AV and Minor Parties

by Brian on April 28, 2011

On Twitter yesterday, Daniel Davies asked,

If AV is so god damned simple, why can nobody explain convincingly to me whether it screws the LibDems or not?

This seems like a fun question to work through at longer than Twitter length, even if it is purely hypothetical, since the No side is going to win.

One obvious answer is that as long as the Liberal Democrats are polling 10% the voting system won’t make a lot of difference. Another obvious answer is that if the Lib Dems recover at all, then AV would seem to help them. There will be plenty of seats, such as Oxford East which they lost under FPTP, but would have a very good chance of winning under AV.

But if AV in England[1] plays out in a similar way to how AV played out in Australia, there is a big risk to the Lib Dems. They could lose a huge portion of their vote to the Greens.

Let’s start with a little story about a large English-speaking constitutional monarchy. At one time the two party system, one roughly centre-right, the other a trade unionist party of roughly centre-left persuasion, was disrupted by the formation of a new party, the core of which came from centrist defectors from one of the major parties. The second word in the name of the party was Democrats.

Initially the party appealed to moderates disaffected with the two major parties. But over time their policies drifted leftward, so that on many issues they opposed the trade unionist party from the left. (This was helped by the trade unionist party drifting rightward over time.) They got a large boost in this when they opposed military intervention in Iraq, something that both major parties supported. Although polling on this was never completely clear, it seemed their supporter base consisted largely of people who supported these left-wing views, or who were disaffected with the major parties.

Then one day the party decided to support the radical fiscal policies of the centre-right party, at the time when that centre-right party had much more support than its trade unionist opposition, but needed their support to get their policies through parliament. This opened up divisions in the party, and led over time to their support cratering. Within a couple of elections they were out of the parliament, and most of their support had gone to the Greens.

End of little story.

The story was about Australia, and the party was the Australian Democrats. But with a little work, you could read it as being about the UK and the Liberal Democrats. Now I’ve had to strain a little to get the analogy between the Liberal Democrats and the Australian Democrats to work. Most notably, the Liberal Democrats have a much bigger, and much more diverse, supporter base than the Australian Democrats ever had. So I don’t think we will see a scenario where the Lib Dems cease to win parliamentary seats within two terms of doing their big deal with the large conservative party. But I do think that they have something to fear from the Greens, and AV would make these fears a little more realistic.

It’s true that with the current voting system, i.e., plurality voting, the Greens do not do well in House of Commons elections. They only got 1% of the vote last time. Though amazingly they did win a seat. But under a different voting system for European elections, they got 8.6% of the vote. And I would guess that if AV were in place for House of Commons elections, and voting Green didn’t take away one’s ability to express a preference between the larger parties, the Green vote would go up by several percent.

If that’s right, a big question becomes where the vote would come from. I would bet that much of it would come from the Lib Dems. That is, I would bet most voters who would identify as Greens (in the German or Australian sense) would currently vote Lib Dem rather than Labour. In part that’s because the Lib Dems have many sensible environmental policies (such as no new runway at Heathrow). And in part that’s because many (not all!) Green voters tend to be antagonistic to big legacy parties like Labour.

One thing we’ve seen in Australia, and potentially one big effect of AV in England, is that once AV lets a party round up the votes of its core supporters without them having to worry about wasted votes, there can be something of a bandwagon effect. With AV, the Greens could easily get 5-7% of the vote in a Commons election. And once they get 5-7% of the vote in a Commons election, they might attract more voters, especially voters who are less sympathetic to fringe parties.

In short, just like the Australian Democrats ceased being the natural home for the We hate both those bastards voters, and they lost that mantle to the Greens, the Liberal Democrats could similarly lose voters who drift to them out of disaffection with the two big parties to the Greens. It won’t happen under plurality voting; the Greens won’t reach the needed “critical mass” of voters to be a natural home for disaffected voters. But it could happen, and could happen quickly, under AV.

