Electoral systems

It will be interesting to see to what extent the Labour leadership election results influences voting in the proposed referendum on the introduction of the alternative vote (AV) for parliamentary elections.  If Labour had employed the first-past-the-post electoral system, then (assuming the same voting as occurred) David Miliband would now be leader of the Labour Party.  Under AV, where someone’s third or fourth preference vote can count as much as a first preference, Ed Miliband is now the party leader.


About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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17 Responses to Electoral systems

  1. Croft says:

    Perhaps though I think that dodges the more structural problem of members having multiple votes in different parts of the electoral college.

    Certainly DM would have won on AV/FPTP if it was all party members on omov. Without being able to analyse how people with multiple votes divided I can’t tell if on omov for a single college who would have won on AV/FPTP.

  2. Lord Norton says:

    Croft: Indeed, I was only dealing with one particular aspect of the election rules. There is the issue of being able to vote in multiple capacities, the distribution between the three elements of the electoral college, and the rather large number of disallowed ballot papers. Otherwise, a fine system….

    • Croft says:

      I’m rather waiting to see if any ballots are invalid in the Shad Cab elections due to the mandatory gender voting rules. A deeply problematic way of conducting democracy.

  3. djb13 says:

    Lord Norton: I’m not convinced David would have won. Everyone knew it was a Miliband vs. Miliband race, and we would have (as we do under FPTP in GEs) seen tactical voting.

    In any case, AV for a single position is a good (if imperfect) system, especially in ‘primary’ type situations where it may not be clear who the frontrunners are. I think Labour would be better placed using a system that always produced (if one is a avaliable) the condorcet winner, and is less prone to voting paradoxes, but AV works fine 99% of the time for Labour (although imagine the chaos when it fails that one time). A comparison between AV for Labour and AV for the country is not a very enlightening one. If there are any lessons about the application of AV for Westminster they’re in Australia.

    Croft: The multiple voting issue isn’t really that great. I doubt that Harriet Harman’s four votes ensured a victory for Ed over David. The real problem comes insomuch as one may join multiple unions and a constituency party. I think Labour would be well placed to ban people from participating with a multiplicity of union/constituency party ballots, or limit them to one of each.

    • Lord Norton says:

      djb13: I didn’t say David Miliband would have won. I was following the practice of economists: ‘let us assume…’. My suspicion is that he would have done. Of course, one could have produced a different result if the weighting between the three sections had been different. DM is also likely to have won if Labour had not changed to an electoral college. There are dangers in having a party leader in the House of Commons who is not the preferred choice of most of the party’s MPs.

      • djb13 says:

        Lord Norton: Having run some figures, the only way that one can ‘engineer’ a DM victory is to reduce the weighting given to the Affiliates section, but reducing it to a relative weight of about 28% (depending on how you weight the other two colleges, I assumed equally).

        I feel there’s a ‘Nortonian’ distinction to be made here. It is neither necessary nor sufficient for a Labour leader to be the preferred choice of his or her Parliamentary party, but merely necessary that the Parliamentary party does not overwhelmingly wish to see them removed. The Parliamentary party has no formal power to remove an leader (so far as I can discern), although clearly there’s the the informal power of back-stabbing, press briefing and public declarations of opposition.

  4. dave thawley says:

    This is the best bit about AV. In multi-candidate elections such as this, it allows the majority to have their say. I watched the Labour leadership results to see how AV worked and it produced the fairest result. If the results were indicative of how people would have voted under first past the post then DM would have won a FPTP election with only 38%. This is typical of the UK election system as it stands. It means that 62% of the labour membership would have had no influence going forward and a minority would have efficiently had their wishes forced onto the majority. Labour would have been run by someone that the majority of the party did not want (this is the same for most UK governments). Enter AV.
    Under AV everyone’s wishers are counted and it turns out that Ed instead of David was the preferred choice. This is reflected in the total amount of votes Ed got 175000 to David’s 142000 votes. This alone shows that overall across the party Ed was the much preferred person than David. FPTP would have distorted the figures giving the overall lesser popular person the power – thank heavens (for fairness) that they used AV because instead of going for the person with the largest minority support then ended up getting the person that most of the agreed would be best.

