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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.

Canada

Examples include:

  • Beauséjour, a riding in southeastern New Brunswickmarker, 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 Scotiamarker, 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 three times in forty years. The only time the riding was not in Conservative control was from 1993 to 1997, when it was held by a socially-conservative Liberal MP. 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 Albertamarker, 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, Quebecmarker, 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 Ottawamarker. 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 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 Albertamarker. 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 Torontomarker. Since the district's re-establishment in 1952, it has been out of Liberal hands only twice.


United Kingdom

Examples of safe seats are in the Labour Party heartlands of urban northeast Englandmarker and those of the Conservative Party in the shires.An example of a safe Labour seat is Houghton & Washington Eastmarker, 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 marker. In the 2005 general election, the Conservatives gathered 59.1% of the vote, giving a 39.4% majority over Labour (at 19.7%).

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 to very safe Labour seats in 2005, and Martin Bell to the safe Conservative seat of Tattonmarker in 1997.

United States

Many Americanmarker 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 Brooklynmarker, 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 (despite the switch between the Republican and Democratic parties in the U.S. south).

Australia

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 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 Melbournemarker's inner-northern suburbs, with a two-party-preferred margin of 26.0%. The safest seat for the opposition Liberal Party was the rural Victorianmarker 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%.

New Zealand

In New Zealand, many rural electorates, and those based in wealthy suburban areas, notably the North Shore and eastern suburbs of Aucklandmarker, 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 most safe 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.

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