Of course, since AV isn’t actually going to win, these are mostly unfalsifiable predictions. Which is too bad, especially if I’m right. I’d love watching the Liberal Democrats be undone by their own attempt to tilt the system in their favour.

fn1. I have no idea how AV would affect voting in Scotland and Wales[2]. There’s no obvious precedent I know of for what happens under AV with at least four parties having a large portion of the votes in many districts. If I’m right that AV would help the Greens, there might be many Scottish and Welsh seats where we have five major candidates. Once that happens it gets very hard to predict who will get eliminated at each stage of voting, and hence who will win. If I were in Scotland or Wales, I’d be tempted to vote No just because it would be good for someone else to be the guinea pig for using AV in a many party system. It is much easier to speculate about what will happen in England, where Australian examples provide better analogies. So this post is just for speculation about the consequences of AV for England.

fn2. Northern Ireland, on the other hand, seems easy to predict. We have lots of examples of how runoff elections work when there is a large ethnic or religious or racial divide between two large groups, plus some political disagreement within the two groups. (See, for example, lots of runoff elections in the US South.) The short answer is that the kind of upset we almost saw in Fermanagh and South Tyrone will be even less likely than under the current system, since Unionist candidates will generally win all and only seats where a majority of the voters are Unionist.

{ 252 comments }

1

Grad Student Lurker 04.28.11 at 3:21 am

What was the effect of AV on far right minority parties in Australia? Would AV increase the BNP’s chances of getting seats? As an American, I do not know enough about far right parties from the UK but I often see critiques of AV that claim that they would gain more power if such a system were implemented. I am wondering to what degree this would be true.

2

John Quiggin 04.28.11 at 3:26 am

Assuming FPTP continues, I’d have thought it entirely possible to see the LibDems out of Parliament two elections from now (or reduced to some kind of regional rump where, as DD said, people are stil voting for Lloyd George). Here’s the obvious path

Next election: The leftish voters they’ve previously attracted go to Labour (if they care about the outcome) or vote for the Greens (if they vote for the candidate they most prefer). The Lib Dems hold on to a few seats on the basis of tactical voting by conservatives, but in most parts of the country they are finished. Labour wins an outright majority, and the LibDem rump is marginalised in opposition

Election after that: The Cons go all out to capture the remaining Lib Dem seats, winning most of them, and handing the rest to Labour. In seats they don’t already hold, the LibDems are correctly regarded as fringe candidates with no chance, and therefore attract very few votes.

Maybe someone with a better understanding of British politics could give a more informed view.

3

John Quiggin 04.28.11 at 3:30 am

@GSL We have had AV for many decades. There has been one brief upsurge of a racist right party , the One Nation party in the late 90s ( more akin to UKIP than to BNP). The preferential system actually helped to wipe them out, as the mainstream conservative parties were pressured into giving them last preference (as also did Labor), so that even if they won a plurality, their candidates lost to the stronger of the major party candidates.

4

Brian 04.28.11 at 3:55 am

One quick addition to what John said.

In Australia, large (and even medium-sized) parties have a good system of delivering “how-to-vote” cards to almost everyone entering a voting booth. These recommend how people who support that party should vote. Not everyone follows the recommendations, but enough do that we can sensibly talk about parties giving preferences to other parties.

Strictly speaking, in AV elections parties don’t distribute preferences. In practice they do. And the experience with One Nation suggests this will hurt the far right parties.

One interesting question about the future of Australian politics is what happens on the other side of the spectrum. Traditionally, the conservatives have been more willing to deliver preferences to parties to the left of Labor, especially the Greens, than Labor has to deliver preferences to parties right of the Liberals. In the recent Victorian election the Liberals changed tack, and put Labor ahead of the Greens on their how to vote cards, possibly keeping a few seats in inner Melbourne in Labor hands.

In the long run, I suspect this will mean that the Greens do worse under AV than they would with equal number of votes under FPTP. On the other hand, I don’t think they’d have the votes they currently get unless AV had been in place in the past.

5

Brian 04.28.11 at 4:00 am

@John, I’d also like to see more informed UK voices on this. From this far away, it’s hard to see a party that has historically had 20+% of the vote losing significant votes to a party that has traditionally had 1% of the vote. But that could be wrong.

