AV Guide

On Thursday May 5th the British public will go to the polls to decide whether we keep our First Past The Post (FPTP) electoral system or change to the Alternative Vote (AV), but what is AV, and what will it change? There is also a lot of misinformation about AV about (on both sides of the debate), so what is AV, what will it do, and what myths are there?

1.      What is AV?. 1
2.      Majority support. 2
3.      Vote splitting, Tactical Voting and Single Issue Voting. 3
4.      Proportionality and Coalitions. 4
5.      Effect on extremist and ‘fringe’ parties. 6
6.      Electoral deals and Preference Recommendations. 6
7.      Cost. 7
8.      Safe Seats. 8
9.      Chances of leading to more Electoral Reform.. 9
10.    Dependability of seat projections
11.    Parting words

. 10


1. What is AV?


The Alternative Vote is an electoral system which attempts to simulate an electoral run-off. In fact in the US AV is known as Instant Run-off Voting or IRV, a name which I somewhat prefer due to it being more descriptive. A run-off system is one where elections take places in rounds. An example of a run-off system would be that used in Presidential elections in countries like France or Finland, where voters vote for candidates in a first round. If anyone wins 50%+1 of the vote in the first round they are deemed elected. If no one reaches this figure the top two go through to a second round where they face off against each other. AV, however, more closely simulates elimination voting; which is where just one candidate is eliminated in each round, until the 50%+1 figure is reached. You have probably actually seen a variant of elimination voting in action, it is generally the electoral system of choice for television reality shows and the like. X-Factor, for example, uses an elimination voting system, albeit with the addition of giving a role to Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh. Readers will be glad to hear that Simon Cowell and Louis Walsh will gain no extra influence under an AV system!
No extra power for Cowell, I swear



X-Factor, however, takes several months to reach its conclusion, which is perfectly fine for a TV reality show, but rather impractical for the election of an actual parliament. AV attempts to get rid of all this and replace it with a single ballot paper. AV asks every voter to rank the candidates on a ballot paper by simply numbering 1 for a first preference, 2 for a second preference and so on. Votes are then counted and if any candidate receives 50%+1 of the votes or more then they are deemed elected. If no candidate is elected the candidate with the least first preferences is eliminated and their preferences re-distributed. This keeps happening until a candidate receives more than 50%+1 of the vote. 

I decided to borrow an AV result from our by-election backlog to use as an example. Scottish councils use STV and by-elections are filled using AV (as, in a sense, AV is just STV in a single seat constituency). This is the by-election result from Thursday 4th February 2011, in the Carnoustie and District ward of Angus Council.  



Stage
Candidate
1stP%
1
2
3
4
Ed Oswald
41.50%
1289
1302
14%
1346
19%
1426
28%
Brian Boyd (E)
40.30%
1252
1290
41%
1370
34%
1454
29%
Ron Thoms
8.30%
258
266
9%
287
9%
  
  
Eddie Wilmott
7%
217
234
18%
  
  
  
  
Charles Goodall
3%
93
  
  
  
  
  
  
No-Transfer
0
17
18%
106
38%
229
43%

In a FPTP election, Ed Oswald of the SNP would have won, winning 41.5% of first preferences. However he did not pass the 50%+1 line and so Charles Goodall of the Lib Dems was eliminated. 41% of his preferences went to the independent, Brian Boyd, 18% went to Eddie Wilmott of the Conservatives, another 18% did not transfer (because voters had only expressed one preference) 14% went to Ed Oswald, and 9% went to Labours Ron Thoms. Due to this the gap between Boyd and Oswald decreased in size. The Tory’s Eddie Wilmott was then eliminated because he was now the last placed candidate and his preferences were re-distributed too. A plurality (38%) of his preferences did not transfer but of those that did Brian Boyd won the majority (34%), pushing him ahead of Oswald. Thoms was then eliminated. Of his votes which transferred they split very slightly in Boyds favour. With only two candidates remaining Boyd was thus elected. In actual fact Boyd never passed the 50%+1 threshold, he got 46.8% on the final round. This is due to people not preferencing fully, which can be seen as a form of abstaining on the final round. We'll cover this and other issues in later sections.

