Safe seat

Safe seat

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 an election upset because of the political leanings of the electorate in the constituency concerned and/or the popularity of the incumbent member.

In countries with parliamentary government, parties often try to ensure that their most talented politicians are selected to contest these seats. This is done 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 these seats is usually keenly contested.

The fact that voters in safe seats 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.


Examples include:

*Crowfoot, a Conservative stronghold, located in southern Alberta. In the 2006 federal election, the Conservative candidate, Kevin Sorenson, won with over 80% of the vote, the highest percentage in Canada.
*Mount Royal, a Liberal stronghold in Montreal, Quebec, held by a succession of Liberal MPs since 1940. Irwin Cotler won a record 76% 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.
*Saint-Laurent—Cartierville, another Liberal stronghold in Montreal. It has been held by the Liberals since its creation. In the 2004 federal election, incumbent Stéphane Dion won with 65%, and over 21,000 votes more than his closest rival.
*Wild Rose, a Conservative stronghold, also in southern Alberta. The incumbent (Myron Thompson) won 72% compared to 10% for his closest rival in the 2006 federal election.
*York Centre, a Liberal stronghold in Toronto, Ontario, sometimes called the "safest Liberal seat in Canada" (or one of the safest such seats) in media reports.

United Kingdom

Examples of safe seats are in the Labour Party heartlands of urban northeast England and those of the Conservative Party in the shires. An example of a safe Labour seat is Houghton & Washington East, where in the 2005 general election Labour received 64.3% of the vote, giving them a 46.3% majority over the second-placed Liberal Democrats (at 18.0%).An example of a safe Conservative seat is Richmond (North Yorkshire). In the 2005 general election, the Conservatives gathered 59.1% of the vote, giving a 39.4% majority over Labour (at 19.7%).Even in the safest of seats upsets can, and sometimes do, occur. Whilst it is rare for the opposition to take such seats (though the recent by-election in Glasgow East is an exception), outside candidates may be able to. Recent examples include the election of Peter Law and George Galloway to very safe Labour seats in 2005, and Martin Bell to the safe Conservative seat of Tatton in 1997. These often occur as protest votes, and particularly in by-elections.

United States

Many American commentators have decried the tendency of most House seats to become safe seats, decreasing the number of contested seats in every cycle. Specific U.S. States, congressional districts, and senate seats since the 1990s are sometimes referred to as "solid blue" or "solid red" after the use of these colors in television maps on election night.

An example of a safe seat for the Democrats is New York's 11th congressional district in eastern Brooklyn, which has been Democratic since at least 1945 and where the incumbent, Major R. Owens won reelection with over 85% of the vote in every election from 1998 to 2006, when he retired.

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.


In Australia's federal system, most rural seats are very safe seats for either the National Party or Liberal Party. Conversely, inner-city and poorer suburban seats are typically safe Labor, 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 decide most Australian federal elections.

New Zealand

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, since the resignation of Field from the Labour Party early in 2007, this most safe of Labour seats is presently 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.

ee also

* Rotten boroughs, the extreme example of a safe seat
* Marginal seat
* Gerrymandering

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • safe seat — noun A parliamentary seat that the incumbent political party will almost certainly win again in an election • • • Main Entry: ↑safe * * * safe seat UK US noun [countable] [singular safe seat plural …   Useful english dictionary

  • safe seat — safe seats N COUNT In politics, a safe seat is an area in which the candidate from one particular party nearly always wins by a large number of votes. [BRIT] ...the young and brilliant Anthony Blair first lost his deposit at Beaconsfield, and… …   English dictionary

  • safe seat — ► NOUN ▪ a parliamentary seat that is likely to be retained with a large majority in an election …   English terms dictionary

  • safe seat — UK / US noun [countable] Word forms safe seat : singular safe seat plural safe seats British a place where a particular political party is expected to win an election because most people support them …   English dictionary

  • safe seat — noun A seat in a legislature that is traditionally held by one political party because of the make up of the local electorate See Also: marginal seat …   Wiktionary

  • safe seat — noun Brit. a parliamentary seat that is likely to be retained with a large majority in an election …   English new terms dictionary

  • safe seat — /seɪf ˈsit/ (say sayf seet) noun a parliamentary seat that in an election is judged as certain to be won by the party which held it previously …   Australian-English dictionary

  • safe seat — secure place …   English contemporary dictionary

  • safe — 1 /seIf/ adjective 1 NOT CAUSING HARM not likely to cause any physical injury or harm: Flying is one of the safest forms of travel. | the safe disposal of radioactive waste | Don t go too near the edge it isn t safe. | it is safe to do sth: Is it …   Longman dictionary of contemporary English

  • safe — adj. & n. adj. 1 a free of danger or injury. b (often foll. by from) out of or not exposed to danger (safe from their enemies). 2 affording security or not involving danger or risk (put it in a safe place). 3 reliable, certain; that can be… …   Useful english dictionary

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