    • Lord Norton says:

      dave thawley: You write as if there is only system of AV. There are variants. The system used by Labour did not produce the person that ‘most of the agreed would be the best’. More people gave their first preferences to candidates other than Ed Miliband, so the majority clearly did not think he was the best. He was deemed second or third best, which also touches upon another problem: as David Sanders et al. point out in their article on the effects of AV, AV does not take account the fact that for some voters the subjective distance between any given pair of ranked candidates may be relatively large whereas for the others the distance may be relatively small.

      • djb13 says:

        “More people gave their first preferences to candidates other than Ed Miliband, so the majority clearly did not think he was the best.”
        If we say that a candidate must gain a majority of support, and also that we use the criteria that said support must come from first preferences, we must either use the ‘Sistene Capel’ system of election (which would be incredible fun, but might lead to some loss of economic productivity) or simply never elect MPs in many constituencies. AV is a relatively good way of ensuring that we don’t have to lock ourselves in the town hall for days on end to elect MPs, and actually acheive the end of electing an MP.

        “AV does not take account the fact that for some voters the subjective distance between any given pair of ranked candidates may be relatively large whereas for the others the distance may be relatively small.”
        Neither does FPTP.
        The problem with ‘approval voting’ (which is the system that best takes account of your criticism of AV) is that it gives people a strong incentive to lie. AV is better than FPTP at ensuring that the result of the election is the candidate with the highest level of general support. There are better systems, but sadly they are (wrongly in my view) perceived as being too complex.

      • Lord Norton says:

        djb13: We don’t need the Sistine Chapel. I am quite content with FPTP for identifying the first preferences of a plurality of the voters. The issue of ranked preferences doesn’t arise where you express only one.

  5. ladytizzy says:

    It is difficult to have a decent debate on the pros and cons of electoral systems when the vote(s) of each Labour MP was due, and actually, published.

  6. Dave Thawley says:

    But when you vote for just one the results are so distorted they become non-representative.

    I’ve noted your comment that AV didn’t produce the result which most people thought was the ‘best’. If this important to you I think you need to join the AV club  . Most people didn’t think any one of them was best. (For clarity I’m assuming you are using the following definitions – most people (i.e. >50%), the best = voted for as a first preference). FPTP would (as usual) completely distort the result by allowing a small minority of support to win. If the labour leadership would have been decided upon FPTP most votes (nearly 80% of them) would have been disenfranchised. Under AV they all had an influence. A far superior result because of its inherent fairness and voter representation. I am half hoping you argue back – well AV showed that nearly 50% preferred David – well, that is the case but then again over 50% preferred Ed
    This ‘minority rules’ distortion happens most of time in elections and is the major reason we need to change to something different. Since AV is the only thing on offer (Unless Caroline’s amendment gets accepted which I doubt) then as a population we need to adopt it. It will make the MPs have to work for us. Complacent MPs biased to a large minority will have to change their ways or face being booted out –this is absolutely brilliant. Everyone’s vote is counted – Brilliant. AV is simply better than FPTP for the population but not so good for those who want to tell us what to do

    • Lord Norton says:

      Dave Thawley: ‘Everyone’s vote is counted’. That’s normal practice whatever the electoral system. If you mean all votes count, then under AV not everyone’s vote count, at least not in the sense you appear to mean it (i.e. voting for the winner). In the sense I regard voting, then all votes do count, including under FPTP, since a vote is an expression of one’s preference and as such is important. In all elections, there are winners and losers, and that applies whichever electoral system you employ. AV doesn’t produce a winner who is the most preferred of the candidates; if someone is the most preferred, then no votes are redistributed. AV manipulates a majority and gives equal weight to the transferred votes of those who voted for the last placed candidate and those who gave their first preferences of the candidate who came second and whose votes are not therefore redistributed. Candidates may have to appeal to supporters of other candidates, as they do under FPTP in order to get their votes. AV doesn’t become wonderful because the second preferences are elicited from candidates who may stand for rather extreme parties.

