% majority. There are few seats that are very safe for the Liberal Democrats, as even ones that are perceived to be safe can be lost unexpectedly: Orkney & Shetland is one of the most reliable Lib Dem seats, and gave the party 62% of the vote in 2010.
The Electoral Reform Society identifies what it calls "super safe seats", which have been held continuously by one party since the 19th century. In so doing, it equates seats with their rough equivalents under previous boundaries. For example, following the 2010 general election, it identifies the seat of Haltemprice and Howden as having been held by the Conservative Party since the 1837 general election, although the seat's current boundaries were only set in 1997. Similarly, it considers that Wokingham (and a few others) have been held by the Conservative Party since 1885, Devon East, Fylde and Arundel and South Downs since 1868, Hampshire North East since 1857, Rutland and Melton, Bognor Regis and Littlehampton and East Worthing and Shoreham since 1841, and Shropshire North since 1835, making it historically the safest seat of all, having been held without interruption by the Conservatives since the time of the Tamworth Manifesto, and since before Queen Victoria's accession to the throne. (For historical reasons, the Conservative Party being older than the other current main parties, it holds all the oldest safe seats.)
Even the safest of seats can be - and sometimes are - upset. Whilst it is rare for the opposition to take such seats, outside candidates may be able to. Recent examples include the election of Peter Law and George Galloway in very safe Labour seats in 2005, Jim Murphy to the Scottish Eastwood constituency in 1997 and held by Murphy until 2015, and Martin Bell to the safe Conservative seat of Tatton in 1997. The loss of safe seats can go down in history. The loss by Michael Portillo of his safe Conservative seat in 1997 has gone down in history and created the "Portillo moment". This moment has subsequently been used to describe huge voting swings that generally usher in a new government, as occurred in 1997.
||It has been suggested that Tantamount to election be merged into this article. (Discuss) Proposed since January 2013.|
Many American commentators[who?] have decried the tendency of most House seats to become safe seats, decreasing the number of contested seats in every cycle. This is due in part to the fact that most congressional districts are drawn by state legislatures to be all but unwinnable for the district's minority party. Specific U.S. States, congressional districts, and senate seats since the 1990s are sometimes referred to as "solid blue" (Democratic Party) or "solid red" (Republican Party) after the use of these colors in television maps on election night.
The Cook Partisan Voting Index rates congressional districts on how strongly they lean towards either major party. Currently New York's 15th (Upper Manhattan, northwestern Queens) and 16th (South Bronx) districts are the most Democratic at D+41, while Alabama's 6th (suburbs of Birmingham) and Texas's 13th (far northern Texas including the Texas Panhandle) are the most Republican at R+29.
Other examples of a safe seat for the Democrats is California's 12th congressional district in San Francisco. This district and its predecessors have been in Democratic hands without interruption since 1949. Its current representative, Nancy Pelosi, was most recently reelected with 80 percent of the vote.
Republican safe seat examples include Tennessee's 1st congressional district and Tennessee's 2nd congressional district, which combined have been held by Republicans or their predecessors (except for two terms in the 1st) since 1859, despite the switch between the Republican and Democratic parties in the South.
Because American representatives are generally residents of the constituency which they represent, it is much less common for aspiring politicians to select safe sets to represent. In fact, an aspiring politician may instead want to prove oneself by winning a swing seat and thus show they have the capability of winning a close-fought election, thus making the candidate more attractive for a state or national candidacy where those skills will be of greater importance. A candidate elected to a safe seat, on the other hand, can take greater risks in appealing to the base of the political party and totally disregard the miniscule opposition, thus leaving the candidate vulnerable to opposition attacks if they seek higher office; such a politician also does not have to focus as much on fundraising or networking, which further puts the candidate at a disadvantage in broader elections.
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- "York Centre". Toronto Star. Retrieved 2009-08-18.
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- "Elections 1999 Results Summary", Fiji Elections Office
- "2001 election: summary by open seats and type of communal seats", iji Elections Office
- "2006 election: Fijian communal constituencies"
- "2006 election: Indian communal constituencies"
- "Election already over in nearly 400 seats". Electoral Reform Society. Retrieved 13 January 2012.
- "Orkney & Shetland". BBC News. Retrieved 2010-05-23.
- "Safe seats", Electoral Reform Society