Published on 7 Apr 2011

Alternative vote: alternative outcome

You’ll be hearing quite a few times from David Cameron and Nick Clegg on AV – against and for, respectively – in the next four weeks. As things stand, I understand, you won’t hear another dickey-bird from Ed Miliband. Well, there won’t be any set-piece speeches anyway. He’s done the cross-party Yes to AV event, the Labour for AV event and that’s it. His focus, team members say, is on the local elections now.

If he delves into our YouGov poll tonight – you can see a report on it on Channel 4 News and read the poll HERE – he might feel it’s not such a bother if his side loses the referendum. Ed Miliband used the Yes to AV launch to resurrect the long-held idea that there’s a progressive majority in the country and a change in the electoral system would help to entrench it in power – code for: Labour will pick up Lib Dem second preferences and get in.

But right now, the remaining Lib Dem vote is not only smaller it’s less Labour/left leaning. In our poll, the second preferences fall more for the Tories. Labour is actually harmed by AV. The Tories pick up more UKIP 2nd preferences too. Under First Past the Post, according to our poll, the General Election result would be:

LABOUR                 355 MPs
LIB DEMS               16 MPs

Under AV, the result would be

LABOUR                  342 MPs
LIBDEMS                 29 MPs

Might not look very different but it would be (counting in other parties) the difference between a Labour majority of 60 and a Labour majority of 34 … a dent of that order come the time of the next election could be the difference between joy and sadness for Labour.

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13 reader comments

  1. Mudplugger says:

    The problem with all such ‘retro-counting’ is that it is not possible to simulate the effect of AV. The electorate currently votes under a specific system which requires them to give a single vote to the one cadidate who most closely reflects their individual views.
    Under AV, the voter has the opportunity to reflect different aspects of their views within the rankings, which will produce a very different result.

    Although some fair assumptions may be made (e.g. that UKIP votes may most often go to the Conservative on second preference), the range of ‘safe’ assumptions is not enough to validate any prediction of the electorate’s behaviour under a completely different system.

    Add to this the probability that many will still only vote for a single candidate, then the effect of their decision not to use further preferences may become very significant.

    Much as I respect the psephological analysis of our traditional elections, I am not convinced that any speculation about voter behaviour under AV is yet valid and suggest that any projections of results may become more accurate by casting goat-entrails or reading tea-leaves right now.

  2. Barnaby Dawson says:

    What most people are saying about AV is that they don’t really understand how it works. So I’ve made this Facebook app that demonstrates the Alternative Vote using user generated straw polls:

    Try it out here:

    Barnaby (app creator)

  3. Ray Turner says:

    I’m not so sure about this. I think a General Election Ballot under the AV system will, after a decent campaign, get the electorate thinking in a very different way about how best to cast their votes. It will also influence who’s prepared to stand in the election. I think that more people will be prepared to stand as an independent as there is theoretically a better chance of gaining a decent level of support.

    Saying that Labour will pick up the second votes of Lib Dem supporters thus seems rather simplistic to me. I don’t think it will work like that in practice…

    1. Tom Wright says:

      Just putting an ‘I agree’ under this in the absence of thumbs, speaking of which, where are they CH4? You said they were coming back!

      What’s the matter, afraid of a little user democracy? ;-)

  4. Saltaire Sam says:

    Presumably the conservative bias among second preferences of lib dems is because most of those who would have preferred labour have now left the lib dems in protest.

    It was always safe to presume that the second preference for UKIP voters would be conservative, but perhaps that’s why Cameron is so against AV.

    If enough UKIP voters who have been voting tactically for the tories are now brave enough to vote their first preference and put UKIP ahead of the tories, and enough tory second preferences are UKIP, that might reduce the number of tory MPs.

    What is very odd about the current political system in this country appears to be that none of the major parties is popular.

    The tories are probably doing best because their core support believe that their pain will be shortlived and in the long run they will benefit from a tax-cutting tory government.

    Labour have not been forgiven for the last government even by some of their core support and Miliband has done little to turn it round.

    The lib-dems are back in the doldrums they were in before Charles Kennedy and could take 50 years to recover.

  5. Alex says:

    Could this be anymore short termist?

  6. Richard says:

    With the reduction in MPs and the rearranging of boundaries to theoretically help the tories, Labour’s majority could well be even less. And with the like of Corbyn et al it could be very difficult for them to rule for five years.

  7. Kes says:

    I hope that the reform of the electoral system will, in any case and regardless of whether we go to AV or not, ensure that all electoral districts are the same size. When Labour were in power, they manipulated the boundaries to a scandalous degree, ensuring they receive more seats than other parties for similar votes won. Outrageous and an abuse of democracy.

    Note: both parties have done this when in power. We need a completely independent boundaries commission to ensure that this can’t happen. That way, no matter what system we use, that evil won’t distort the results.

  8. Tom Wright says:

    Your poll should factor in what happens should the over-representation of Scotland and Wales go through – all those constituancies will very small electorates who return Labour MPs – the votes that effectively count more than those in areas like London. Wrongly, inethically.

    Goodwill for the Coalition, mid-term, is statistically speaking at the low point, and likely to improve in the run-up to an election, when the Lib Dems will be able to brag that they have lifted to many workers out of the tax system and delivered on their promise of the £10k entry point to income tax, and the Tories, having dealt with the deficit, will be able to increase public spending, and cut tax.

    In this scenario, given that Ed Milliband’s ‘progressive’ majority is quite clearly shown to be a pipe-dream, Labour will be annihilated.

  9. Ian says:

    I think this poll rather misses the point that, at the moment at least, those left-leaning former LibDem voters are telling the pollsters they will vote Labour. So it’s hardly surprising (but not particularly meaningful) that those remain might tend to have a right-leaning second preference.

  10. rouser says:

    in this age of austerity, why are we wasting so much money on a referendum bill, this could shourely have waited to a better thought out piece of voting legislation were devised. or was their method in camerons madness for once!

  11. Ray Turner says:

    I’ve just been reading the leaflet from the electoral commission, which was pushed through my letterbox the other day.

    It was interesting to note that even in the event of a “Yes” vote in the referendum, MP’s have allowed themselves a way out. They just vote against the boundary changes when they are announced in a couple of years time, and AV won’t be implemented…!

    Parliament Square might have to become our Pearl Roundabout one day…!

  12. MARK says:

    Question – are we only having this referendum as it was in the Lib-Dem manifesto and is a condition of the coalition agreement? Is that the only way that we will hold a referendum? Or should we congratulate Tories / Lib Dems on delivering promises? Labour never held their much promised referendum on EU membership. This in itself shows our voting system is flawed when Labour were able to act so autocratically. Isn’t it about time we had regular referenda – immigration is one, EU membership, nuclear power…issues where a governing party alone should not be able to decide something that impacts a generation….

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