Put another way, I think there are vanishingly few voters who really vote for the candidate they most prefer. (This is all conjecture; I’m happy to be proven wrong with actual research!) I think even people who are disposed to vote unpragmatically still, on the whole, like to be part of a voting team that isn’t a rump. That’s why I think there can be substantial tipping point effects for these small parties. My conjecture is that plenty of people may vote Green, even under FPTP, if the Greens look like a serious part of the political landscape. At 1% they don’t really – although having a Commons seat does go a long way to looking serious.

6

Nabakov 04.28.11 at 5:38 am

So Daniel is on twitter. The Shorter Dsquared?

7

John Quiggin 04.28.11 at 5:46 am

I forgot to mention the option of staying home, which we don’t have in Australia (and a good thing, too, in my view).

In some sense, the abstention option goes naturally with FPTP. If the candidate you prefer has no chance of winning, or even putting in a creditable performance, and you don’t have the option of expressing your actual preference, then choosing between the lesser of evils, abstaining seems not only sensible but in some sense appropriate. The plurality system says that, if you aren’t in one of the big blocs you don’t count and therefore might as well stay away.

By contrast, under AV, you really have very little excuse for not voting, since you can both express your preference and contribute to the final choice. If you really don’t like any of the candidates, it’s reasonable to require you to show it by turning up and submitting a blank or spoiled ballot.

8

reason 04.28.11 at 7:01 am

I find it interesting that the referendum is likely to lose. I can understand why the major parties are against it, by I find it hard to understand why the voters are against it. Do they think they are innumerate? Or do they think it is really like proportional voting and will result in indecisive elections? Why would people want less choice? Do they not like the chance of having a protest vote against both major parties as an option?

9

reason 04.28.11 at 7:06 am

P.S. As an expat Australian, I can tell people that the main effect of AV is to make major party POLICIES more responsive to the electorate. (That is because the range of policies you can vote for without throwing away your vote is increased.) If you want the classic example of that not happening see USA.

10

NomadUK 04.28.11 at 7:27 am

I can understand why the major parties are against it, by I find it hard to understand why the voters are against it.

There are two reasons:

(1) Conservative voters will vote against it because that’s what the Conservative Party wants them to do.

(2) The rest will vote against it because they’re stupid little tossers who think somehow it’s more important to piss on Nick Clegg than to actually try to improve the electoral process — however slightly — in their own lifetimes.

11

Smudge 04.28.11 at 7:34 am

I think this hypothesis overestimates the potential appeal of the Greens. I believe we are too (small c) conservative about our political parties to allow the sort of growth you suggest. BNP and UKIP have made a lot of noise but with no real impact. Even the SDP with its collection of pukka political heavyweights and the advantage of centerism eventually merged with an old name to survive.
I realise that the counter argument would be the rapid rise of the Labour party after its inception, but they were different times.
The Greens are not seen as a “proper” polical party in the UK in the way they are in Germany- more of a protest group who stands in elections. They will have to significantly rebrand (although it pains me to se the word) if they are to have the broad appeal to fulfill the role you suggest.

12

dsquared 04.28.11 at 7:49 am

2) The rest will vote against it because they’re stupid little tossers who think somehow it’s more important to piss on Nick Clegg than to actually try to improve the electoral process — however slightly — in their own lifetimes.

with political skill and judgement like this on the Yes2AV side, it’s a wonder why the cause isn’t more popular.

13

Daragh McDowell 04.28.11 at 8:39 am

While it might be best to express myself in less pungent terms than NomadUK, he’s absolutely right. In the event of a ‘No’ victory (which I’m not 100% convinced in inevitable just yet) 80% of the press, the Tories, and the No wing of Labour will scream till they’re blue in the face that it represents an endorsement of FPTP and electoral reform will be off the table for generations (especially since its unlikely the Lib Dems will be holding the balance of power in parliament for a while either.) This will ensure that for the next 20-40 yrs. every election will be a choice between a Blairite Labour party or (at best) a Cameroonian Tory party. How any ‘progressive’ worth their salt could endorse such a result, even given Nick Clegg’s status as history’s greatest monster and his wilful promotion of bourgeois mathematics, is beyond me.

14

Phil 04.28.11 at 8:51 am

I find it hard to understand why the voters are against it. Do they think they are innumerate? Or do they think it is really like proportional voting and will result in indecisive elections?