2. Majority support


A common criticism of First Past The Post is it allows parties with a minority of support to win seats. For example in 2010 Norwich South was won by Simon Wright of the Lib Dems with 29.4% of the vote because the vote was divided between four major candidates. The fact that FPTP allows MPs to win on less than 50% support is always shown to be something that annoys voters when asked about the electoral system so it is no wonder it is at the centre of efforts to replace it. AV, it is argued, means candidates must gain a broad base of support to win an absolute majority of votes. 
Norwich South election result, 2010
Candidate
Party
Vote
Change
Simon Wright
Lib Dem
29.4%
-0.6%
Charles Clarke
Labour
28.7%
-8.7%
Antony Little
Conservative
22.9%
+1.1%
Adrian Ramsay
Green
14.9%
+7.5%

Others
4.2%
+2.4%























However, as in our example in the prior section, under the version of AV being voted on it is possible to still be elected with less than 50% support. Using real world examples of preferential electoral systems my old lecturers Michael Thrasher and Colin Rallings, have done an excellent study (relatively short readable blogpost) into this and its wider effects. Certainly, however, AV would mean more candidates winning more than 50% support, and candidates being elected on a broader base than under FPTP. 

By forcing candidates to seek majority support the hope runs that AV will create a more adult electoral atmosphere, the theory running that candidates would attack each other less in fear of alienating voters from parties whose preferences may help a party win a seat. The harsh rhetoric and strong attacks of recent contests may be avoided then. As an aside the infamous Liberal Democrat bar charts would also be far less effective as the line that 'Only the Liberal Democrats can stop [insert party here]' would cease to work in a system where voters can simply choose to second preference the Lib Dems. That said they may still be adapted as a way of gaining second preferences.
The Lib Dem bar chart: British psephology at its finest

That said, however, there is the issue of how much a second preference should count. How much distance there is between a first and second preference is ultimately subjective. For someone who has voted Conservative all their life the idea of having a second preference may seem odd, even perverse, but some voters feel divided and conflicted between parties. For the first group there is a large distance between first and second preference, for the second group there is a very close distance. AV creates a majority, but it is worth asking, a majority of what? Arguably AV does not find the most liked candidate, but the least disliked candidate. Essentially here there is a philosophical difference. What does it actually mean to be the most popular candidate?

Political scientists and those who study electoral systems will talk about the Condorcet criterion as the best way of defining the most popular candidate. Essentially the Condorcet winner is that candidate who would win against all the other candidates assuming there was only two (so assuming there is only three candidates, the Condorcet winner is the candidate who would beat the other two if the other candidate withdrew). There is not always a Condorcet winner, but there usually is. AV is generally better at finding Condorcet winners than FPTP though neither is a Condorcet method, that is to say neither is a method that always produces a Condorcet winner if there is one.

AV myth bust number 1: AV will not always mean a candidate gaining a majority of support, though it should mean candidates gaining a broader base of support. Questions can also be raised about the nature of that majority.


3. Vote splitting, Tactical Voting and Single Issue Voting


In theory AV eliminates the chances of vote splitting and tactical voting. As voters can use preferencing there should be no fear of letting someone else in. Around 20% of voters currently tactically vote. I say, in theory because there is a way to tactically vote.

Let’s say there are three candidates, one Labour, one Lib Dem and one Conservative and there’s 100 voters and they all second preference. Now let’s say the Labour candidate has 39 first preferences, the Conservative has 30 and the Lib Dem has 31. Now let’s assume that more than 20/30 Tories second preference the Lib Dems. Lib Dems win the seat. Let’s assume, however, that 2 Labour voters defect from Labour to Tory, so that Labour has 37 first preferences, the Conservatives 32 and the Lib Dems 30. Lets assume that Lib Dems divide 50/50 between the two parties on second preferences. Labour now wins.

Tactically voting in this way is inherently dangerous and requires a far greater knowledge of voters and voting preferences than under FPTP. Tactical voting under AV is not impossible, but in a constituency of 70,000+ voters with multiple candidates it is incredibly difficult to get right. It is thus fair to say that AV will reduce instances of tactical voting.