      • Dave Thawley says:

        Lord Norton “. In the sense I regard voting, then all votes do count, including under FPTP, since a vote is an expression of one’s preference and as such is important”
        Yes. Under FPTP all votes are indeed counted but not all would count. As you must be aware if a FPTP vote gave Con 35%, lab 30%, Lib 25%. others 10% then in reality only 60% of the vote counted. The 25% who voted lib and the 10% who voted for others wasted their time leaving their house and walking down to the vote booth because their views have not gone anywhere at all (also the 5% of Con over the 30% required to beat labour also wasted their time getting out the door). If your argument is that there is some moral victory in being able to have your say then I wonder if you could make such a moral case for these people to not pay taxes for the projects they didn’t have a say in and for their jobs to be protected from the cuts they didn’t agree with. In reality they will have the government policy forced upon them involuntarily and their vote was ignored because it didn’t go towards the decision at all – as I said their votes did not count. AV will at least give all people the chance to influence the final decision. AV isn’t of course idea and it is easy to highlight these problems but no matter what bits of the policy are highlighted as defective the OVERALL assessment is that AV is fairer and will better represents the populations view. This to me is indisputable. As I said it is easy to say one part of it doesn’t work but the whole thing is better. Why not have a go, list all of the positives of AV and all of the good positives of FPTP. Then list all of the negatives o the two systems and see the facts say. In fact why not list them on your blog and we can have a good talk about them. If you haven’t got time to do this would you allow me to generate the list ? I know you may disagree with some points but we could at least talk around them. I will be up front here and will say that I am hoping that if you saw the facts in front of you it may be able to break down the social construction you are thinking. It could backfire and after looking at the facts I may change. That would be ok since we would then both be understanding the truth. I think that perhaps I won’t because I started out from scratch and found out information without having a pre-existing belief system which (without knowing you at all) is perhaps a different starting position from yourself. I am up for the challenge though 🙂

      • Dave Thawley says:

        PS I was wondering on what you believe the purpose of an electoral system is ? It is important while discussing these things to understand each others ‘aims’.

        My view is basically simple –

        ” To ensure the country is run in a way that the population wants. It must take into account the wishes of everyone equally”.

        What is yours ?

      • Lord Norton says:

        Dave Thawley: You don’t appear to have grasped the essentials of debate. That something to you is indisputable doesn’t render it indisputable. I’m clearly disputing it. The only person you appear to be winning the argument with is yourself. Voting, like paying taxes, is a civic duty; the only difference is that one is compulsory and the other isn’t (though some want it to be). I have rarely voted for a winning candidate. I don’t regard my vote as wasted. If AV is introduced, then it is anticipated that many voters will express only a first preference (though whether that will be permissible depends on the type of AV system). There are losers in a contest. AV does not change that reality and AV does not ensure that everyone’s vote counts. If the person who comes second in the first ballot remains second throughout, how have the votes cast for that candidate counted? AV only operates when there is no majority for a candidate. The problems I have previously identified with weighting and space between preferences then kick in. None of the major parties wants AV. For the Liberal Democrats it does not go far enough and for the Conservatives (and possibly most Labour MPs) it goes too far. If we end up with it, it will be for the very reason that oppoents dislike it!

        You haven’t said which type or variant of AV you prefer.

      • Lord Norton says:

        Dave Thawley: AV doesn’t conform with your definition of an electoral system as it doesn’t take into account the wishes of everyone equally. If a candidate gets 49% of the votes in the first ballot, and the redistributed votes of the fourth placed Green candidate give that candidate 50%, how are the votes of those supporting the third placed Liberal Democrat candidate treated equally to those supporting the Green candidate? Liberal Democrat voters have not had an impact on the outcome but the votes of the lesser placed Green candidate have.

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