AV better suited to increasingly 'promiscuous' British voters

18 Apr 2011 02:48 PM

The Alternative Vote system is better suited to the modern electorate than First Past the Post because voters have become more ‘promiscuous’ and less tribal in the way they vote, according to a new report from ippr. The report shows that voters are happy to express more than one preference when they cast their ballots and most people are prepared to express three preferences.

The report shows that AV will reduce tactical voting while preserving the principle of ‘one voter, one vote’. YouGov polling for ippr shows that more than one in five voters say they have engaged in ‘tactical voting’ and voted for their second choice under the First Past the Post system. But the report says that AV will not increase voter turnout and that the electorate has mixed views about the system.

The report says that AV does not eliminate safe seats and is not a proportional system but that it will make elections more competitive. The report argues that AV raises the threshold for success and obliges political parties to appeal to a larger sector of the electorate, while First Past the Post increasingly returns MPs to parliament elected on a minority of the vote.

It says minor parties such as the Greens and UKIP might increase their share of the vote but they will still struggle to win seats. The report argues that the influence of minor parties will grow by virtue of the major parties seeking their second preference votes but it shows that extremist parties like the BNP will be penalised by AV and their recycled votes will not influence election outcomes.

The report also shows that AV will not lead to permanent coalition, nor will the Liberal Democrats be made the king-makers of British politics. It shows that the biggest driver of hung parliaments is not the electoral system but voting behaviour, and concludes that hung parliaments are here to stay, whether elections are held under AV or FPTP.

Nick Pearce, ippr Director, said:

'AV is not a proportional system and it will not increase voter turnout but it is a better system than First Past the Post at reflecting the pluralism of the modern electorate. There is no such thing as a perfect electoral system but AV will make politics more competitive and make politicians appeal for votes from a wider section of society. It suits the modern British electorate better because voters have become less tribal and more promiscuous in the way they want to vote.

'First Past the Post is a system designed for an age of political tribalism which no longer exists. Under First Past the Post a candidate can be elected on the votes of a minority of committed supporters which means that the majority of voters are left without their preferred representation. AV goes with the grain of contemporary British politics because it accommodates the electorate's increasing desire for greater political pluralism.

'AV creates more uncertainty, which is good for democracy. But AV will not lead to permanent coalition, nor will the Lib Dems be made the king-makers of British politics. Hung parliaments are here to stay, whether we elect them under AV or First Past the Post.'

Polling conducted by YouGov for ippr shows that almost two-thirds of voters (60 per cent) feel that more than one political party represents their views and values. Less than one in five (18 per cent) say that only one party comes close to reflecting their views and values and that they are strongly opposed to all others.

When voting in a ‘mock AV ballot’ there was strong use of preferences in the early stages, with 78 per cent of participants expressing a second preference and 57 per cent also expressed a third preference. After the second and third round, the use of preferences declined markedly, with around two thirds of participants not giving one at the fourth stage and thereafter.

Half of voters (50 per cent) say they think there would be less tactical voting under AV.

Notes to editors

Download The Right Alternative? Assessing the case for the Alternative Vote 

The report is the second in a series assessing voting systems. Download the first, Worst of Both Worlds: Why First Past the Post no longer works 

ippr commissioned YouGov to undertake representative polling of the general public. The total sample size was 2,199 adults and fieldwork was undertaken between 6 and 7 April 2011. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all GB adults (aged 18+). The survey was conducted using an online interview of administered members of the YouGov plc GB panel of 185,000+ individuals who have agreed to take part in surveys. An email was sent to panellists selected at random from the base sample according to the sample definition, inviting them to take part in the survey and providing a link to the survey. (The sample definition could be 'GB adult population' or a subset such as 'GB adult females'.) YouGov plc normally achieves a response rate of between 35% and 50% to surveys however this does vary dependent upon the subject matter, complexity and length of the questionnaire. The responding sample is weighted to the profile of the sample definition to provide a representative reporting sample. The profile is normally derived from census data or, if not available from the census, from industry accepted data.


Tim Finch: 07595 920 899 / t.finch@ippr.org

Richard Darlington: 07525 481 602 / r.darlington@ippr.org