I have heard people say that they would, for example, tactically vote for the English Democrats, as a way of encouraging the main parties to embrace support for an English Parliament. This is not in fact tactical voting, tactical voting is voting in a way that is designed to produce a more preferable outcome to the actual election. Rather it is a form of single-issue voting. There is plenty of single-issue voting in British politics already: voting UKIP because of their position on Europe, or Green due to their position on the environment, but AV will encourage this behaviour. In Australia it is fairly common. A friend of mine, who is an Aussie, voted for the Sex Party at the last election due to his objection to the perceived social conservatism of the Australian Labor Party. He was able to do this safe in the knowledge that his vote would go to the ALP in later rounds of the count.

AV myth bust number 2: Tactical voting under AV is not impossible, but is very difficult.


4. Proportionality and Coalitions


AV is not a proportional electoral system. It is a majoritarian system, like FPTP. Nonetheless the type of system is not the only thing which defines proportionality, and it is worth exploring whether the system will produce a more proportional outcome. 

On the one hand AV can provide incredibly disproportionate outcomes, worse than FPTP. The Jenkins Commission report into electoral reform set up early into Tony Blair's premiership found this system to produce disproportionate results and to have the potential to accelerate swings against a party, and to be disproportionately damaging to the Conservative Party. This is because, at the time, most of the general public leaned towards a heavily anti-Conservative viewpoint and thus saw either Labour or the Lib Dems as first choice. When the other was eliminated in AV modelling votes generally passed between the two parties and thus the anti-Conservative vote homogenised. This is not so true in the current environment, however. 

On the other hand, AV would almost certainly increase the representation of the Liberal Democrats, as they tend to be the second choice party of both many Labour and Conservative supporters. AV also gives voters the ability to vote for smaller parties without fear, and so the Greens or UKIP may gain a large number of votes, and perhaps seats on the basis of a previously hidden support base. The reality is that AV is neither really more proportional nor disproportional than FPTP, it depends on how voters use the system. 

Therefore it’s really not possible to say whether AV will lead to more or less coalition governments than FPTP. Predicting how voters will react to a change in the electoral system is extremely difficult because changing the electoral system will change party and voter behaviour in unpredictable ways. Ultimately electoral systems depend very much on how we use them rather than just the system itself creating a pre-defined outcome. FPTP is in use in many countries in the world, but every country has a different experience with it. Canada, which has a system very much modelled on Britain, is currently in the process of its fourth election in seven years due to constant hung parliaments. India has three vast coalitions of as many as 10 regional parties competing. Papua New Guinea switched from FPTP to AV because they were so divided that the winning candidate was almost random, with candidates winning on just 15% of the vote. Meanwhile the US has a strong two party system (albeit one where political parties are very weak).
The trouble a lot of Brits have is that they think that electoral systems mould party systems, that proportionality = multi-party system. Rather historical analysis would tend to show that this is the wrong way round, it is not that proportionality leads to multi-party systems, but that, on the whole, multi-party systems lead to proportionality. I would take as an example the Dutch, who, up until the early 20th century had a form of two-round FPTP. This system ‘should’ have created a two party system or at least a two bloc system where parties aligned into two blocs as in France. Rather the divisions in Dutch society between Catholics and Protestants, Liberals and Socialists, created a multi-party system, but one where seats were not linked to national performance. In the end a deal was forged to create one of the most proportional electoral systems in Europe, a system still in use to this day. 

To demonstrate the effects of party system I would point towards France, which uses the closest thing to AV currently in use in Europe in the form of a two-round system. France does not have two party politics, but it can be said to have two-bloc politics, where parties within the blocs campaign for each other in the second round. On the left sits the Socialist Party, the Communists, the Greens, the Left Radicals and various left-wing independents. On the right sits the Union for a Popular Majority (UMP), the New Centre, the Movement for France and some right-wing independents. The hope, when the two round system was introduced, was that it would eventually lead to a two party system, and while two parties have emerged as dominant within the blocs (Socialists and UMP respectively), nothing, not even a new electoral system, can change the fact that the French remain French. In the words of Charles de Gaulle: “How can you govern a country which has two hundred and forty-six varieties of cheese?” The French have a multitude of parties despite their system, because, as a political culture, they have a particular dispensation towards infighting and arguing, as anyone who’s ever tried to understand the politics of the French knows very well.

