LDV survey: 96% of Lib Dem members back AV – but majority with “no real enthusiasm”

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum to discover what Lib Dem members think of a variety of key issues, and what you make of the Lib Dems’ and Government’s performance to date. Almost 600 party members have responded, and we’re currently publishing the full results of our survey.

Today we’re looking at the Alternative Vote, the measure of electoral reform the Conservatives conceded in their ‘final offer‘ to the Lib Dems to secure the Coalition agreement. A preferential system of voting (in which the public can, if they choose, rank the candidates in order), AV is not a proportional system, and so falls short of most Lib Dems’ wishes.

The Voice set out to find out just how short of members’ wishes the Alternative Vote comes. To test the views of our sample of party members, we asked:


Which of the following statements best represents your view of the UK adopting the ‘alternative vote’ system to replace the current ‘first past the post’ system for electing MPs to the House of Commons:

  • 44% – The alternative vote is a great improvement on first-past-the-post. I will enthusiastically support it in the referendum.
  • 52% – The alternative vote is a small improvement on first-past-the-post. I will back it but with no real enthusiasm.
  • 3% – The alternative vote is no improvement at all on first-past-the-post. I would vote only for a proportional electoral system to replace first-past-the-post.
  • 0% – I support first-past-the-post.
  • 0% – Don’t know / No opinion

In a sense the results are overwhelming: some 96% of Lib Dems according to this survey back scrapping the first-past-the-vote in favour of AV. Only 3% are so theological about proportional representation that they decline to back AV, and would prefer to see first-past-the-post remain until full reform can be implemented. For the record only one Lib Dem said they backed first-past-the-post.

However, what might concern some in the Lib Dem ranks of the ‘Yes to AV’ campaign is the breakdown of support, with a slim majority – 52% – saying they back AV with “no real enthusiasm”, so small an improvement do they consider it. If Lib Dem members are lukewarm, it prompts two questions. First, will they go out and campaign for it? And, secondly, how much harder might it be to convince the wider electorate that this is a reform worth casting their vote for?

Here’s a sample of your comments:

Encouraging fairer campaigning and preferential voting is always a good thing, PR or not. And it’s going to mess with the “Only X can win here” bar charts 🙂

My actual view is in between the first two alternatives! I do not see it as a real PR move but it IS vital as a first step in changing the system.

If AV passes, the door will be open to further electoral reform. If AV falls, electoral reform will be dead for a generation at best.

I think it is a SMALL improvement, but I will back it with GREAT enthusiasm. Anything which helps to show that the Electoral System can be changed must be supported.

AV is useless, but we have to go for it to establish that FPTP is not sacred.

Later in the survey we asked about Nick Clegg’s attitude to securing electoral reform in light of his comments in a BBC interview seemingly downplaying the importance of the Alternative Vote to his vision of Britain:

Do you agree – yes or no – with the following statement… Nick Clegg is sounding too lukewarm about the Alternative Vote. He needs to sell it more as a positive step in the right direction of proper electoral reform.

  • 57% – Yes
  • 15% – No
  • 28% – Uncertain

So a majority, 57%, of Lib Dem members in our sample think Nick needs to big-up his enthusiasm for the Alternative Vote… which is somewhat ironic given that a majority of Lib Dem members themselves appear to harbour reservations about AV. But then I guess that’s what leaders are for: to inspire us even when we’re not feeling completely inspired.

You can access all the results of past Lib Dem Voice surveys of party members here.

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15 Comments

  • Don’t people understand that at this moment, Nick Clegg (paradoxically) has to sound lukewarm to give this a better chance?
    Past examples (NZ in particular) show that there is a better chance if, in the mind of the general public at least, the reform cause is not tied to one specific party.

    In particular, it was crucial for him to stress that the coalition won’t break if the referendum result is a no, otherwise the debate would have shifted away from the issue at hand, namely our rotten electoral system. I would have hoped that supporters would understand that this must not become a referendum on the coalition – not a few months after the spending review and a VAT rise!

  • 100% agreement with Maria.
    On AV itself, our members seem to be swallowing a lot of myths about the likely effect on seat numbers, a reasonable assumption of how voters will behave suggests we would gain 60% more seats. So, 80 instead of 50, 96 instead of 60, 104 instead of 65. Entirely apart from the principles of greater choice & cutting safe seats those extra MPs are worth fighting for.

  • I’m encouraged that 44% enthusiastically support it for one reason or another. Many bemoan that we’re not getting a referendum on STV but lets be pragmatic. We (at last) have a referendum on an issue that is dear to our collective hearts which, if we win, will give an improvement in our under-functioning voting system. Rather than holding out for STV, which may never happen, Isn’t some improvement better than nothing at all?

  • Most of us want STV or at least AV plus. However AV is the only game in town right now. If the referendum fails then any kind of voting reform is out of the window for a generation. If it succeeds then more could follow as the electorate warm to voting 1,2,3 rather than X.

