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A post on AV - The Ex-Communicator

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February 20th, 2011


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08:24 am - A post on AV
Andrew Rawnsley in the Guardian says:
The more the public learns about the attractions of being able to rank candidates in order of preference, the more people will like it.
However if you read this UK polling report the exact opposite is the case:
The last Populus poll for the Times (split)... the sample, giving half of them just the bare referendum question and half of them a brief description of what the options were – describing AV as a system where “voters number the candidates they like in order of preference, and the candidate who gets more than half the support of the voters in the constituency is elected”.

With the bare question, 41% supported YES, 29% supported NO ... When given an explanation of the systems the figures were 29% YES, 43% NO .

People do appear to like the idea of a change of electoral system, but are more doubtful when told about what AV actually is.

I have personally changed my mind on electoral reform in the past year, and I know I am now out of step with many other people on my f-list. I do not think the proposed change to AV is a good move. A big factor for me was the large number of Lib Dems saying to me 'There is nothing complicated about it... very simple... just rank candidates in order of preference.' Nothing to see here - the old Lib Dem message.

This set off warning bells, and I now think there is a belief in the remaining Lib Dems - the right wing sympathisers - that they can manipulate the new system to carry through right wing policies which do not have the support of the majority of British people. As I have said so often - if the British people want this country to veer rightwards there is nothing I can do. I won't like it, but I will get by. I do not believe this is what people want.

It seems transparent to me that Lib Dems think they can proffer themselves as some kind of Tory-lite party, by opposing one or two of the more rabid proposals in the next Tory manifesto. All this stuff about 'How hard can it be, nothing to see here, order of preference, just sign on the dotted line' is because they think they can pick up second (or third or fourth) choice votes in marginal constituencies, and thereby squeak through in - what - maybe ten seats? Then support the extreme policies which they stood on a platform of opposing.

Now, if AV is introduced, people like me will have to work with that system, we will have to ensure people realise that you do not have to rank candidates in order of preference, you do not have to give your vote to a party you despise. I am hopeful that such a meta-campaign will be successful. So a 'yes' on AV isn't a closing of the book or anything. However, the current yes-campaign includes a misrepresentation, and I think if the referendum is carried this misrepresentation will continue, as a dishonest framing of the choices which face the electorate.

ETA - I think the key is the difference between 'Vote for every candidate that you like, in order of preference' (this is the correct message) and 'Rank the candidates in order of preference' (this is a misleading message). The fact that people are already eliding the difference between these positions makes me very concerned.

(69 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


[User Picture]
From:watervole
Date:February 20th, 2011 09:04 am (UTC)
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I suspect the result depends entirely on how you ask the question - it does with many surveys.

I had to read that particular explanation a couple of times to get my head round it. It's awkwardly phrased.

Ranking candidates in order of preference is all that actually needs to be said. If you hate a party so much that they're last on your list, then that vote will never be of any use to them no matter how many recounts there are.

To me, one of the great benefits of AV is that it allows people to show which party they actually want in power as their first choice. If your true desire is to vote Labour (for example) then you can do that. You don't have to indulge in tactical voting if you are afraid that voting for the party of your choice will allow the Conservatives (for example) to get in.

Even if the Conservative candidate does get elected, s/he can no longer say that there was no support for Labour in the constituency.

People's first votes allow them to say what they really want - which will get into the papers - then they can use their second choice to vote tactically.

In my case, it will allow me to vote Green, which is the party I actually support - and have only ever been able to vote for in European elections because that's the only election where I've been able to rank candidates.
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From:communicator
Date:February 20th, 2011 09:27 am (UTC)
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Ranking candidates in order of preference is all that actually needs to be said.

No, it really isn't. There is an enormous difference between 'rank candidates in order of preference' and 'vote for candidates you support in order of preference.' The Australian system has the former model, the proposed British system has the latter, and the difference is very significant.

If you hate a party so much that they're last on your list, then that vote will never be of any use to them no matter how many recounts there are.

But if you hate two or three parties (which I probably will in my constituency) then I will spuriously appear to be endorsing two of those three.

ETA - actually south Coventry is a complex political landscape and there may well be up to five parties on the ballot that I seriously loathe: Tory, Lib Dem, UKIP, BNP and one or more loony fringe groups.

Edited at 2011-02-20 09:30 am (UTC)
[User Picture]
From:houseboatonstyx
Date:February 20th, 2011 09:56 am (UTC)
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I agree it's awkwardly phrased. I tend to like the basic idea, but that phrasing put me off; it suggested a plurality would suffice.

