The AV referendum: some initial public opinion findings

From YouGov comes the news:

1) The principle of having a referendum on AV is popular with the support of 69% of the public.

2) Latest voting intentions in the AV referendum are 45% in support of AV, 32% in support of FPTP. 6% would not vote and 17% don’t know how they would vote.

3) However, support for AV is soft. We experimented by presenting people with six arguments in favour of AV, and six arguments against AV and then asking how they would vote in a referendum. This resulted in a significant drop in support for AV to 33% and a corresponding increase in don’t knows, leaving referendum voting intention neck and neck.

Of course public opinion is not some given that has nothing to do with us; it’s something we can shift (or stop shifting) through our own work, such as my suggestions on local election candidates and starting to campaign. You can also sign up people to back the Fairer Votes Campaign.

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  • I wonder what the result would be if they gave reasons AGAINST first, and reasons FOR second. So people’s heads are filled with positive thoughts rather than negative ones when asked the question.

  • johnr I am sure there would have been a balanced presentation, ie some people would have had them in one order, some in another – possibly a variety of different orders. Properly designed Opinion surveys would always do this, to avoid any bias resulting from order of presentation.

  • Andrew Suffield 7th Jul '10 - 5:32pm

    I am sure there would have been a balanced presentation

    You must not be familiar with UK pollsters. The presentation was whatever their employer paid for it to be. They are in the business of generating the desired results. The strength of the arguments for and against would be similarly subject to bias. The employer will have been directly involved in the design of the questions, with the pollster acting in an “advisory” role – and the tacit understanding that the employer can introduce whatever biases they wish, and it’s not the pollster’s fault for doing exactly what they were asked to do.

    Who paid for this poll?

    Properly designed Opinion surveys would always do this, to avoid any bias resulting from order of presentation.

    It depends what they’re designed to do. Academic research would. Commercial pollsters need to get hired again to do another poll in next week’s issue, so unbiased results aren’t good for business.

    A notable exception is the “voting intention” polls, which are used as advertising because people judge pollsters on them: the more accurately a pollster predicts election results, the more people will trust that pollster, and hence the more business they will do with their revenue-generating polls for the next few years.

    Genuinely reliable polls would be a nice development – it’s easy enough to arrange – but nobody is interested.

  • Mark, is there a web link to these YouGov findings? I have a couple of questions.

    Do they actually ask those who support FPTP *why* they support it? What reason do they have, beyond “it helps the Duopoly maintain power”?

    Could you list the 6 arguments against AV that were given (as an alternative to FPTP)? I don’t know of 6.

  • Interesting article there. The arguments against are all predictably pathetic. I’ve written a thread about it here if anyone’s interested…

  • STV is a principled, fundamental reform which I believe could represent the major change to politics that the electorate desires. It is sellable. However AV just looks like a bit of political gamesmanship. By the time of the referendum the fact that all it will deliver is a few more seats for the Lib Dems is going to kill it. People will stick with what they have if the potential benefits of change are so marginal. I suspect this is why even at this stage so many people are supporting FPTP.

    Lib Dems urgently need to consider why of the three major parties they are unique in the fact that their support is draining away. The leadership needs to find a way to present themselves as constructive partners in a coalition
    rather than as co-opted Tory spokesmen. I’ve seen Nick Clegg on TV actually parroting David Cameron’s words as though he’s some sort of political groupie. It’s utterly embarassing to watch.

    Yes, yes. I know. I’m just a Labour tribalist/troll. The truth is I’ve voted for the Lib Dems twice and Labour once (97 – i think i can be forgiven that). I don’t want the Lib Dems to fall off a cliff but I fear that is what is going to happen unless you take off the rose-tinted glasses and wise up to the fact that the Tories are outmaneuvering you politically on every front. I fear this website is part of the problem – it has a detectable whiff of wishful group-thinking.

  • Paul McKeown 8th Jul '10 - 2:01am


    And how on Earth do you get a bill on STV through the Commons, when at least half of the parliamentary Labour party will oppose it and probably an even larger proportion of the parliamentary Conservative party?

    This just seems like an excuse not to support AV, rather than a serious proposal.

    I have seen much such rubbish from parts of Labour, searching for an excuse for a reason not to honour their longstanding manifesto pledge. Such as , a frankly absurd piece of nonsense.

    However, I believe Labour will in the end support it. It will realise that equal sized constituencies and a fair resolution to the West Lothian question (preventing MPs from devolved administrations from voting on matters at Westminster for which the devolved administration in which their constituency is situated is locally responsible) may, perforce, force it to seek alliances. AV is naturally a great tool for alliance building, by appealing for transfer votes.

  • Paul McKeown 8th Jul '10 - 2:07am


    “Lib Dems urgently need to consider why of the three major parties they are unique in the fact that their support is draining away.”

