Conservative leaders are not elected by a form of AV

Why on earth do supporters of the Alternative Vote (AV) claim that the Conservative Party uses a form of AV to elect its leader?  Paddy Ashdown was doing it earlier today.  Some also claim that the French elect their  president by a form of AV.  Such claims betray a basic ignorance of electoral systems.   The Conservatives do not use AV or a form of AV to elect the leader and the French do not use a form of AV to elect the president.  AV uses an ordinal ballot structure.  Where second or multiple ballots are employed, with a single preference employed in each, then one is employing a different electoral system.

About Lord Norton

Professor of Government at Hull University, and Member of the House of Lords
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22 Responses to Conservative leaders are not elected by a form of AV

  1. tory boy says:

    un-related post what would happen if the House of Lords voted not to commit a bill to a committee of the whole house? What would happen if the HoL voted against the motion that the lords speaker or deputy speaker do report the bill with amendments? Are these two motions amendable? How would the question be put? The original question was that i do report the bill with amendment’s since when an amendment as been proposed, the question is that this amendment be agreed to? If the amendment was to not report the bill with amendments and the amendment was agreed to what would happen to the bill? Are the govt or the member who’s bill it is allowed another bite at the cherry on another day to move that the bill be reported with amendments?

  2. Frank W. Summers III says:

    Lord Norton,
    I think that is an extremely important point. Both Louisiana and the College of Cardinals use the multiple ballot majoritarian (or super majoritarian) voting system and I assure you that while more expensive tha FPTP or AV it is not more like one than the other. However I am hoping you will accept the following as my AV answe to your any guesses post:
    1. 53%
    2. 57%
    3. 31%
    4. 36%
    5. 79%

    I am willing to get the prize for any of my votes.

  3. ladytizzy says:


    I’m getting a bit ticked off with the Yes, Yes, and thrice Yes crowd, but why haven’t the top bods in the Conservative party taken aim?

  4. Frank W. Summers III says:

    Lord Norton,

    I imagine that you are aware both that Russian Televelision has publishe around the world that the UK has published classified data about its nuclear submarine force on the web and of whatever facts underlie this notice. I wonder if I can persuade you to comment. It does remind me of the warm fuzzy feeliong I got before Wikileaks when a top secret laptop walked out our country’s Los Alamos lab a good number of years ago…

  5. Julian Post says:

    The Conservative Party’s system of electing their leader does indeed qualify as being AV as it has multiple rounds of voting. This in effect means that voters who had the first choice candidate disqualified in the first round are then able to vote for their next choice in the second round.

    In the ballot that elected David Cameron (2005) the first round gave the following results:

    Ken Clarke: 38 votes
    David Davis: 62 votes
    David Cameron: 56 votes
    Liam Fox: 42 votes.

    Under First Past the Post, David Davis would have secured the nomination of the party elite with Cameron as second choice. However the second round of voting meant that Ken Clarke was eliminated from the contest and ballots recast with the following results:

    Davis: 57
    Cameron: 90
    Fox: 51

    Liam Fox was eliminated leaving the postal ballot between Cameron and Davis ensuring that one candidate would have more than 50% of the vote of the wider Conservative Party (unless there happened to be an exact split of 50% per candidate). Under FPtP David Davis would have won the nomination with 31% of the vote. When second choice votes, then third choice votes were added, Clarke and Fox were eliminated enabling those who had supported them to vote for the second (and potentially third choice) candidates. The postal ballot would still have been between Cameron and Davis under FPtP but this way supporter of Fox and Clarke had their votes count.

    The key difference between the proposed AV system and the Conservative Party system is AV has one ballot paper on one day whereas the Conservative Party round system is a new vote each time (even allowing first choice preferences to change).

    Any form of multiple round system in effect provides voters with an Alternative Vote structure.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Julian Post: No, AV is a distinct electoral system. AV is AV. The Supplementary Vote is the Supplementary Vote. Run-off or second ballots are run-off and second ballots. They have distinct characteristics which is why they are treated as distinct forms of electoral systems in works on electoral systems. With more than one ballot, the fact that voters can take into account how people have voted in round one, and determine their vote accordingly in the second round, makes it a different system. There is in any event a fundamental problem with your argument in respect of the Conservative Party: the leader is elected by party members in a categoric ballot. There is a choice of two.

