Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Alternative Vote is the least unpopular voting system

There are many flaws in the First-Past-The-Post system of voting. But at least you only get one vote to expend upon one candidate, and you can be sure that the winning candidate received more votes than any other candidate; that is to say, the winning candidate is sure to be the most popular of all the candidates.

Yet today MPs vote on an amendment to the Constitutional Reform Bill on whether or not to scrap this tried-and-tested, trusted, straightforward, clearly-understood method in favour of the Alternative-Vote system. Under that, you have to rank candidates in order of preference and if on the first round no candidate wins a majority, the candidate who comes last is eliminated and their second-preference votes are apportioned accordingly. That is to say, the winning candidate is sure to be the least unpopular of all the candidates.

It is a bizarre system which permits the most popular candidate to be beaten by the least unpopular candidate. And John Redwood explains a further inherent unfairness:

‘If you vote for one of the two most popular parties you only get to vote once. If you vote for a party that cannot win you effectively vote twice, as your second preference then helps decide which of the front runners has won. Why is this fair?

‘If I go to a horse or car race, I expect the car or horse that comes first to be the winner. I do not expect the judges to say that as the first and second were close they will ask the losers who they would like to win. Nor do we say that as it was close the first and second place have to run it again without the others to see if one is faster without the others getting in the way.’

The intercession of the Prime Minister for the AV system is a cynical death-bed conversion in an attempt to attain political salvation by fooling the electoral gods.

The people are not so stupid as to fall for such a ploy.

But the Liberal Democrats?

It is likely that they will support the Prime Minister and bequeath to him a Commons majority in favour of holding a referendum on this reform. It is not quite the Proportional Representation of their long-desired Single-Transferable-Vote system, but they will view it as a stepping-stone to that utopian end. The nationalists are also likely to support it as anything which weakens the centuries-old electoral mechanisms inherently favours their ‘modernisation’ agenda. The move will also appeal to liberal-minded voters of all persuasions who want to ‘break with the past’ for no rational reason other than to feel the sensation of progress: it will certainly attract the Liberal Democrats into power-sharing with the Labour Party in the event of a hung parliament.

Of course, there is insufficient time to put it on the statute book before the General Election, and so the Prime Minister’s strategy is evidently to portray the Conservative Party as the dinosaurs of the status quo, intractably opposed to much-needed electoral reform.

There is not doubt that First-Past-The-Post produces strong and stable governments. And Tim Montgomerie is of the opinion that 'AV penalises the independent-minded and boosts the dullards, the mediocrities, the lobby fodder'.

And yet it is the system by which David Cameron was elected to lead the Conservative Party.

26 Comments:

Blogger John.D said...

It also gave us Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, so what is your point?

9 February 2010 at 10:58  
Anonymous Dick the Prick said...

Your Grace

Does anyone give a toss anymore? I've been robbed, restricted, forced into violent conflict, assessed, maligned and now disenfranchised. I'm not sure my outrageous fury helps anymore - just resigned to be EuroCitizen 346,921,282.

Yours illiberally

DtP

9 February 2010 at 11:04  
Blogger OldSlaughter said...

This is apparently to re-engage people into the political process.

Year: 1950
Turnout: 83.9%
System: First Past Post

Year: 2005
Turnout: 61.4%
System: First Past Post

It ain't the voting system.

9 February 2010 at 11:20  
Blogger Paul said...

Well, Boris would have been elected anyway using FPP. David Cameron, on the other hand...

9 February 2010 at 11:34  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Your Grace

So the Father of Socialism’s ‘strategy is evidently to portray the Conservative Party as the dinosaurs of the status quo, intractably opposed to much-needed electoral reform.’

This is what the Conservative party is doing: stiffening British resistance to the infiltration of continental voting systems.

We do not want the Italian system. If the Socialists want that then EU rules permit them to to stand as MEPs in towns like Arsoli, Lazio.

We want to keep our history, our traditions, our sense of fair-play. WE understand our system. That is why we know, that when we place a bet on Red Rum, the bet is on Red Rum and not Lucky Boy.

9 February 2010 at 11:53  
Anonymous Dick the Prick said...

@D.Singh - anyone would think that Conservatives are err..conservative; the swines!!!

9 February 2010 at 11:56  
Blogger D. Singh said...

Your Grace

Stalin’s disciple, Gordon Brown, says that the new proposed voting system will help restore trust in politics.

It will do nothing of the sort – for the power to restore trust in politicians is in the hands of politicians – not the voting system.

Do they not know that he path between good and evil runs through everyman’s heart?

9 February 2010 at 12:20  
Blogger Beware of Geeks bearing GIFs said...

Your Grace,

I think we should use some "out of the box" thinking on this.

I think to increase the participation in voting, we should change the system to:

Vote to eliminate an MP from parliament. Permanently.