Australian Coalition parties
AV was actually originally introduced into Australia because of the creation of a two and a half party system. On the left sat the Australian Labor Party, on the right was what became the National Party, an agrarian right-of-centre conservative party and what became the Liberal Party of Australia, the larger, more urban, conservative party. They introduced AV to stop the anti-Labor vote splitting between the two parties and formed The Coalition, a permanent coalition. Since then the two have formed joint policy, ran joint shadow cabinets, and ran joint national campaigns, albeit running candidates against each other. 

Yet this Coalition is intrinsically different to the one in Britain in that it is a permanent coalition that exists whether the party is in opposition or government. As time has gone on the divide between the two parties has erased to irrelevancy and the subject of a merger is a permanent point of discussion on the Australian right. As a result Australia actually resembles a two party system more than the UK in some ways as in many senses the Coalition looks, acts and behaves like a single political party. This is qualitatively different from the formation of a temporary coalition government after a hung parliament.

The point is that party systems and electoral systems affect each other but they are not the end all and be all. AV will, likely, have some effect on party competition, but what effect that is is unpredictable. It largely dependent on how people use the system.

AV myth bust number 3: AV will not automatically lead to more coalition governments. The reality is that AVs effect on the party system is completely unpredictable.


5. Effect on extremist and ‘fringe’ parties



Proportional systems are always criticised because they may lead to extremist parties gaining seats, ‘the BNP would gain seats under PR’ is sometimes used, for example. Yet the BNP, and the Communist Party support the no campaign. This is no doubt partially because parties like these, considered to be the fringes are generally seen to suffer under AV. The reason for this is because generally voters either support a party like the BNP, or hate it, so such parties gain very few second and third preferences.

That said their voters may still have an effect in terms of who they direct their second preferences towards, but campaigning to gain the preferences of such parties too obviously may create big issues. For this reason Boris Johnson, elected as Mayor of London under the similar Supplementary Vote system, went as far as to say he did not want second preferences from the far-right when endorsed for second preferences by the BNP in 2008.


6. Electoral deals and Preference Recommendations


An Australian 'How to vote card'.
A curious aspect of Australian democracy is ‘how to vote cards’. Basically at every election all parties give out little cards which tell supporters how to place all their preferences. These cards can then be carried into polling booths and used to write out a full selection . These cards are drawn up by negotiation, and for tactical advantage. These are used by a great many Australians (55% according to the Australian Election Study) and have been very important in some elections. In the last election (2010), the Greens and the Labor Party quickly drew up a deal where they second preferenced each other in every constituency. In doing so the Greens may have secured Julia Gillard’s re-election as Prime Minister, seeing as the election was a tight affair with a hung parliament and 72 seats for Labor and The Coalition a piece. 

The direction minor parties direct their preferences has been incredibly important prior to 2010 as well. Probably the most famous example is the story of the Democratic Labor Party (DLP). The DLP was a split from the Australian Labor Party’s right made up of anti-Communist Catholics who feared that the party was not taking enough action against Communism. The DLP never won any seats in the House of Representatives (though they did win a large number of seats in the, proportionally elected, almost equally powered Senate) but won around 10% of the vote in some elections. They directed preferences towards the Coalition parties, arguing that they would merge with the ALP when the ALP gave into its demands, but as the ALP never did they helped keep the ALP out of power from its creation in 1955 until 1972, when the ALP won power after 23 years in opposition (which is even more impressive considering that Australia has elections on a three year cycle). 

This is much less likely to happen in Britain however due to the differences between the version of AV up on offer and the version used in Australia. Many people are aware that in Australia everybody must vote under threat of fine (compulsory voting) but fewer are aware that under the Australian version of AV voters must express a preference for every single candidate on the ballot paper or the ballot is considered to be spoilt. Therefore the ‘How to vote cards’ are used by so many, and such a function of the system because it makes the lives of voters easier.