Personally I’m against it because I know it’s not like PR. In fact AV is no more proportional than FPTP – and I don’t want to see the pressure for electoral reform defused by the implementation of some miserable little compromise.

As for screwing the Lib Dems, I see it more in terms of screwing the Coalition. Clegg would be able to sell a perceived victory on AV as a tangible justification for the coalition (never mind that Labour offered the same or more), which would stabilise his position & that of his party – and actually implementing AV in time for 2015 (which is possible) would almost certainly make a Lib Dem wipeout less likely, which in turn would make another Tory/Lib Dem coalition more achievable. No AV and there’s mutiny in the ranks while a wipeout looms for the Lib Dems – and Cameron and Osborne are looking smugger than ever. I’d say that spells trouble for the Coalition.

The trouble with AV is that the Lib Dems are still lots of people’s second choice, in some senses. I mean, if the question was “Rank these parties in order of decreasing support and/or increasing detestation” even I would vote Labour 1, Lib Dem 2, Tory 3. Of course, if the question was “Which of these parties do you want your vote to actually count for?” I’d vote Labour 1 and leave it at that – but in the privacy of the polling booth I’m sure lots of people will think they’re being asked the first question. And this is a problem in representational terms, not just because I don’t like the Lib Dems specifically – it means that parties whose programmes are blandly moderate, cynically opportunistic or both are likely to be systematically over-represented.

As for the Greens, under FPTP in the UK they’ve got ~0.1% of the seats (1 seat) on 1% of the national vote. In Australia they’ve got ~0.7% of the seats (1 seat) on nearly 12% of the national vote – and the record of third parties running independently in Australia isn’t exactly great.

15

Sam Dodsworth 04.28.11 at 8:52 am

You don’t share my suspicion that a “Yes” victory will result in the same 80% saying firmly that the public have got what they wanted now and should stop complaining and any further electoral reform will be off the table for generations? Especially since its unlikely the Lib Dems will be holding the balance of power in parliament for a while.

16

Rob 04.28.11 at 8:55 am

One obvious answer is that as long as the Liberal Democrats are polling 10% the voting system won’t make a lot of difference.

Insert obligatory notice that even on 22% of the vote, they’re under 10% of the seats in the Commons at present. If AV were to yield a more proportional outcome, the Lib Dems could poll lower overall with little change in their representation. Of course, AV would not yield such an outcome, which is precisely why it’s the only reform the Tories would have consented to a referendum on, even under the threat of failing to reach a coalition agreement.

That aside, if we accept the premise of the OP that the Greens might eat into Lib Dem support under AV, the real question is whether or not the Greens do so sufficiently to overtake the Lib Dems in share of first preference votes within certain Parliamentary constituencies. If Green voters (as per the OP) vote 1. Green 2. Lib Dem 3. Labour, then it doesn’t matter if the Greens take 8% of first prefs so long as the Lib Dems get 9% – the Green votes then get redistributed to the Lib Dem and the Greens have done no harm to the Lib Dem position at all. It might even work out well for the Lib Dems, allowing disaffected supporters to ‘rebuke’ the party by ranking it merely second to the Greens. This only becomes a problem for the Lib Dems if the Green bandwagon accelerates past them – not an unlikely scenario in some seats (Norwich South?) but probably not likely elsewhere. In the practical reality of a 2015 election, the Lib Dem incumbency effect (which is historically unusually strong) would probably be enough to keep the LDs ahead of the Greens in first preference votes in Lib Dem-held seats, and there are plenty of seats where the Lib Dems have been campaigning for decades and the Greens have no real infrastructure.