      • franksummers3ba says:

        Lord Norton,

        I will indulge in the Greek philosophical penchant formetaphor and simile which is largely discredited in serious academic works. Multiple ballots are like a conversation among serious people who know eachother and AV is (at best) like sending a dispatch to a different and distant ally or military outpost to cover all contingencies.

        In multiple ballot majoritarian elections factions or mnnor parties can have those near the mainstream vote with the mainstrem figure to get him in the top two and an outlier set their case to the world. Then the canidadte they favored must often win their endorsement to beat their serious and committed opponent. Multiple ballot majoritarianism allows people to hear a set of speeches directed mostly at the base and one directed mostly at the general electorate by the two contenders. When someone is able to win on the first ballot who is not an incumbent (as in our Governor Jindal’s election) all the outsiders are in a position of taking him very seriously and with a more open mind and his or her supporters feel empowered to seek core policy. Whether one likes the system or not (I do like it) I assure you AV does none of those things. I have belonged to clubs that employed AV and those that employed multiple ballots and the differences in these tiny worlds are profound and AV may have been given up in several of them as I seldom participate in such things now — I am unsure. This is also ditinct from Voter Created Slate /Preponderance elections. Here, in economicaly poor electoral systems (sometimes made up of rich people) like Catholic Church Parish Councils in the US, half of the seats on a Council of twenty or a dozen will be elected in a given year and the easiest route is to have everyone name six candidates and the ones with the most votes win the seats. Even where the number of names voted is not equal to the number of seats and it is done clumsily it is quite distinct from AV in my opinion. AV is a ranking contest not a ranking derived by contest and that is as great a distinction as is imaginable almost. One changes what one asks the elctorate to do fundamentally — none of these other varied systems do this.

      • Lord Norton says:

        franksummers3ba: Many thanks for that. You draw out the distinction extremely well.

  6. Princeps Senatus says:

    Dear Lord Norton,
    Like the others who have commented on this blog post, I am going to digress from the topic of the post. But before I do, can I say that I agree with you that AV is not the same as having multiple rounds of voting, because between the rounds, the voter can make up his/her own mind again based on who are the people who are left standing, as opposed to when the list is first announced.
    My animus against AV is not related to the voting system per se, but to it in conjuction with the Fixed Term Parliaments Bill going through the Lords at the moment. If AV comes through, it may lead to smaller parties holding the balance of power (and I include the nationalist parties in the group, along with the Lib-Dems). In that case, with fixed-term parliaments, the smaller parties would have power disproportionate to their number, as they can haggle and bargain with both parties and can change governments midway through a Parliament. Indeed, my fear is that it could bring in the kind of government policies last seen in the 1900-1920 period, when the Irish nationalists held the balance of power. The nationalist parties could effectively sell their votes & support to the party that offers their region the best deal and it would be very difficult to trigger an election in such circumstances. The possibilities of horse-trading will be enormous.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Princeps Senatus: I am alert to the problem you identify. We are currently wrestling with the Fixed-term Parliaments Bill and whether we can achieve some changes to it. I keep pressing amendments to provide for greater flexibility so that an early election could be held rather than face the situation you mention. The danger is that we could indeed end up with the sort of situation you mention.

  7. Chris K says:

    I believe the superb Frank Field suggested that, as an alternative, the top 2 candidates in a poll (obtaining less than 50% of the vote) could face each other off in a final round the following week.

    Personally I think that draws the whole process out too much, and would be a bit too French for my liking. Still, infinitely preferable to AV.

    • Lord Norton says:

      Chris K: It is indeed a French solution, though as you say arguably preferable to AV. The problem is that the electorate is being offered a limited choice, hardly evidence of delivering on the policy of restoring trust in politics!

  8. danielburn says:

    Mathematically, the Conservative system matches AV when no pairwise preferences are changed between rounds and no candidates drop out; the Conservative system matches AV when there are two candidates. Anyone who says the Conservative system is as close to AV as FPTP doesn’t understand the systems. Of course, the Conservative system is more likely to elect the Condorcet Winner than AV (but still isn’t certain to).

    I believe the biggest argument against AV is that:
    a) it is know to be a compromise (and nobody can say is the best system)
    b) changing the system can hardly be the country’s highest priority

    Holding up FPTP as the best system seems patronising to an electorate who can surely cope with making more than one pairwise preference choice per five years!

  9. Pingback: Angry scenes in cabinet.

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