That said, there is a certain degree of analogous behaviour in British elections. As I mentioned in the above section London mayoral elections use the vaguely similar Supplementary Vote system, under which votes have just two preferences, 1st and 2nd. In the 2008 election Ken Livingston and Sian Berry of the Green Party formed an electoral pact where both told their voters to second preference the other. Boris Johnson also made a very concerted effort to woo Lib Dem second preferences though in the end their candidate, Brian Paddick, second preferenced the candidate of the Left List(!) 

Whether or not you approve of this sort of behaviour by political parties is up to you. On the one hand it can be considered sensible tactics given the system, or even sound advice from parties. Most preference deals are between parties who share a strong affinity anyway, so in many cases it is likely that a large number of preferences would have gone that way anyway. On the other hand it may be considered an undemocratic distortion, it's up to you, dear reader.


7. Cost


Some readers may have seen one of these banners around the internet:



No to AV claims that AV will cost £250 million. This figure is, frankly, inflated. Part of the figure is based upon the £80-£100 million cost of the referendum itself – which we are having either way. Most of the remaining figure is also made up by £120 million on counting machines, which are not necessary for the counting process at all – they are not used in Australia for example, nor has the electoral commission said they are required. The figure as a whole and the electoral counting machine claim is based on the introduction of STV into Scotland, but STV is a much more complex electoral system that takes longer to count and so counting machines are more necessary. The cost of ‘voter education’ per voter is also likely to be higher. For the record when Channel 4’s excellent Factcheck blog asked the electoral commission about electronic counting machines they said: “The Commission hasn’t considered whether electric machines are necessary or value for money.” Additionally even these figures were accurate they would be one-off cost. 

That said, we can be certain that AV will cost more than FPTP. It will lengthen the counting process and require some voter education, but the £250 million figure, for all its utility, strikes me as being, at best, wildly pessimistic, and, at worst, a misleading distortion. In any case, by the standards of the British budget, which numbers about £600 BILLION, even £250 million is chump change.

AV myth bust number 4: While AV will likely cost more than FPTP, the £250 million figure is misleading. The £100 million referendum is happening anyway and it is not yet clear whether AV will require counting machines.


8. Safe Seats


One claim the Yes to AV campaign likes to make is that AV will help eliminate safe seats. There is a simple reason for this claim: every market research analysis of the British populace’s problem with the electoral system has always thrown up ‘safe seats’ as the most effective argument against First Past The Post. I frankly find this assertion rather questionable – Australia has plenty of safe seats, as does France with its similar two-round constituency system. That said there are ways in which AV may provide more opportunities for alternative candidates. 

Let’s take a couple of examples from British elections past. 

For example in 2005 in the constituency of Sedgefield stood one Tony Blair, MP for the seat, of the Labour Party. Standing against him were fourteen, yes fourteen, candidates, many of them independents, most famously Reg Keys, the anti-war campaigner whose son was killed in Iraq. With Iraq the big issue all these candidates stood on broadly similar platforms of punishing Blair for the war. In doing so they helped divide the vote, and made it even easier for Blair to secure re-election (he actually won an increased majority due to the drop in the Tory vote). Now I’m not saying that if we had had AV Blair would have been defeated, after all he won a clear majority of the vote (58.9%), but AV would have allowed those candidates to transfer preferences between each other and made the election more competitive. Under FPTP Blair’s triumph was a foregone conclusion (though it would have likely been under AV too). 

Neil Hamilton meets Martin Bell on the campaign trail.
Now let’s take a different example, Tatton in 1997. Today the seat is held by some bloke called George Osbourne, but in 1997 it was the seat of Neil Hamilton; a man who, perhaps singularly, came to represent everything that was seen as wrong about the John Major government. Hamilton was embroiled in scandal after scandal and from the point of view of my modern day brain I frankly find it difficult to see why he was not deselected. Angered by his selection the BBC journalist, Martin Bell, resigned his position and announced an independent run in the constituency. Labour and the Lib Dems, seeing Bell as having the best chance to kick the Tories where it hurt, in a safe seat, withdrew, and Bell won with 60.2% of the vote. Under AV they wouldn’t have had to withdraw however as votes could (and likely would have) transferred between candidates. They only withdrew because they were afraid of splitting the sizeable anti-Hamilton vote, which is much less risky under AV. (Incidentally my favourite party label from this election is from the fabulous David Bishop, leader of the ‘Bus-pass Elvis’ party who ran for the first time in this seat as ‘Lord Byro versus the Scallywag Tories’).