Re John @2: I think the likelihood of your scenario depends on what happens to the bigger political picture in the UK. Labour hasn’t undergone any meaningful shift to the left yet, and haven’t made much of a grab for the Lib Dems’ civil libertarian base. The Tories still don’t love the Cameron project, and if he can only deliver them a single term of government, and coalition government at that, there will be plenty on the Tory right who will see this as evidence of liberal corruption of Tory values and they will want to institute firmer right-wing policies. The presence of Lib Dems in the government is making it very hard for the Tories to adopt populist authoritarian policies of the kind that Tony Blair increasingly came to rely on to keep “middle England” on-side. It doesn’t seem unlikely that Labour will exploit this gap themselves, pointing to their own “tough on crime” record from 1997-2010, possibly calling for a second stab at ID cards and extended detention without charge. A scenario in which Labour and the Tories duke it out over who can be “toughest” would be a positive development for the Lib Dems, who could expect to hang on to their core support and even win over some Tory exiles fleeing the collapse of Cameronism. My point is not that this scenario is particularly likely, but it’s far from obviously impossible. A reversion to mostly two-party politics is not particularly likely until Labour meaningfully reconnects with the left, thereby uniting the forces of conservatism in opposition to them.

17

Daragh McDowell 04.28.11 at 9:12 am

@Sam Dodsworth

I think it would probably be two-three parliaments (so 10-12 years) before significant improvement on AV could be achieved. But given that AV, while hugely imperfect, is still an improvement on FPTP and that its achievement would make the NEXT round about full PR rather than moderate improvement, I think its an infinitely preferable outcome.

And as for the argument that this will ‘stabilise’ the coalition. Bullshit – if AV loses the LDs will cling to the coalition for dear life and the Tories will be much more dominant. If it passes Clegg will be able to claim a tangible achievement, bring LD numbers back into the mid to high teens and be able to credibly threaten to pull the plug early.

18

dsquared 04.28.11 at 9:21 am

I also idly wonder why, if people like NomadUK think that the British electorate are such appaling idiots, he wants them to have more of a say in determining the government.

19

donpaskini 04.28.11 at 9:33 am

Surely the biggest beneficiary amongst minor parties (based on the logic in the OP)would be UKIP? UKIP finished second in the most recent Euro elections and the most recent parliamentary by-election, is specifically targeted to appeal to “we hate both the bastards” voters, and has lots of right-wing newspapers which repeat its key messages on a daily basis which could help amplify any bandwagon effect.

20

dsquared 04.28.11 at 9:52 am

It seems to me that the AV system itself is highly unattractive, that all the possible benefits which might accrue as a result of it are really quite speculative and far-future things, with very considerable potential to go wrong (after all, the implementation of AV in Australia 93 years ago does not seem to have generated much momentum toward a more proportional system).

The benefit of destroying Nick Clegg’s political career, however, seems reasonably immediate and certain, and the possibility of putting an end to the Liberal Democrats as a party looks achievable enough to be worth a try. I don’t actually think it’s necessarily irrational at all to vote No out of Clegg-hate.

21

Daragh McDowell 04.28.11 at 10:07 am

I don’t actually think it’s necessarily irrational at all to vote No out of Clegg-hate.

Given how irrational Clegg-hate is from the get-go…

22

Farah Mendlesohn 04.28.11 at 10:20 am

I’ve been saying for a while that if we get AV (and I’m not hopeful) we may well see a realignment to four or five parties: a rightwing UKIP oriented kind of party; a right to middle Conservative party; something in the middle that hugs trees; something in the middle to left that is very oriented to fiscal issues; and possibly a stronger far left, but that I doubt.

On the whole I think this is a middling-left country with a rightwing hard core, but almost no left wing hard core. This could be a problem when looking for allegiances.

23

Tim Worstall 04.28.11 at 10:22 am

Don Paskini, much as it pains me to say that he’s probably right, is probably right.

UKIP (and thanks for comparing us to Pauline Hanson JQ, we’re really not that bad) has much higher support than the Greens currently.

Euro elections, for obvious reasons, we do very well in. But national support (if a GE were to be held immediately) seems to be 5-6% at present, according to opinion polls. Quite a lot higher than the Greens.

So if there were AV it would seem reasonable that if there were a party to breakthrough with AV that it would be UKIP rather than the Greens.

Certainly if the House of Lords goes PR on regional party lists (one option being discussed) then UKIP would/might get a reasonable number of seats in the new Senate.

24

Phil 04.28.11 at 10:27 am

the possibility of putting an end to the Liberal Democrats as a party looks achievable enough to be worth a try

I’ll meet you at the crossroads. You bring the stake.