I'm sure figures of around 95% would ensure.

It could even be turned into a weekly game show to reflect the depths to which our society has plummeted.

9 February 2010 at 12:28  
Anonymous martin sewell said...

We could call it " I'm a mediocrity - Get me out of here!"

9 February 2010 at 12:32  
Anonymous Tony B said...

At least you recognise there are many problems with FPP. The problem is not just with the voting system itself, but with the political system it begets. The focus is on winner takes all, on antagonism and division and opposition. Divide and rule. If the Tories say one thing, Labour has to say the reverse, and then implement the reverse, even if the Tories were actually right, and vice versa. There is no mutual consensus on important things that need to get sorted out, like a decent, integrated transport system. Like the NHS, constantly trifled with for political reasons. There are just silly arguments, and waving bits of paper at each other. People recognise this - the system has become self-serving. It no longer serves the people it is supposed to serve, and it has to change.

Having said that, I don't for one moment beleive Gordon Brown is serious. He's trying to get the Lib Dems on side in case of a hung parliament.

9 February 2010 at 13:00  
OpenID britologywatch said...

Your Grace, Boris Johnson was elected London's mayor under the Supplementary Vote (SV) system, not Alternative Vote (AV). SV is in some respects a fairer alternative to FPTP and a better means to determine the most popular candidate, as opposed to the least unpopular, which is what AV favours, as you rightly say. With SV, if no candidate secures a majority in the 'first round', then only the top two candidates go through to a second round, in which only the votes of anyone who marked one of the top two as their second preference are added to their total. This is like an instant run-off version of the French system of two rounds of polling on successive Sundays.

Apparently, the Lib Dems are tabling their own amendment to the Constitutional Reform Bill in support of the Single Transferable Vote (STV). Not sure how they could reconcile that with voting in favour of AV; but let's see what happens.

9 February 2010 at 13:05  
Blogger Archbishop Cranmer said...

Mr Britology Watch,

His Grace thanks you for pointing that out: he has corrected.

9 February 2010 at 13:11  
Blogger John M Ward said...

I think Paul above has effectively stated it correctly: Boris was elected as Mayor of London despite the peculiar voting system. I don't think it would have been right not to have stood simply because of any objection to that system.

That argument is a trap, and should be avoided.

I hate the candidate selection system we have within the party, but it doesn't prevent me from putting myself forward for selection. At least we know the result of each round before casting our votes in the next round, and everyone's vote has the same value as all the others.

Thus it is not "virtually the same" as what is being proposed for this referendum, as Chris Bryant would have us believe.

9 February 2010 at 13:24  
Anonymous Ginro said...

"The people are not so stupid as to fall for such a ploy."

Apologies Your Grace, but I beg to differ. That the people can be remarkably stupid and short-sighted was shown when Tony Bliar got elected three times.

9 February 2010 at 14:02  
Anonymous Tony B said...

That's right Ginro, the people were stupid not to have re-elected that bunch of lying, corrupt hypocrites then collectively known as the Conservatives. What to do when the choice is between two bunches of lying, corrupt hypocrites?

9 February 2010 at 14:05  
Blogger Gnostic said...

Labour should leave our voting system the hell alone. They messed with postal voting which created electoral fraud that Afghanistan would have been proud of. And they want to run their sticky little fingers over the system AGAIN?



Verification - medness. Yeah...

9 February 2010 at 14:41  
Anonymous Ginro said...

Re Tony B who left a comment, I rest my case.

9 February 2010 at 15:09  
Anonymous isle of man farms said...

I think we should have AV but also increase the number of MPS this would ensure big parties to not end up with ridiculous majorities on less than a majority of the vote. The less MPS you have the more likely the biggest party will have over representation.

9 February 2010 at 17:40  
Blogger Lord Lavendon said...

Your Grace, how low with Brown stoop in order to win? This is nothing short of gerrymandering. Soon Labour will be arresting opposition politicians. Oh wait, that has already happened. Poor old country.

9 February 2010 at 21:28  
Anonymous Effing and Blinding said...

We have this in Australia and the continent hasnt sunk into the sea. Has some benefits:

1) Even though you might not get the candidate you want, you might get someone you don't mind having (ie your 2nd preference). So whilst the winner isn't necessarily the most popular, he/she can say he is reasonably acceptable to most people.

2) Most people vote using a party's How to Vote card indicating how that party wants its voters to give their 2nd preferences. Of course, a voter is free to ignore it, but many don't. So the main parties need to convince minor parties why they should get the all important No 2 spot on their How to Vote card. This results in a bit of horse trading, and people from minor parties getting at least indirectly a bit of a say.

3) Tends to be good for local issues. A party might spring up to campaign on a local issue. It knows it can't win, but can get a main party to agree to at least some of its wishes in return for giving that main party a preference.