They should try the poll with better wording.
(no subject) - (Anonymous) - Expand
[User Picture]
From:tehomet
Date:February 20th, 2011 09:38 am (UTC)
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AV is not a good system, in my view. I think PR is fairer, but then I'm biased as that's what we use in Ireland.
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From:communicator
Date:February 20th, 2011 09:44 am (UTC)
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I don't know the Irish system at all - is there this problem of seeming to endorse a party you don't like, just because you put it ahead of another party that is even more horrible?
[User Picture]
From:tehomet
Date:February 20th, 2011 10:16 am (UTC)
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No. If you don't like a party, you just don't give it a vote, not even your 9th or 10th preference!

I've read about that problem the current English system has, where you have to vote tactically, even sometimes vote for the party you dislike in order to prevent the party you dislike from getting into power, which seems counterintuitive. PR doesn't involve anything like that, thankfully.

The disadvantages of PR are that structurally you need to have five or six seater constituencies, you need to have patience as it normally takes a day or more to count the votes, and you have to be prepared to have the possibility of a coalition government (but then, as in England, you can get that with first past the post, too).

I would be against AV. Why go to all the trouble of a semi-reform? It's a massive hassle and expense to the taxpayer to no great benefit. The Lib Dems should stick to their guns and demand full-on PR with single transferable vote, IMHO.
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From:matgb
Date:February 20th, 2011 02:14 pm (UTC)
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AV is a single member seat version of STV which is the Irish system--AV is used in Ireland for by elections, the election of the President and similar one winner events. I also much prefer the Irish/Australian Senate system, but that's not on the table, hence this is the best we can get, and a massive stepping stone towards what we eventually want.
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From:draxar
Date:February 20th, 2011 11:51 pm (UTC)
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I think PR, specifically STV, is fairer than AV. However, I also think that AV is considerably fairer than FPTP. And it's whats on the table.

I don't think there was any real chance of getting a referendum on FPTP -> STV during the coalition negotiations, and there's also the argument that we might be rather more likely to lose that referendum had that been the one that had happened.

It's the choice that lies before us, and I find AV > FPTP, thus it gets my support.
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From:kerravonsen
Date:February 21st, 2011 10:07 am (UTC)
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Australia wins! We have Preferential for the House of Representatives and Proportional Representation (by State) for the Senate. Of course, the poor Brits can't do that because their second House is the House of Lords...
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From:kalypso_v
Date:February 20th, 2011 12:00 pm (UTC)
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Actually, what I enjoyed so much about AV in the Labour leadership vote was that I didn't have to put the candidates in order of preference, and I could use the ballot to do two things at the same time. By the time I filled it in, it was perfectly clear that the only thing that really mattered was which Miliband you put first. There was no point putting anyone below the Miliband, but you could do whatever you fancied above him. So, as I didn't want Diane Abbott to be humiliated though I didn't actually think she'd be a good leader, I put her first, knowing that it would have no impact on the final outcome.

Similarly, in my constituency, the only thing that matters is whether you put Labour or Liberal Democrat first (and by first, I mean higher in the order, not necessarily at the top). People supporting minority parties like the Greens or the Tories can do whatever they like above that without affecting the results - which will be nice for the Tories who are mostly voting Lib Dem at the moment. I think people round here are literate enough to understand that, and if not they'll just put a 1 by their favourite - in fact, I think a lot of people will just do that anyway.

Edited at 2011-02-20 12:01 pm (UTC)
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From:communicator
Date:February 20th, 2011 12:09 pm (UTC)
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It's just that I see Lib Dems flexing their rhetorical agenda right here on Livejournal all the time 'Just rank in order of preference - how hard can that be?' And I know that misleading message will be all over the press and TV.
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From:draxar
Date:February 20th, 2011 11:53 pm (UTC)
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It means that AV will be a useful signalling mechanism as well as a way of getting MPs – for instance, we'll finally get a better idea of the number of people who support the Greens, as opposed to those who support them and don't vote tactically.
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From:gfk88
Date:February 20th, 2011 04:04 pm (UTC)
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Sorry to be dim here, but I still haven't understood what your concern is. If all the candidates acceptable to you get eliminated, you either refuse to rank any more, or you choose the least-worst if you're prepared to do that. In neither case can your favourites be disdavantaged by this, because they're already out. What am I missing?
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From:communicator
Date:February 20th, 2011 04:16 pm (UTC)
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I am not objecting to the actual proposal - which is what you say - but to the fact it is being misrepresented everywhere (as 'rank all candidates'). And I think that misrepresentation will continue.
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From:gfk88
Date:February 20th, 2011 04:22 pm (UTC)
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Oh OK. But I don't understand why this misrepresentation is important. Isn't it just a detail point ? And if I'm wrong, and lots of people find the idea of having to rank all candidates off-putting, wouldn't it be in the interests of the Yes camp to clear up the confusion?
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