    Therefore the last thing we need is a half hearted campaign, in effect saying well it’s better than nothing but let’s explain how much better STV would be if it was on offer. Ignore STV until after this referenduim. We must get across 2 things – (1) AV is a major step forward in empowering the voter and (2) It’s dead simple.

    Locally I am using the slogan – “Yes to fairer votes – It’s as easy as 1,2,3.”

  • Colin Green 31st Aug '10 - 3:04pm

    “Yes to fairer votes – It’s as easy as 1,2,3.”

    I like this. Its a candidate for an official slogan I think.

  • Paul McKeown 31st Aug '10 - 3:07pm

    @Denis

    “Yes to fairer votes – It’s as easy as 1,2,3.”

    Brilliant. Print the teeshirts!

  • Colin Green 31st Aug '10 - 4:23pm

    The fair votes Canada document is quite interesting. Here is a quote:

    “AV elections in Australia have shown that the second choices on ballots tip the balance in only a small number of seats. In 21 elections between 1919 and 1996, only six per cent of the leading first-choice candidates were defeated by the distribution of second choices.”

    Is that a fact of AV or just a reflection of voting in Australia? Would British voting patterns give the same kind of result? The Lib Dem vote is quite soft. 49% of people said at the last election that they would vote for us if they thought we would win. In the end many didn’t. Would we pick up more of these votes as 1st choices if they had the safety net of their preference of Labour / Conservative to fall back on? I often hear “I would vote for you but I don’t want to let that lot in.”

    AV redistributes the votes of the tiny parties first so you have to be second choice to UKIP, BNP, Respect, Green and the others to pick up the first 2nd choice votes. Only in seats where 2 candidates are very close could this small swing vote make a difference. If not then the 3rd place candidate’s votes are redistributed leaving a 2 horse race. In constituencies where we are second, would the vote break more to us than the others? It seems likely that Labour or Conservative 1st choices wouldn’t go to the other party. They’d either go to an already-eliminated-minor-candidate, or to us, or would have no further preferences. The important question is “what proportion of seats would the second place candidate win with 3rd party redistributed votes?”

  • The question is whether you want electoral reform primarily to benefit smaller parties — and the Liberal Democrats in particular — or whether you want electoral reform in order to make the Parliament of the United Kingdom more representative of the UK electorate.

    If the sole criterion for how you vote on AV is “does this help the Liberal Democrats get more seats”, then, admittedly, there’s not a whole lot going for it (even though most projections do show a modest gain). If, however, you’re interested in enfranchising millions of voters whose votes would otherwise have no effect, then AV is a very substantial step forward.

    So which is it: selfish party interest? Or general public interest?

  • Stuart Mitchell 31st Aug '10 - 5:41pm

    The No campaign will make much of the fact that we’re spending tens of millions (at a time of punishing cuts) on a referendum to please the Lib Dems, though the Lib Dems themselves have “no real enthusiasm” for the new system on offer.

    Wilfrid makes some excellent points. AV turns voting into a mostly negative exercise in tactical voting to keep someone else out, or at worst a random display of donkey voting. YouGov polls taken before and after the last election showed that a large proportion of second preferences are so volatile and flimsy as to be virtually worthless. No wonder even Lib Dems struggle to get enthusiastic about AV

  • Colin Green 31st Aug '10 - 6:38pm

    David,
    “The question is whether you want electoral reform to benefit … the Liberal Democrats — or whether you want … to make the Parliament of the United Kingdom more representative “. “So which is it: selfish party interest? Or general public interest?”

    The Lib Dems consistently get a far smaller share of seats than of votes. Making it more representative of the voters also gives the Lib Dems more seats. To answer your either or question – Both.

  • Ian Sanderson 1st Sep '10 - 10:27am

    There are three general arguments in favour of AV:
    1) it gives the individual voter better value for his/her vote – he/she has the opportunity to use exactly as he/she wants. It can be used to influence the election whatever the result or it can be used as FPTP, or anything in between – the individual voter decides.
    2) It should produce less constituencies where the MP is hated by the majority of those who voted – which is a really bad start for the MP to do his/her job properly.
    3) The voter can be honest about his/her real preference, and use later preferences for tactical voting, if necessary. This should make MPs a bit more humble about the actual support they have.
    These are the sort of arguments that must be used for a cross-party campaign.

    I think it will take several elections under the new system for most of the electors to exploit it fully.

    For those who – across parties – wish to see a more proportional electoral system – it does bring the electorate away from the system of “I’ve got one vote for Westminster, and I express it with a cross” which has been the system since 1950. Some may oppose AV on those grounds alone. (Prior to 1950, there were some multi-member constituencies and there were University MPs, which gave university graduates a second vote.)

  • Pete Rowberry 4th May '11 - 11:30am

    I don’t understand why a NO vote is a kick in the teeth for Nick Clegg. Instead it will boulster a deeply unpopular Conservative party with their loathd NHS reforms and savage cuts. I only need one reason to Vote YES and that is because it will mean that for the first time in eight years my vote will actually count. Everyone has to change, NHS, Schools, Libraries, except MPs. NO is NOT FAIR.

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