Tuesday, May 03, 2011

Why I'm voting Yes for AV

Let's be clear to start with. No voting system is perfect, as it's always possible to work out scenarios where a system fails in some way or other. The question on Thursday is whether alternative vote (AV) is preferable to the current first past the post system (FPTP) for General Elections. It's tempting for those who want to get at Nick Clegg to vote 'No' anyway and for those who want to give David Cameron a problem to vote 'Yes', but our referendum vote ought to be about the system, not political personalities.

Likewise some are judging the vote on the systems on the basis of which party(ies) they think it would favour. The truth is we don't know how people would vote with a new system, but clearly parties would need to be mindful of having some appeal to people beyond their core support. If some parties fear AV more than others, that would seem to be a party issue, not a voting system question.

I'm voting 'Yes" because:

  1. AV eliminates the need for tactical voting. In several recent general elections, people have found themselves voting for a party/candidate they don't want because they want to try and stop the candidate they really don't want from getting in. 
  2. Campaign leaflets often talk about 'wasted' votes for candidates who are deemed likely to be 3rd or 4th. AV eliminates this. You can put your genuine first choice first and then rank the others, according to their relative merits in your eyes.
  3. Many voters are not neatly defined in one political box. They do have relative preferences. AV enables a consensus to be established as to who is the most acceptable candidate to most of the electorate.
  4. In a genuine 2 horse race, FPTP works fine. However, in constituencies where 3 (or even 4) parties do quite well, it's possible to be elected by FPTP with 30% or less of the votes. AV helps to sort out who is the best candidate to represent the interests of the majority.
The General Election of 1983 showed that FPTP produces results substantially at odds with actual votes cast (25.4% of the votes produced 3.5% of the seats for the Lib/SDP Alliance). However, the proponents of FPTP point to it avoiding the coalitions and instability of a proportional system. It must be acknowledged that AV isn't a proportional system, it retains the structure of a constituency with an MP, but it does give us as voters more say in establishing who is best to represent the majority of the electors.

Here's a mathematical take on it all.
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Lesley said...

I'm still unsure on whether I am voting of AV or not however I would have prefered the money spent on this campaign to research into why so few people vote and how the country could encourage more people to have their say. Last week my daughter gave a talk at school about politics and she was surprised by how few 6th formers know so little about politics and how apathetic they were to the political situation.

Mike Peatman said...

That's a fair point. However, at least AV would mean that every vote counts. I think some people switch off if they think that _______ party wins in their constituency whatever they do. 'Safe' seats might not be quite so safe for anyone any more!

Revsimmy said...

Mike, a good post and well reasoned. I have detailed my reasons for voting Yes over at my own blog. I got really annoyed by David Cameron's misrepresentations on Radio 4 this morning as well as his contemptuous dismissal of the attempt by the interviewer to correct one of them.

Lesley, no research, but I think Mike has a point about the way FPTP delivers so many "safe" seats leads to a certain amount of disillusionment. I also hazard a guess that the system is set up with the assumption that there will be a contest between competing (conflicting) visions of society - great for a modernist culture such as existed in the 50s and 60s, but mistrusted by postmoderns. Hence the complaint sometimes heard that there is no real difference between the parties any more. I suppose that in a backhanded way it vindicates John Major's vision of a "classless society" - there's less passion about these visions today.

Louis Counter said...

Lesley I can see what you mean but I think AV will stand a chance at helping out with that. I am a firm believer that voting should be compulsory (a whole other argument that I'm not hoping to start up on) but even with that I am so fed up with having my vote mean absolutely nothing (my entire life I've lived in two completely safe seats) that even with my belief in the importance of voting I almost didn't bother last time round.