Fairer votes referendum: it needs to be about the voting system, not the government

Contrasting poll results from YouGov and ICM on the AV referendum show how important it is avoid the referendum becoming a vote for or against the government rather than about the merits of the alternative vote compared to first past the post.

An ICM poll has found the Yes camp leading by 35% – 22% (with the balance don’t know or wouldn’t vote), which compares to a 35% – 41% deficit on the latest YouGov poll.

However, there is an important difference between the wording of the two polling questions, with YouGov’s question starting, “The Conservative-Liberal Democrat government are committed to holding a referendum…” whilst ICM has no mention of the Conservatives in its question which begins “A referendum is due to be held…”. Though there are also other differences in the wording, this looks to be the most important difference.

Meanwhile, there was good news for the Yes campaign yesterday with a wide cross-section of notable Labour Party figures signing a letter to the Guardian, including Alan Johnson, Ken Livingstone, Jon Cruddas and both Glenys and Neil Kinnock:

Next year we have the opportunity to vote for a fairer voting system – one in which everyone’s vote counts and every MP is required to get the backing of a majority of voters. It means that every Labour party member and supporter, in every seat in the country, can cast their vote for Labour and then mark any other preferences, knowing their vote won’t be wasted.

First past the post isn’t working. When just a few thousand people determine every election result in a few swing seats, the interests of the Labour party and the people we represent go unheard. The alternative vote means the majority get their voices heard; it will shut the door on extremist parties like the BNP.

You can read the full letter and see the signatories here. Thought not listed as a signatory, Ed Miliband earlier in the week also indicated his own support, confirming his earlier similar comments:

Ed Miliband, the Labour leader, will tomorrow join eight other shadow cabinet members in backing the Labour Campaign for the Alternative Vote, brushing aside concerns that support for AV would be seen as a distraction from Labour’s declared main task in May of doing well in the Scottish, Welsh and English local elections…

Miliband’s decision to put his name to the AV campaign is a sign of his willingness to combat the big Labour beasts who have come out against changing the voting system, including Lord Reid, David Blunkett and Margaret Beckett. (The Guardian)

UPDATE: For some further analysis of more recent polling since this post was written, see Anthony Wells’s post.

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  • It’s a valid point Mark – and one that holds immeasurable consequences for the future of the Liberal Democrats.

    In my opinion, the No camp only has to keep repeating “Liberal Democrat party” over and over again in every interview and linking it to the Yes campaign to succeed and keep FPTP.

  • NO2AV is still churning out the same old tired rhetoric and nonsense.

  • Rich – I agree. But that’s not the point.

    The Lib Dems have been damaged so much by going into Coalition that all the No Camp has to do is repeat a combination of:
    “Nick Clegg’s AV system…”
    “AV, proposed by the Liberal Democrats…”
    “Vote for AV and Nick Clegg/Lib Dems will continue to form hung parliaments…”

    And FPTP will be retained. The polling is all over the place because the public at large aren’t the slightest bit interested at present. Once the messaging starts getting going (and don’t forget – Cameron really, really doesn’t want AV) they will seriously strengthen for a No vote.

  • It should be about the voting system, however it won’t be, the same as general elections should be about policies and not personalities.

    The big advantage for the yes campaign is that plenty of people simply don’t care either way and won’t bother voting.

  • @ Matt

    And remind me of why FPTP has any redeeming points WHATSOEVER…

  • Get Nick Clegg to say he doesn’t want AV as it would be bad for him and his party.
    The public would vote for it in droves!

  • I’m personally undecided on the referendum, but I think that a No vote looks the most likely outcome at this point.

    The country as a whole will know that it’s got the backing of Nick Clegg, which has become a fairly toxic association for many. It’s a shame that an issue such as voting reform should be clouded by other concerns in this way.

    For my part, I feel that FPTP is far from ideal. I can see that there are some significant problems with it. So change seems like a good idea. But I’m not sure whether AV offers anything better. It seems like a complicated alternative. I haven’t seen any of the advantages clearly explained yet. Hopefully things will become rather more clear in the coming months.

  • Based on today’s vote, I’ll be voting NO.
    After experiencing this Coalition, I don’t want to experience any more.

  • how important it is avoid the referendum becoming a vote for or against the government…

    What a fanciful piece of wishful thinking… we know we canvassed all your votes by promising you that we would be different, that we would we keep our promises ya ya blah blah and actually it really isn’t our fault that we took you all for a ride….

    oh but by the way please reward us in not many weeks time by voting for our miserable little compromise…

    As I’ve said before nice logical Lib Dem arguments about merits of a voting system are just not going to wash with a public that is not going to forgive that easily.

  • I have been swayed by the many arguments for AV.

    So much that :-

    I Pledge to vote for AV!

    Signed Sk84goal

    There that should guarantee my vote. Shouldn’t it?

    You are living in cloud cuckoo land!

  • Paul Kennedy 10th Dec '10 - 2:56pm

    matt, I wonder if you are confusing AV with the party list system if you think it helps small parties.

    AV does not help smaller parties and it does not generally lead to coalition government. In Australia there are two main blocks: Labour and the permanent Lib/Nat alliance (Nationalists in Northern Territory, Liberals elsewhere). Apart from a solitary green there is no third party presence in the lower house. The current position is a rare fluke resulting from a virtual dead heat between Labour and the Lib/Nats.

    What AV does produce though is more independent (or independent-minded) MPs: people who are genuinely popular locally and answer to their constituents rather than a party machine. Such people will never break a pledge to their constituents because they cannot rely on tribal voting to forget their misdeeds. If we had had AV we might not have gone to war in Iraq, and we definitely would not have voted to increase tuition fees last night.

  • Paul Kennedy 10th Dec '10 - 2:59pm

    Sorry I should have said Nationalists are mainly in Queensland (as well as Northern Territory). They are basically the Country party.

  • Whatever the question on the paper, people will be asking themselves just on equestion.

    Can we trust those this will benefit ?

    Answer = No

    Now if it were STV it really would make a difference. As much as I am anti their policies this would lead to minority parties such as UKIP and the BNP having parliament seats. At that point they will be exposed to the type of scrutiny that will destroy their arguments.

    It would also mean a big rise for the greens. I have many friends who wanted to vote Green but felt it a waste. AV only really helps the third party, and in Britain that is the party of “no more broken promises”. The party who can always be trusted to keep their word to the electorate.

  • david clayton 12th Dec '10 - 12:16pm

    If Lib Dems support it then it will not win. For a while they are electoral poison. This may pass. Most people are not that interested in FPTP v AV but the idea of more coalitions does not make them feel good. AV is unwanted by everyone but Clegg was too weak to insist on it as part of the coalition agreement or push for STV or some such that may have caught the public’s imagination. The sad truth is that Cameron is a much more able politician than Clegg and has maintained Tory popularity, developed the Lib Dems as hate figures and adroitly manoeuvred the electoral debate to his advantage. Just as a side thought how is the changing of boundaries likely to affect Lib Dems?

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