AV – not exactly flavour of the month

If the Alternative Vote (AV) is so good as a means of electing legislators, why is it used in national parliamentary elections in only Australia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji?

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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19 Responses to AV – not exactly flavour of the month

  1. Carl.H says:

    AV is not that good even Nick Clegg called it a “miserable little compromise”, the fact is he and his party have settled for a referendum on it out of desperation. It shows a lack of commitment from both him and his party toward something better that they professed to desire and that is Proportional Representation which AV is not.

    We cannot allow a system which is similar in degree to those questionaires which give us Strongly agree – Moderately agree – Agree – Moderately Disagree- Strongly disagree and use this as a voting method where each answer, and you’re allowed to mark more than one, has the same legitimacy and value.

    The results of any AV election will be bought into question, it will bring more derision and apathy for politics from the general public. The whole concept of a second, third , fourth choice having the same weight as a first is ludicrous. A clear choice by the electorate may not win because in the first round the votes for them were under 50%, we have three main parties so it is unlikely in most places that it will require one round. Although the candidate maybe clearly ahead of rivals in a first round, upto and including 49%, it means they could possibly still lose to second class votes from people who were counted twice whilst the people who voted for this candidate only get one vote.

    We have seen much made of what is considered fraudulently being able to vote in two constituencies but this system appears to give the right to vote more times in the same constituency.

    AV is by no means a good transparent system to use, it makes a mockery of the Salisbury Convention if people vote for several parties thereby giving far less legitimacy to any Government formed by this method. If the people vote for every manifesto how can one take any seriously ? We’ve seen with this coalition the differences in manifesto and the compromises and even the Politicians are unhappy at those how could anyone who voted Lib-Dem have decided to put Conservatives or Labour as an equal second or third vote. There will be no legitimacy if AV is the method used to choose Government, discontent will be the rule of the day.

  2. Carl.H says:

    If we take three manifesto’s.

    The first you agree with 90% so you vote for that party.

    Now in AV you’re asked for a second third and so on choices.

    The second you agree with 68%

    The third 57%

    Now even these figures are highly unlikely as manifesto’s are miles apart in degree but even if this were true how could you give the same weight to each vote ? AV is an absurd system that is not in the voters favour but the parties.

  3. Nathan Dean says:

    But by the same token, isn’t FPTP only used by two Western European states, with the vast majority using proportional systems?

    • Lord Norton says:

      Nathan Dean: FPTP is one of the most widely used electoral systems in the world. There is no common electoral system employed in Western Europe. ‘Proportional representation’ is not a system but a generic term for a whole host of systems.

      • franksummers3ba says:

        Lord Norton,
        When I was in graduate school for history I took an “outside minor” in anthropology. Among the case studies I read was that of a group of tribes or proto-states in a valley that would plant a shrub that had about a twelve year life cycle. They would all join together in the valley of the shrubs and eat huge quantites of pork and then distribute plants and left over pork and new shrub-trees thus assigned to agreed-upon spots would be planted on the tribal borders with new pork-intensive feasts. The plants would then long be tended and people would farm, trade, hunt and live in peace. They would feed and breed pigs but kill very few pigs. Then the system, like any political system, would develop problems and they would watch the tree-shrubs intently. As these peace plants began to (die I think but perhaps blossom) change, each chief would order some pigs killed and call men to leave the fields fallow and train for war. When the last tree-shrub changed all the warriors everywhere would fight, burn villages, raid women and steal pigs and somehow reach a static point. Then each group elected talking chiefs and these met to redraw the boundaries –sometimes splitting tribes or merging them or even exterminating the last free members of one. Then they all planted peace trees and had a feast. The cycle began again. my own cycle of life since reading this has been time measured in decades but I think this was in Papua New Guinea. New Guinea is the only one of the three countries you mentioned that I have not visited.

        The system of peace-trees would not suit me. I also doubt Your Lordship would excel at pig raids at this stage in your life. However, it is a rather complex and sophisticated system. Perhaps the details of AV seemed to be a simplistic and straightforward to them as FPTP seems to many other cultures.

        Or perhaps their previous system can be adapted to British needs. Can it still be gotten into a bill?

  4. charlesbarry says:

    I would hazard a guess that AV is not commonly used because:

    1) In two-party states (or states where other parties exist but get in total less than 10% of the vote) FPTP is the best system by far;
    2) In countries where there is a diverse array of parties, elections occur using multiple constituency methods.

    The question is then how many countries which have many parties (ie more than two that get >10% of the vote) use FPTP for legislative elections?

    • Carl.H says:

      The question should be NOT what occurs in other Countries but what is the best form for our Country.

      Av as can be seen from my above posts makes a mockery of Manifesto’s and no one will know how many back a Government wholeheartedly or as near as damnit. Votes that are second third or fourth choices will be counted with as much legitimacy as a first whereas in reality the differences in manifesto’s maybe total opposites. AV brings politics and Government into disrepute by lowering it to a level where some people will not think but give two opposing parties with opposing manifestos the same legitimacy.

      AV is NOT a form of Proportional Representation, it is a long way from it. It ridicules the voter by asking them to support a number of very different manifestos thereby giving less weight or legitimacy to any Government formed under AV.

      • charlesbarry says:

        Well Carl, I’m not sure you’ve understood the point I was making, which is that AV isn’t commonly used because there aren’t many countries with diverse parties that use single-member constituencies for elections.

