AV - The Truth About Cats & Dogs

Monday 2nd May, 2011
There's a very important vote coming up on Thursday and it's important that as many of you as possible vote and cast your opinion. What's more important, however, is that you enter the vote without being blinkered by some of the awful biased propaganda that is around.

There are people that claim that Alternative Voting (AV) ensures that a candidate requires more than 50% of the vote to win - it doesn't. This is covered clearly on Page 8 of the official leaflet, published by the Electoral Commission, that has been put through every letterbox in the UK. It states "Because voters don't have to rank all of the candidates, an election can be won under the 'alternative vote' system with less than half the total votes cast".

So, if your motive for voting "yes" to AV is to ensure you get a representative majority election, you aren't necessarily going to get it and could be wasting time and money by changing to a voting system that simply doesn't achieve that objective.

Additionally, a lot of the examples are utterly biased. Take a look carefully at this one from the "yes to AV" camp. The same bias can be seen in this video. At a glance they all make sense and a benefit of AV can clearly be seen which may make people rush out to vote yes. But neither of them are true examples at all. In the diagram, they've somehow come up with no less than 4 candidates that all represent beer and just one candidate for coffee. It's fine for biased propaganda but useless as a real-life example. This isn't because there are usually more coffee shops than pubs, not at all, this is purely because rarely are candidates that close to each other in their beliefs or objectives. The example here is just a choice between beer or coffee and there are only really 2 candidates. As such, there would be only 2 boxes on the voting slip and First Past The Post (FPTP) would already have easily selected "beer" to be the winner with 70% of the vote. Likewise, on the video, there are only 2 examples, cat or dog and it's a clear attempt to make cats look under represented. Again, in real life, it would be a choice between the Cat Party and the Dog Party and, if the vote was as described, the Cat party would clearly win under FPTP anyway - making a change to AV utterly pointless.

AV only has a true effect when there are more than 2 real differing candidates, e.g. Cat, Dog, Bunny Rabbit, Hamster or Parrot. They avoid this in the examples, however, as it's much harder to show that AV actually works under such examples. In many cases, it actually doesn't make any difference at all. Where it does make a difference, how will the result change? The answer is, nobody knows, as we've never actually collected information about what a voter's 2nd, 3rd or 4th choices might be. We don't actually know what might happen but can consider what would happen to our own votes...

Go to the BBC Election Site and look-up the results for your constituency for last year - here are my results for Runnymede & Weybridge. It's clear in this example that Hammond for Conservative actually got 55.9% of the vote. As he already had a majority, AV won't make any difference at all in my constituency and will simply cost money for no effect. You can see on the same page that the same result would have occurred under AV in 2005. This isn't to say that AV wouldn't work for everybody, just not for me. Look in your constituency and first check whether AV could make any difference. If the first place candidate got less than 50%, then it might work and we can look a little more closely.

So, let's take a look at my neighbouring borough Spelthorne - here the Conservatives also won but with 47.1% of the vote, below that critical 50% level. So AV would have an effect here. As Kwarteng didn't clearly win, Leon-Smith would be eliminated and his 2nd choice votes re-allocated to other candidates. So what might this do? Well, in reality, nothing at all. The 102 people who voted for him clearly had no belief in the other parties, obviously not the big 3, as they would have voted for them not him. I expect the voters here are friends, family, neighbours and colleagues. Under AV, are people voting for such a minority candidate going to make a 2nd choice? Perhaps, but only likely for one of the other independent candidates.

So, let's imagine that all his votes go to John Gore, now giving Gore 269 votes and moving him to 6th place behind Swinglehurst. There is still no clear winner and so the now bottom placed Couchman is eliminated. His votes again are unlikely to go to the top 4 parties but some may have voted for other independents. Those votes will be re-allocated accordingly but any that only put bottom placed Leon-Smith as their remaining choice will be thrown in the bin as that candidate has already been eliminated.

The elimination process repeats until all of the independent candidates have been eliminated. Even if Browne, for UKIP, somehow manages to pick up every single vote from the other independents he will still, however, only have 10.7% of the vote and be next up for elimination.