Finally, I wish to draw your attention to Wyre Forest. Up until 1992 the seat was held by the Tories, but it was won in 1997 by Labour. In 2001, however, it was won by Richard Taylor, an independent campaigning against the closure of Kidderminster hospital’s A&E.  He was aided in his triumph by the withdrawal of the Lib Dems, they also did not run in 2005. In 2010, however, they decided to run a candidate and Taylor lost his seat to the Tories by 5.2%. The Lib Dems got 11.9%. A strong argument can be made that by running a candidate the Lib Dems essentially split the vote in Wyre Forest, allowing the Tories to win the seat. 

Adam Bandt, Green Party MP for Melbourne.
Now let’s finally take an example from Australia. In 2007 the seat of Melbourne ‘went rogue’, that is a minor party – the Greens, beat out a major party – the Liberals. The Greens then succeeded in targeting the seat in 2010 and unseating the incumbent Labor Party candidate in what was supposed to be, for Labor, a safe seat. They actually won 2% less of first preferences, but won on later rounds.

What I mean to show by these examples is that AV has the potential to make politics in such seats more competitive, it provides more opportunities for a strong local campaign. Voters have nothing to fear from voting for an alternative candidate as long as they preference sensibly. There is no fear of vote splitting under AV. That said, winning a seat under any single member constituency system requires a quality candidate, a large number of activists and resources. It is unlikely, in my view, that minor parties will be able to muster these things in anything more than a handful of seats because these things are, ultimately, out of their reach. 

It is unlikely, in my opinion, that AV will have a huge effect on major parties in safe seats, however there may be one or two places with low turnout due to the uncompetitive nature of local elections that may become a bit more interesting under AV.

Nonetheless, it remains my overriding view that the vast majority of safe seats will not become marginal under AV. AV may provide a few more opportunities for alternative candidates, but single seat constituencies are largely defined by their demographics. Impoverished seats in Glasgow are not going to suddenly vote Conservative just because the electoral system has changed, nor will Henley on Thames start voting Labour. Minor parties may have a couple more opportunities, but making a big challenge to the major parties will require resources currently outside their reach. I would expect the vast majority of safe seats to stay where they are under AV.

AV myth bust number 5: Other run-off systems in the world do not demonstrate a substantial difference from Britain in terms of safe seats. AV may provide some more opportunities for alternative candidates in safe seats but the country is likely to remain dominated by them under AV.


9. Chances of leading to more Electoral Reform


It is, frankly, clear that a very large number of ‘Yes’ supporters hope that AV will lead to another electoral reform somewhere down the line. Other electoral reformers plan to vote against, believing it will lead to the case for PR being weaker.

Frankly, I don’t think it matters either way. Another electoral reform will require another referendum and holding another referendum, anytime soon, will be seen as asking the question until you get the answer you want. In short, I frankly believe that this referendum will kick electoral reform at Westminster off the political agenda for a generation, even if there is another Coalition government. On a practical level it would certainly be easier to move from AV to STV or AV+ than FPTP to one of these systems because people will be more used to the idea of ranking candidates and the only practical change would be to change from single-member constituencies to multi-member ones in the former, or introduce 'top-up' seats in the latter. That said, the subject of electoral reform at a local or European level, or at the level of any new governmental bodies created may be affected by the referendum. The only exception will be, I suspect, if AV passes and is considered to be a disaster, or if FPTP continues and delivers us widely distorted or unstable results (a series of hung parliaments, perhaps, or a majority for one party or another despite coming second in the popular vote).

My advice to supporters of PR, therefore, is not to vote on AV because of how you think it will affect the case for PR, but on the basis of which of the two systems you prefer.


10. Dependability of seat projections


There are lots of various seat projections available for AV. I am frankly of the opinion that they all share one thing in common: they are ALL wrong. Projecting how people will vote under an alternative electoral system is impossible because most voters can only imagine voting under the system they use now and because party behaviour is shaped by electoral systems and our opinions of political parties are shaped by their behaviour. How AV will affect overall results is, frankly, completely unpredictable. The best we can do is simulate the results using what we know of people’s second preferences, or speculate on how parties would change their behaviour.