    At some time during every parliament for decades, LD support has dropped in polls to between 8% – 12%. This parliament might be no different. There is nothing for the LDs to worry about, as parliament makes them nearly invisible for long periods, until they can put their arguments in a General Election. Strangely contrary to your thesis, the LDs have made progress and gains in almost every electoral process that has taken place since the General Election, including the delayed Thirsk and Malton parliamentary election, in which Labour was pushed, amusingly as it tried to use the poll as a popularity contest on the coalition government, into a rather embarrassing third place.

    “I fear this website is part of the problem – it has a detectable whiff of wishful group-thinking.”

    a) you don’t actually have to read it if it distresses you
    b) you might try CiF if you prefer views aligned with your own

  • Matthew Huntbach 8th Jul '10 - 11:53am

    I would imagine that well over 90% of the population do not know what AV is, do not care, and any opinion they may express on it would depend entirely on how the question is put to them and on what spin has been given to them about it.

    My suggestion is that we stick entirely to the facts, which may be expressed using the following example:

    Cuthbert and Dibble are standing as candidates to be Member of Parliament for the constituency of Trumpton. 30,000 of Trumpton’s electors prefer Cuthbert, 25,000 prefer Dibble.

    Just before the deadline, a third candidate, Grubb, submits a nomination. 10,000 of those who still prefer Cuthbert to Dibble prefer Grubb more.

    Why, when Cuthbert and Dibble have done nothing and none of Trumpton’s electors have changed their
    opinions, should Grubb’s nomination paper being found valid mean Dibble gets returned to serve as Member of Parliament for Trumpton, despite the electors of Trumpton preferring Cuthbert?

    That is all – anyone who opposes AV must answer the question in the last paragraph. Anything else is political opportunism, and democracy should not be about fiddling the system to get the party political result you wanted in the first place.

  • Andrew Suffield 8th Jul '10 - 7:20pm

    Lib Dems urgently need to consider why of the three major parties they are unique in the fact that their support is draining away.

    *eyeroll* Lib Dem support “drains away” immediately after every general election. It’s basic tribal behaviour; those who are inclined to support the new government jump towards them, and those who hate the new government jump towards their bigger opponent.

    It would be more accurate to say that Lib Dem support builds up sharply in advance of an election. Where it is right now is pretty much where it’s been for all of 2006 through to 2009.

    But this has never stopped people from spending six months after each election talking about how this is an emergency and the Lib Dems are dying, rejected by an uncaring population.

  • David Allen 8th Jul '10 - 7:45pm

    “support for AV is soft. We experimented by presenting people with six arguments in favour of AV, and six arguments against AV and then asking how they would vote in a referendum. This resulted in a significant drop in support for AV”

    This is because people hate complex anorak-style arguments, and it turns them off reform. If we really want to wreck our chances, we should rant on about other systems like STV. If on the other hand we want to help our chances, we must explain why AV is simpler and more effective than FPTP. So:

    No more “wasted votes”! If you vote for a small party who come last, your vote automatically transfers over to your next choice, so it won’t be wasted.

    No more “tactical voting”. You don’t have to worry about whether to vote for your favourite candidate or for one you think has a better chance of winning. You can vote for both of them, and your vote will always count.

    The election authority do all the hard work. They count the votes and eliminate the lowest scoring candidates, one by one. If your first choice gets knocked out, they re-allocate your vote, following the instruction you gave them. When there are only two candidates left, your vote is always counted again – in favour of whichever of the two you preferred. Your vote always counts!

  • robert ascal 11th Jul '10 - 3:21pm

    As one who voted libdem for the first time in the election i feel i made a very grave error, i did not vote libdem to end up with tory cuts, a rise in vat, an assault on the public services of which i have never known the like of and job losses on a scale not known since the eighties. What as this got to do with av you might ask? well it works like this my friends i along with many more who feel betrayed by the libdems will vote against av because we feel badly let down and if this is coalition politics, vote orange get blue, well then never again,better the devil you know as they say. I dont call fifty something libdem mp’s enabling tory policy to pass through the house democracy and if you are truthful neither does the electorate that voted for you,most libdem voters do not support tory cuts on this scale and when the full effects of those cuts come home to roost the electorate will remember who let the torys impose them cuts.

  • jonathan in Oz 19th Jul '10 - 3:12pm

    Oh dear, Robert. Perhaps if more Labour MPs had supported Brown in his efforts to form a coalition then you might not have felt so downcast. Chin up. Labour has really just been a ‘small-c ‘conservative party for a very long time, generally speaking. The only radical left of centre, non-socialist party (with perhaps the exception of the Greens, though I’m not convinced yet) in recent times has been the LDs. Time will tell if they truly have shifted to the uncaring right. I doubt that they have, actually.

  • jonathan in Oz 19th Jul '10 - 3:14pm

    Mind you, at least we have AV and compulsory voting over here in Australia (one can of course spoil one’s ballot paper).

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