9 February 2010 at 21:30  
Blogger sfw said...

Your Grace, first past the post can only be a fair system if there are two candidates. As you will be aware in a three way contest a candidate can win with only 35% of the votes leaving 65%disenfranchised, how is that fair? We have prefernece voting here in Australia and it works pretty well, we have stable governments. The prefernce system allows a voter to send a message to their candidate of choice by not voting directly for him but for another candidate who cannot win but will direct their prefernce to the candidate of choice. This can be a very powerful system to get a point across to a party or candidate.

Best Wishes
SFW

9 February 2010 at 23:11  
Blogger adrian said...

How does this system damage the Nationalists chances, because that's the only agenda they are really interested in.

10 February 2010 at 03:19  
Blogger adrian said...

Oh yes, and fear itself has not been criminalised, or is about to.

Xenophobia is an offence

Presumably then anyone who objects to mass immigration on the grounds that it will make the indigenous minorities against their will is now or will be guilty of a criminal offence.

10 February 2010 at 03:22  
Anonymous Nigel Sedgwick said...

I am distinctly puzzled as to Your Grace's opinion on this matter, as it is at variance with my understanding (which I have checked and researched further). Disagreeing with such a spirit as yours, with its considerable age and experience is not very comforting, so I beseech Your Grace to consider the matters of my concern, consulting higher authority as appropriate, and advise us all as to the definitive truth.

As Your Grace sets a limit of 4,096 (a Holy number for sure) characters per comment, and as I have worked so long and hard to express my opinion, I have divided my missive into 3 (another Holy number).

Firstly concerning naming, it is my understanding (though relying only upon that Wikipedia), that the Alternative Voting system (AV) is the same as the Single Transferable Vote (STV) where there is only one seat to be occupied.

"There are many flaws in the First-Past-The-Post system of voting. But at least you only get one vote to expend upon one candidate, and you can be sure that the winning candidate received more votes than any other candidate; that is to say, the winning candidate is sure to be the most popular of all the candidates."

It is my understanding of the STV system, with a single seat, that the finally elected candidate must appear in the voting preferences of at least 50% of the voters, and that there is no compulsion upon any voter to list more than zero candidates (that is, except according to the bastardised Australian system for their lower chamber). Thus, with an unbastardised STV system with one seat, it is quite possible for the electors duly assembled (in spirit if not in one place at the same time) to reject all candidates, requiring a second election. In my humble opinion, this is for the common good: for who would want to be represented by the best of a bad lot?

"Yet today MPs vote on an amendment to the Constitutional Reform Bill on whether or not to scrap this tried-and-tested, trusted, straightforward, clearly-understood method in favour of the Alternative-Vote system. Under that, you have to rank candidates in order of preference and if on the first round no candidate wins a majority, the candidate who comes last is eliminated and their second-preference votes are apportioned accordingly. That is to say, the winning candidate is sure to be the least unpopular of all the candidates."

Indeed that is true of the winning candidate, that he or she shall appear enumerated by rank on at least one half of the voting slips and, should that apply to more than one candidate, the winning candidate shall (by complicated but unambiguously defined means) be those so enumerated by more than 50% of the voters, more often in a non lower-ranking position, which is to say more often in a higher ranking position. In addition, the STV system, whatever it is named, does find favour and is adequately understood in several countries.

"It is a bizarre system which permits the most popular candidate to be beaten by the least unpopular candidate."

Ah, but in those days when Your Grace was more-corporal, upon finding your favourite restaurant was fully booked, would Your Grace have chosen to starve rather than to eat in another restaurant, tolerable to Your Grace in absolute terms, that was not fully booked. For surely with STV, Your Grace can (with respect to Your Grace's own vote) differentiate tolerable for intolerable, and hence balance hunger (if not actually starvation) against eating.

[End of Part I]

10 February 2010 at 12:04  
Anonymous Nigel Sedgwick said...

"And John Redwood explains a further inherent unfairness:"

Mr Redwood is, in many ways, a most excellent thinker. However, IMHO at least, he thinks first to his own benefit, second to that of his party, and only later to that of the rest of us. Likewise, IMHO, he thinks more to next week than to next year, though he is better than many of his kind who can barely think to the end of the day (and some only to the end of the glass they hold). For this, I cannot think really badly of him, but prefer to listen to him and think for myself rather than just follow his view.

"Your Grace quoting Mr Redwood: 'If you vote for one of the two most popular parties you only get to vote once. If you vote for a party that cannot win you effectively vote twice, as your second preference then helps decide which of the front runners has won. Why is this fair?"

This is not a good interpretation. If one equates STV with open primaries followed by an election, or with two-election systems such as the French use for selecting their president, actually the following applies: everyone gets 2 votes; its just that, if your original candidate is still in the race, you have to be consistent and vote for him/her again.