11.    Parting words 

So that's my attempt at an impartial AV guide. I've tried to be as through as I can. I am sure there will be people on both sides who disagree with my assessments. I've tried to be as fair as possible to both sides and all the arguments as I can, but also to say when I think either side is being misleading. Unlike our other guides I'm going to leave the comments open on this one to start off with. If you have a problem with anything I've said, think I've missed anything, or just disagree with one of my assessments and are capable of saying so like a mature adult, please post it in the comments. In an unusual bout of Britain-Votes authoritarianism, however, I am going to stop allowing comments if I decide readers are being abusive.

10 comments:

  1. This is absolutely brilliant, thank you! I'm especially glad that you tackle the '50% claim', which I've felt the pro-AV camp (which I'm in) tends to overstate.

    One small quibble: unless I'm misreading you, myth bust 3 should read "AV will *not* automatically lead to more coalition governments" - you seem to have re-stated the myth, whereas in all your other myth bustings, you state what you feel the reality is.

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  2. A good rational commentary, IMHO. Thank you.

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  3. Thanks for that, djm4, I must have missed that in my proof reading!

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  4. Re comment 10. I've used the data from the British Election Survey to estimate what would happen if AV had been in place for 2010 and I believe that where you have such data it is only valid for that election (i.e you cannot use 2010 data to calculate 2005 election). So in that regard I agree, but do feel that there might need to a comparsion between past FPTP elections and their AV calculations in order for people to see the impact that AV could make

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  5. I can see that in Australia there is a preference from 1-6 but it seems in the example you quote from Carnoustie and District that only the 1 & 2 are relevant i.e only the second preference of each eliminated candidate is counted. Where do 3,4,5, & 6 then come into it?

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  6. It all depends on who is eliminated. Essentially your vote will always go to the highest remaining preference you have in each round. In the first round that means your first choice, but as more and more candidates are eliminated more and more preferences are used. In reality a sixth preference in that example would never be used as counting will always end when there are two candidates left. Additionally the further on you preference the less likely that preference has of being used, as there is less chance of ALL your preferred candidates being eliminated.

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  7. Really nice balance here, no wonder both sides hate you:) Who do you think will actually win the referendum?

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  8. I'm not really sure. Polls are exceptionally close. Generally, with referendums, as it gets closer to the day of the referendum you see a swing towards the no camp, but I have a feeling that the yes camp have a secret weapon - differential turnout. Here's a bullet point list of factors that I think could swing the result.

    1. I think the 'Yes' crowd are more motivated to turn out than the No crowd.
    2. I think the 'Yes' campaign has a superior infrastructure and campaign and can therefore guarantee a superior Get Out The Vote operation on polling day.
    3. Northern Ireland is not included in any British polls, but WILL be voting in the referendum. Northern Ireland has both local and Assembly elections on that day, as well as, likely, a by-election in West Belfast. Overall turnout will probably be in the 60s (it was 63.5% at the last Assembly election) and while I can only make an educated guess I suspect that Northern Ireland citizens lean heavily in AV's favour as they use STV at all levels apart from Westminster (local, Euro, Assembly).
    4. Simultaneous elections in Scotland/Wales will drive up turnout, and I suspect they will lean towards AV as they are used to alternative electoral systems.
    5. The Conservatives are in power now, and as such they can be expected to turn out less at the polls. However the same can be said of the Lib Dems. The direction Labour voters are pointing in may decide this referendum.

    However there is one turnout factor in the No campaign's favour, which is that mid-term referendums tend to see a higher turnout amongst older voters, and there is a clear generational divide on the subject of electoral reform.

    It could be anybody's really, and polling for a referendum is notoriously difficult.

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  9. Won't be voting YES - Clegg needs to be punished.

    Won't be voting NO - supported by a bunch of thugs.

    Going to the US instead for a relaxing holiday - now that's what I'm voting for!!

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  10. Thanks for this, probably the best overview I have read to date.

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