        Since you draw me into the argument on the merits of AV, I would beg to differ with your position.

        An electoral system can simply be thought of as a black box which converts the will of the people into an election result. FPTP simply asks people for one party to vote for, that is, it asks them which party they like/prefer the most.
        AV asks people to explain in greater detail their preferences – give a ranking, if you want to. The increased information passed on by voters alters the resulting election outcome.

        There are theoretical voting methods devised which go even further. In your example above, you list the manifestos which you agree with 90%, 68% and 57%. In one system, you get 100 points to give to each of the parties. So in your example, you would give 42 of your points to the first party, 31 points to the second party and 27 points to the third party. This increases the information beyond that of AV, because you are expressing your preferences in a quantitative manner.

        I personally believe that electoral systems should try to most accurately reflect the preferences of the voters, within reason. The theoretical system I describe remains theoretical because it would be a disaster in practice – ensuring everyone’s points added up to 100 would be totally impractical.

        I prefer AV over FPTP because it is an emulation of a repeated ballot, but using one balloting process. It allows voters to explain how they like all of the candidates, not who they like the most.

        When you say “Votes that are second third or fourth choices will be counted with as much legitimacy as a first”, I think you misunderstand how the process works: Imagine there are 4 candidates for election. You vote for the one you like the most. At the end, we eliminate the weakest candidate and everyone votes again. Now, if the candidate you like the most is still on the ballot, you will vote for that candidate. If they are not, then you are faced with choosing a different candidate. The process repeats with a second elimination, and the winner of the election is who wins the most votes out of the final two.

        This is exactly how AV works – when you vote for the person you like the most in the first round in the above example, it is like putting a 1 next to their name on an AV ballot. When you are forced to choose someone else after the elimination, it is like putting a 2 next to their name on the ballot – you prefer #1 to #2, but #2 above all others. And so with #3, should all your previous preferences be eliminated from the running. It’s simple, and fair, and it’s not de-legitimising anything.

        As for Proportional Representation, I have always thought that to be a bad idea. Elections should be competitive, and candidates should have to secure a sizeable plurality of the vote to win election. Otherwise, we let dross seep into our government.

  5. Carl.H says:

    At the end, we eliminate the weakest candidate and everyone votes again.

    This is NOT so in the case being proposed, the weakest candidate would be eliminated and his/hers voters second choices would be added to the count of the remaining candidates.

    It is not a clear case of rounds but a way of adding peoples second votes to existing results. Some would get both choices taken into consideration others not.

    You could in practice vote both for and against a party which in the Commons is a way of abstaining.

    The loser as I have stated is politics and manifestos. If we put a lot of emphasis on manifestos and we do in this country, see the Salisbury convention, this gives a lot less legitimacy to both manifesto and elected Government using the AV process.

    A majority of people 100% behind a manifesto has to be preferable than a larger majority 50% behind a manifesto. Anyone serious about politics and manifestos would rarely vote more than one party. This particular form of AV lowers the esteem of politics in this Country, it will give legitimacy to manifestos that are not whole heartedly supported. A manifesto may infact be supported by less than 50% of voter confidence yet still bring the party to power. Working your points system you can clearly see this.

    • charlesbarry says:

      I’m sorry Carl but you really don’t understand how AV works.

      Nobody gets to vote twice, in the sense that their vote becomes worth twice as much as anyone else’s. If your candidate is eliminated, your first vote is discarded – it counts for nothing. You instead get to choose between one of the other candidates, who you don’t like as much as the guy who got kicked out. But everyone still has one vote – just one less candidate.

      Your misunderstanding of how AV works is highlighted by your post: “A majority of people 100% behind a manifesto has to be preferable than a larger majority 50% behind a manifesto.” You assume that AV would produce the latter outcome instead of the former.

      But think it through: If a majority of people (ie 50% +1) support Manifesto A 100% (ie put it as their first preference), then under AV that Manifesto would be elected immediately without any further elimination.

      • Carl.H says:

        Sorry Charles but we’ll have to agree to disagree. I understand perfectly how this proposal works and if I didn’t that in itself would be a fault.

        If someone in AV votes UKIP and the party is eliminated in the first round then the persons second vote is used, therefore two votes. They are given the same weight yet the person may not give the same weight to the different party’s manifestos.

        A majority doesn’t have to be 50%+1 it could be 49% if 28% and 23% vote for other parties. See earlier post:

  6. ladytizzy says:

    “…Australia, Papua New Guinea and Fiji?”

    Australia exports parliamentary system to UK

    Hmm, export figures from Oz to UK are similar to those between Oz and New Zealand so let’s remind ourselves that less than 7% wanted AV in New Zealand (after their referendum). As for Fiji, it’s a basket case and Papua New Guinea is, um, not exactly comparable with the UK either.


  7. ladytizzy says:

    Carl, I’d like to contact you privately. If this is agreeable, please write a response on my blog using a disposable email address for your privacy. All will become clear!

  8. News on the Public bodies bill ?

    News on Deputy PM’s Question Time statement on forthcoming Lords Reform Bill ?

    • Lord Norton says:

      mgminflatables: I am about to do a post on the Public Bodies Bill. I am awaiting more intelligence on what is happening with the proposed Bill on Lords reform/abolition.

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