How complicated is the Alternative Vote?

This graphic is from Anthony Smith via Mark Thompson:

Voting flowchart

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This entry was posted in Op-eds.


  • This is excellent!

  • There’s an easier FTPT flowchart:

    Decide which candidate you want to win.

    Vote for that candidate.

  • Try working out the winner though. e.g.

  • Nigel Quinton 5th Apr '11 - 11:05am

    Brilliant! Will be on our next leaflet!

  • Dan – AV doesn’t change that. Unless you think that if you give someone a preference, they are by definition “your candidate”.

  • @Julian – You can make anything look complex. Particularly if you don’t put the first preferences on the table…

    Try this instead if you’re having difficulty:

  • @Mark: ‘Unless you think that if you give someone a preference, they are by definition “your candidate”.’

    Exactly – they are you ‘preferred’ candidate in relation to other options lower down. It really is quite simple.

  • Henry – They are a candidate you would prefer to lose. It really is quite simple.

  • Dan Falchikov –

    ‘And for the vast majority of the population curse for four/five years that your candidate lost.

    And then repeat…’

    I don’t see that AV will change that necessarily. And in any case, that is a staggeringly narrow view of what elected MPs do. MPs do not go to Parliament to represent my ideology, they go to represent my interests. So, even though my MP might, say, oppose immigration they would still help my wife with the UKBA. Hence the idea of, ‘a good constituency MP.’

    Voting and elections do not exist to give you personally an opportunity to have your prejudices legislated for or your ideology indulged.

    As far as AV goes, I’m a no voter, but I do despair at the complete lack of real debate on this subject and the glib diagram at the top of the page is not really advancing things.

  • @Henry. The chart you link to shows that the four candidates who secured seats (a four seat constituency, apparently) would also have won on FPTP with percentages of 12%, 18.1%, 19.9% and 13.1%.

    Under AV, they seem to have won with 22%, 21%, 20% and 19%, although this isn’t very clear. There’s a “quota” mentioned of 6,923 although not all the winning candidates got this many votes. I’ve no idea what that means.

    Looking at the chart does not persuade me that AV is a simple system. I do not believe that more than 20% of voters would be able to explain what that chart meant. Is that good for democracy?

  • The point I was really making, Julian, was that the graph Guido uses does not include first preferences, so is an incomplete picture. Thus asking ‘who won’ on incomplete data is twisting the picture.

    I personally don’t think AV is complex, but just in case you need some help, the reason the quota isn’t needed in the final column is because when you have 5 candidates left for 4 spaces you don’t need to re-assign the preferences (obviously). (It may be a similar result to FPTP in this case, but that really wan’t the point that was making – it could have been different.)

    @Mark – that statement is incorrect. They are not ‘the’ candidate you’d prefer to lose, they are ‘a’ candidate you’d prefer to lose: You’d still prefer them to win over someone else. It is called an order of preference, it is that simple. Preference is an indexical term, it relies on a relation to another subject. If you say ‘I prefer X’ you are implicitly saying ‘more than Y’. AV therefore more accurately captures how the human mind works and is a better voting system for it. It is also not that complex, and I am sure you understand it.

  • @Duncan, you are right – this debate is terrible, with mis-representation on both sides all over the place. I support AV because I think that it is clearly a better way of capturing people’s genuine preferences.

  • @Henry. You say “when you have 5 candidates left for 4 spaces you don’t need to re-assign the preferences (obviously)”. Quite right in terms of who has won, but in terms of the percentage vote it could alter the positions significantly.

    My point is this. When you look at that chart, you are left thinking why bother? The same candidates won who would have won under FPTP. On the other hand, if a different set of candidates had won, I think it would be very difficult to explain to the average voter exactly why this had happened.

    Actually, my point is that FPTP and AV can both be complex in different ways. It seems from this post that FPTP can be complex for the voter if there is tactical voting involved. AV is potentially very difficult to explain if the result doesn’t match the FPTP or first preference. i.e. You can’t put forward simplicity as a reason to choose one over the other.

    And finally, the author may say tactical voting won’t occur under AV, but I wouldn’t be so sure. What’s the betting that there will be many sources of “advice” on how you ought to number your candidates?

  • re your first round: Yes, they should have a final column, but my point about guido’s (not yours though) lack of info in his example is valid.

    re your second paragraph: True, but it does make a difference in some areas, and as we can see, the Independent, who in fact seems very popular, almost didn’t make it in the first round. So, whilst a poor example, chosen by Guido, not me(!) it will have an impact in some areas.

    re your third paragraph: In which case we can probably agree to disagree 🙂 But for me, I have met too many people who a) want to vote but don’t ’cause they think it’ll be wasted or b) want to vote for party X but are so scared of party Y that they have no choice but to vote for party Z. It is not the most important issue, but I think AV is mildly better than FPTP and so should be adopted as a better preference-capturing system.

  • The Dublin result being discussed above is an election being held by the Single Transferable Vote in a multi member constituency – it has nothing to do with AV.

  • This flowchart is harmless enough, but the Yes Campaign would be best-served by continuously repeating Andrew Rawnsley’s incredible stat from Sunday: in 2010 only 32% of MPs got more than half of the vote; in 1955 it was 94%.

  • @Julian What’s the betting that there will be many sources of “advice” on how you ought to number your candidates?

    Spot on Julian there will be… the experience of Australia is exactly this… parties running around with slates of preferred voting preferencs or lots of negative campaigning.

  • Old Codger Chris 5th Apr '11 - 10:58pm

    The reason why 94% of MPs were elected with more than half the vote back in 1955 was that, in a great many constituencies, there were only 2 candidates. The deposit (£150 I believe) was much higher in real terms than today’s £500 and the percentage hurdle was higher.

    Today’s multi-party fight is certainly a strong reason to push for electoral reform – it’s just a shame the only reform offered is AV.

  • I like it. It is far more honest than the No campaign’s bollocks about the how the preferences of BNP voters would decide the election result under AV. As if that doesn’t happen already: it’s just that one system is more honest about it.

  • richard heathcote 7th Apr '11 - 7:54am

    i think it would be just as easy for someone to create a flow chart showing the opposite to this chart why does the person under fptp have more stages in the flow chart when the majority of people will know who they want to vote for and will simply put an x in the box for the person they want. to suggest less thought is needed for AV is a bit disingenuous. people under AV will have to list a number of candidates in order of preference so i fail to see how this is touted as a more simple option.

    i dont think tactical voting is what the majority of voters in this country do and it is hard to get away from the fact that people who vote the least popular candidate in effect get an additional vote to try again and again and again. I dont see what difference it makes for someone to gain over 50% of the vote if that vote comprises of a number of 3rd or 4th choice votes its hardly an endorsement of that MP’s ability.

    I know if i voted someone as my 4th choice and they eventually won i wouldnt really feel the MP represented me any more than the one selected on 35% of votes by people who wanted the candidate to represent them without my vote.

    AV is not a good system and flow charts like the one listed above dont really make me feel any different about it

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