Wednesday, 10 November 2010

AV is public's third choice of voting systems, says new poll

Today, reports on a new poll showing that AV is less popular than first-past-the-post which is less popular than PR.

The research by ODC was commissioned by Lindsell Marketing, a business consultancy, and says that:

In a poll of over 2,000 British adults, just 29% wanted to keep the current voting system, with 20% in favour of the Alternative Vote system (the subject of a national referendum on May 5th 2011) and 45% wanting some form of proportional representation.

You can see the full results here.

The FT’s Jim Pickard suggests that Nick Clegg should have gone for a referendum on PR rather than AV. The only trouble with that is that David Cameron and the Conservatives would need to agree to hold a vote on PR!

Pickard is closer to the mark when he says:

Alternatively, this could just be proof that public opinion on such issues is far from fully-formed and there is still all to play for. How many members of the public would die in the ditch for any of the options?

The Lindsell findigs need to be compared with the YouGov poll from the autumn showing that public understanding of AV and how it works is still very low. I can’t find the specific question that Lindsell asked, but we should be sceptical of the results if people were invited to say whether they want “some form of proportional representation”. That’s a very vague proposition and I’m not convinced that most people get what “proportional representation” means. And the YouGov poll found that most voters had never heard of the party list or AMS systems; nearly half had ever heard of STV.

Posted via email from Neil Stockley's posterous


Paul said...

Neil. We were well aware of the YouGov research that you cite, and for precisely this reason, a clear and concise explanation/definition of each electoral technique was presented to the respondents. I understand your scepticism about public understanding, which I think was also the burden of the Electoral Commission's recent remarks about 'rushing' the May Referendum. However, there is no need for it in this context precisely because things were properly explained. For PR, the explanation covered the main principle of a systemt that ensured a match between the balance of the natinla vote and the balance of MPs in the Commons. We thought the main interest from the figures was the resounding rejection of first-past-the-post. I hope this clarifies things for your readers.

Paul Lindsell
Lindsell Marketing

Neil Stockley said...


Thanks for this - very helpful - and obviously I agree that on the face of it a resounding rejection of FPTP is very interesting.

So that we can compare apples with apples, would you able to provide (by way of comment or else on your website) the exact questions asked, and the number of "don't knows" in each case?

Thanks, Neil

Paul said...

Neil. The definitions were as follows:-
(1) FPTP: the current voting system where the candidate with the most votes (but not necessarily an overall majority) wins in each constituency - no guarantee of the overall national vote party balance being reflected in the eventual balance of MPs in the House of Commons
(2) The Alternative Vote: Where you vote in preferences for the different candidates (1st choice, 2nd choice, and so on). Voters rank the candidates. First preferences are counted, and any candidate with more than half of them is declared elected. If no candidate is elected, the candidate with fewest first preferences is eliminated and their votes redistributed; this is repeated as often as required until a candidate wins more than half of the valid votes cast. In this system, there is still no guarantee of the overall national vote party balance being reflected in the eventual balance of MPs in the House of Commons
(3) Proportional Representation:
Any one of a number of systems where the overall national vote for each pary is reflected in the eventual balance of MPs in the House of Commons. There are several possible proportional representation systems including:
Additional Member, Alternative Vote Plus, Single Transferable Vote or Party List
We shall provide full statistics, including "don't know" percentages, tomorrow.

Paul said...

Neil. Stats were: FPTP - 29%; Proportional Representation - 45%; Alternative Vote - 20%; Don't Know - 6%.
We feel that it is extremely interesting that, provided with a concise explanation, the don't know category is so small. We British seem to have a real view of what we want! We hope your readers find this research informative.

Neil Stockley said...


Thanks. Your findings on PR are consistent with those of several agencies, e.g., ICM earlier this year, though I think they used a tighter explanation of proportional representation. The details are on the ICM Research website (Hung Parliament survey 7 May 2010) and here’s the Telegraph report:

Likewise, the YouGov research I referred to above described more accurately the version of AV that will go to a vote next May.

Even so, your findings are very interesting and I agree, most of the British public want a change to a fairer voting system. Your findings certainly illustrate the need for more public information and education about AV.

When my home country, New Zealand, held its referenda on PR in 1992 and 1993, a publicly funded agency provided educational material about the options on offer. I hope that the Electoral Commission will do something similar here.