"Your Grace quoting Mr Redwood again: ‘If I go to a horse or car race, I expect the car or horse that comes first to be the winner. I do not expect the judges to say that as the first and second were close they will ask the losers who they would like to win. Nor do we say that as it was close the first and second place have to run it again without the others to see if one is faster without the others getting in the way.’"

Sadly, on this occasion, I must find a lack of logical argument in Mr Redwood, and likewise in Your Grace who quotes him. There is no true equivalence between the betting on races (whether of flesh or machines) and the election of governments. The issues are complicated, but do include the following: if they were the same, as a non-betting man, I would not have to pay the government its taxes.

"The intercession of the Prime Minister for the AV system is a cynical death-bed conversion in an attempt to attain political salvation by fooling the electoral gods."

On this, Your Grace has my fullest support (except as to the count of gods and the limited sectoral interest of the one true God). But Your Grace surely just plays with concepts.

"The people are not so stupid as to fall for such a ploy."

Your Grace, I (IMHO), and most other readers here are surely not so stupid. But this is but a small number and experience indicates it is not sufficient to be a representative sample from the whole population (of the UK electorate that is). Many will fail to see the true light, and fall into the darkness: with this, still we must go on: undaunted.

[End of Part II]

10 February 2010 at 12:05  
Anonymous Nigel Sedgwick said...

Part III
--------

"But the Liberal Democrats?"

Indeed, but does their "Liberal" still mean what it once did? In fact does anyone's "liberal" mean what it once did? And is not that "Democrat" merely that of the Social Democrats?

"It is likely that they will support the Prime Minister and bequeath to him a Commons majority in favour of holding a referendum on this reform. It is not quite the Proportional Representation of their long-desired Single-Transferable-Vote system, but they will view it as a stepping-stone to that utopian end.

Here I am confused again by Your Grace's terminology. For has not the Wikipedia shown that the desire of the Liberal Democrats, as even defined by their Mr Roy Jenkins of past times, is the AV+, which is not the STV. It is but a cunningly contrived equivocal minor variant of the AV (which is the STV with one seat, as I mentioned above) but with an evil and perverting attachment of that most wicked concept: the Party List.

"The nationalists are also likely to support it as anything which weakens the centuries-old electoral mechanisms inherently favours their ‘modernisation’ agenda. The move will also appeal to liberal-minded voters of all persuasions who want to ‘break with the past’ for no rational reason other than to feel the sensation of progress: it will certainly attract the Liberal Democrats into power-sharing with the Labour Party in the event of a hung parliament."

The regional nationalists and those who think all progress is change (and even all change is progress) are an irritation, but only small - they must surely be tolerated, like unreformed sinners.

More troubling is that each political party seeks, in this issue of voting methods, nothing but its own self-interest. Your Grace's favourite political party, recently extolled by your very Grace in a variant of the Nicene Creed, strikes me as doing no better. I recollect that there was once written another variant of the Creed, beginning "I believe in Schrodinger, the Physicist almighty"; sadly, the full text is no longer by me. But I digress, and surely inappropriately: please forgive me.

"Of course, there is insufficient time to put it on the statute book before the General Election, and so the Prime Minister’s strategy is evidently to portray the Conservative Party as the dinosaurs of the status quo, intractably opposed to much-needed electoral reform."

Indeed, we are agreed again, on the issue of timing: what joy. But, switching to the analogy of hunting, surely because a man digs a big pit in the path, one does not need to fall into it. The correct response to Brown's AV initiative is not to dismiss it as wrong policy, but to embrace it for decision around 18 to 24 months after the general election, as part of a more comprehensive referendum on electoral and other aspects of constitutional change. And surely STV (or not) for elections to that noble House of Commons is but one part of the whole, in our need for major constitutional reform; and the whole is much better addressed wholly before it is addressed in parts.

"There is not doubt that First-Past-The-Post produces strong and stable governments. And Tim Montgomerie is of the opinion that 'AV penalises the independent-minded and boosts the dullards, the mediocrities, the lobby fodder'."

Ah, but is not Mr Tim Mongomerie arguing against many others, such as my humble self, who see that STV provides more of that which he claims it provides less. Look here, Your Grace, for more detail, and of another good 'T' who has strayed momentarily (IMHO) from the path of truth: http://www.adamsmith.org/blog/misc/voting%2c-lending%2c-and-spending/ and especially in the third comment.

"And yet it is the system by which David Cameron was elected to lead the Conservative Party."

It is indeed delightful that Your Grace sees things that others miss, and wonders at the glory of God's great creation.

Best regards

10 February 2010 at 12:06  

Post a Comment

<< Home

Newer›  ‹Older