So, where will those votes go? We're now on to our 7th place choice. Firstly, how many voters will actually rank anybody 7th place? You may vote for your first, second, maybe third or perhaps fourth choice. But are you really going to vote for a 7th choice? If you do, is that 7th place going to be any of those remaining candidates? Thankfully, the system realises this and won't actually look at your 7th placed vote - it will look for the remaining candidate on each voting slip with the highest ranking. So if the UKIP vote has ranked Labour, Lib Dem or Conservative at all, then the one he ranked highest will acquire his vote. If this gives the Conservative candidate an additional 2.9% of the vote, then he's already won and the outcome of the election hasn't changed in the slightest, AV would have been a waste of time and money.

But let's assume, for the sake of argument, the top 3 candidates only manage to acquire another 2% of the vote from this - e.g. 2 in 10 of those people who voted UKIP as 1st put Labour in 2nd place. 2 in 10 put Conservative and 2 in 10 ranked Lib Dem their highest alternative vote. So now we have 3 candidates remaining from our original 9 candidates. Conservative are now up to 49.1%, Lib Dem are up to 27.9%, Labour are up to 17.5% and 5.5% of voting papers are in the bin and don't actually have any say in the final rounds of voting.

So now the Labour candidate is eliminated and his votes re-allocated accordingly. This is where the big AV decision comes into its own. Many Conservatives realise that it's highly unlikely that any Labour voter would put them higher than the Lib Dem Candidate and that pretty much all the Labour voting slips would end up in the Lib Dem pile and could result in a Lib Dem win. This is why many Conservatives are against AV, it's also why many Lib Dems are quite clearly in the "Yes to AV" camp - they could win an election in a Tory stronghold, where they actually came 2nd. Likewise in a Labour stronghold, where Lib Dems came 2nd, again AV could potentially give them a win - another reason for the Lib Dems to back Labour and why some Labour voters may have discomfort.

So let's apply this to our results above and assume the highly unlikely scenario that every single one of the Labour voters put Lib Dem 2nd place.

Now we have the Conservatives still on 49.1% but the Lib Dems are up to...45.4%. Oh, they didn't win, because along the way, 5.5% of voting papers chose not to pick one of those candidates. So the Conservative candidate wins anyway and AV was a pointless waste of time and money. Not only that, but the winner took the seat with less than 50% of the vote - isn't that what AV was trying to avoid? Not only did it fail to change the result, it also failed to represent the 50.9% of people who didn't vote for him.

Of course this is just an example and the possible outcome may be somewhat different. Assuming that many of those Labour voters might put Lib Dem second place was a fair bet before the 2010 elections. Since the forming of the Coalition Government with the Conservatives and all those broken election promises it's quite likely that in fact they won't. I know it's changed my opinion of the Lib Dems and that in 2010 I would happily have put the Lib Dems in 2nd place but now I would seriously think twice about it. Of course, as we've already seen, it will never make a difference in my constituency anyway.

So, consider your vote wisely on Thursday - don't listen to the propaganda out there:

1) Look up your result on the BBC Election Website. Did the winning candidate get more than 50% of the vote? If so, voting "yes" will achieve nothing except forcing an already cash-starved Government to spend more money, diverting it away from public services.

2) If a candidate didn't achieve 50% of the vote, do you think AV will make a difference to you? It didn't in our example above. If not, save us all time and money and vote "No".

3) Make up your mind. Many people went with the trends on Facebook and twitter and voted Lib Dem in 2010 with a genuine belief they might win instead of the distant 3rd they actually achieved. Don't go with what you think is popular, go with what will actually make a difference.

4) Find a constituency where AV would work well? Post a link in the comments below.

Now, where do you want to go for that drink tonight? The Pub? Starbucks? Costa? Or Cafe Nero? Oh, most of you want the pub? Good job they sell coffee!

After posting this article, I've subsequently decided to vote "No" - find our why by clicking here.

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