YouGov recently put up the results from a large poll on the AV referendum for the Constitution Society, conducted on 31 August – 1 September. As described by UK Polling Report, this contained a similar exercise to the YouGov poll in the summer that asked people how they would vote in an AV referendum. The result this time was 32% for AV, 33% for first past the post (FPTP), 26% don’t know and 9% wouldn’t vote.
The survey then exposed to people to various pro- and anti- arguments on AV, along with questions about what they wanted from an electoral system, which parties would benefit and so on to encourage them to think around the issues. At the end of the survey they were asked again, and once again opinion had shifted further against AV. The end result was 31% for AV, 38% for FPTP, 25% don’t know and 6% wouldn’t vote.
One of the striking features of the results is the dominance of the “simplicity” and “quick result” frames. Respondents gave the notion that “an electoral system should be simple and straightforward so everyone can understand it” a net “important” score of +80%. In a similar vein, the idea that “an electoral system should produce results that the voter can see are logical and not open to question” had a net “important” score of +78%. And the idea that that “an electoral system should give people the chance to kick an unpopular government out of office” had a net +67% “important” rating.
The “strong government” frame was also important to voters. The idea that “an electoral system should tend to give the most popular party an overall majority of MPs so they can form a strong government” had a net +59% “important” score.
The “proportionality” or fairness frame was less dominant. In net terms, +46% saw the concept that “the number of MPs each party wins should be in proportion to the total vote they get in the country” as important.
The “constituency link” – having single member constituencies for an area – as important was seen as important by +61% in net terms. But only a net +13% (and a minority of respondents) were concerned about having multi-member constituencies, so that most voters could turn for help to an MP from the party they support.
The above frames were all more pronounced amongst voters who answered “don’t know” the first time they were asked to choose between AV and the current voting system.
All this may explain why voters, including the “don’t knows”, tended to turn against AV when some arguments were put to them.
The most effective arguments for AV were:
· The Alternative Vote would allow people to cast their first preference for the party they really supported without wasting their vote. For all voters the net “convincing” score was +30%;for don’t knows +32%.
· Unlike most fully proportional systems, AV would retain constituencies so people would still have a local MP. For all voters the net “convincing” score was +28%; for don’t knows +23%.
The following arguments for AV were only moderately effective:
· The Alternative Vote would make it more likely that every MP had the support of 50% of people expressing a valid preference. For all voters the net “convincing” score was +15%;for don’t knows +7%.
· The Alternative Vote would make it more likely that every MP had the support of 50% of people expressing a valid preference. For all voters the net “convincing” score was +11%; for don’t knows 0%.
The least effective pro-AV arguments were:
· AV would increase the chances of a hung Parliament and therefore make parties more likely to work together for the good of the country. For all voters the “net convincing” score was +3%; for don’t knows it was +5%.
· FPTP is unfair and unproportional. Adopting AV, although not proportional, would be a step towards a fully proportional electoral system. For all voters the net “convincing” score was +2%; for don’t knows it was +7%.
· Under AV, someone's third or fourth preference could count just as much as someone else's first preference. For all the voters the net “convincing” score was +1%; for all voters it was +3%.
The most effective argument for FPP was:
· First Past the post is straightforward - the candidate who gets the most votes becomes the Member of Parliament. For all voters the net “convincing” score was +44%; for all voters it was +49%.
But there’s a health warning. Public understanding of AV is still very low. Just 33% of respondents said that they had heard of AV and had a broad idea of how it works. Almost the same number, 32%, had never heard of AV. The remaining 35% but were not sure how it works.
Between 25% and 30% of respondents did not know what they thought about most of the arguments for and against AV and FPP. Amongst undecided’s, those figures ranged from 45% to 59%.
So there’s a lot to play for. For now, however, the priority is to make sure that the government, or the Electoral Commission, should invest in educating the public about both first-past-the-post and AV.
Anyone know what’s planned in that regard?