No, we’ll never get rid of the Lib Dems, and we’d probably miss them if we did. The possibility of putting an end to the Orange Book centre-right Lib Dems, on the other hand…

Ever since the Liberal revival they’ve been trading on the image of equidistance between the two main parties, which was basically a philosophical cover for rampant opportunism. That was going to be put to the test on the national level sooner or later, forfeiting some of the base in the process. What’s bizarre about the party’s current position is that Ashdown, Kennedy and even Campbell quietly leant much more towards Labour, and even the left of Labour. It’s looking like quite a good strategy right now, and will look even better the worse Clegg fares. Admittedly, “After this they’ll have to move to the Left!” is probably the most regularly falsified prediction in British politics, but still – it’s hard to see any kind of medium-term future for the Lib Dems that isn’t on the Left.

25

Phil 04.28.11 at 10:31 am

Given how irrational Clegg-hate is from the get-go

That’s called assuming your conclusion, Daragh, and in this case it’s also called “not taking a blind bit of notice of the rest of the thread”.

Farah – Australia has had an effective two-party system ever since adopting AV. Why, or more specifically how, would AV promote new party formation in the UK?

26

Jasper Milvain 04.28.11 at 10:39 am

The benefit of destroying Nick Clegg’s political career, however, seems reasonably immediate and certain, and the possibility of putting an end to the Liberal Democrats as a party looks achievable enough to be worth a try.

Destroying Nick Clegg’s career is definitely achievable; the Lib Dems have a party structure that makes deposing their leader relatively easy. But sending the Lib Dems into the next election with someone other than the country’s most despised politician at their head might work against your second aim.

I think a yes vote is at least as likely to destablise the coalition, through the medium of driving the Tory right insane; a narrow yes vote on a small turnout would be especially fun from this perspective.

27

Daragh McDowell 04.28.11 at 10:40 am

@Phil -25

Sorry, what on this thread has proven that obsessive hatred of Nick Clegg for the crime of entering a coalition government (and thus substantially moderating the political agenda of the Tories if the continued jibbering outrage from the David Davis wing of the party is to be believed) is rational?

28

dsquared 04.28.11 at 10:49 am

I also don’t really agree with the argument here:

With AV, the Greens could easily get 5-7% of the vote in a Commons election. And once they get 5-7% of the vote in a Commons election, they might attract more voters, especially voters who are less sympathetic to fringe parties.

Since AV isn’t a proportional system, the Greens could quite easily get 5-7% of the vote and either 1 or 0 seats. I don’t think the bandwagon effect will work all that well if percentage support doesn’t turn into representation.

29

Chris E 04.28.11 at 10:50 am

“Sorry, what on this thread has proven that obsessive hatred of Nick Clegg for the crime of entering a coalition government (and thus substantially moderating the political agenda of the Tories if the continued jibbering outrage from the David Davis wing of the party is to be believed)”

Because there is no indication that the LibDems have actually moderated anything – the David Davis/Tebbit wing of the party is not a good indicator, jibbering outrage is their natural state – it keeps the corpuscles circulating.

30

Chris E 04.28.11 at 10:51 am

“But sending the Lib Dems into the next election with someone other than the country’s most despised politician at their head might work against your second aim.”

Is there an example of a single party (across the Western world) that has gone ‘Orange Book/Nu Labour’ and then recovered?

31

Phil 04.28.11 at 10:54 am

Besides which (Daragh), nobody’s actually exhibiting “obsessive hatred of Nick Clegg for the crime of entering a coalition government”. Conclusion assumed, again.

a yes vote is at least as likely to destablise the coalition, through the medium of driving the Tory right insane

That would be fun to watch, but Cameron is quite capable of riding the wave of the Daily Mail tendency when it suits him (e.g. votes for prisoners) and putting them back in their box when it doesn’t. He doesn’t have that kind of hold over the Lib Dems, and (increasingly) neither does Nick Clegg.

32

John Quiggin 04.28.11 at 11:36 am

I don’t know that much about UKIP, but Googling UKIP+Immigration produced

UKIP wants to freeze all immigration for five years to allow Britain’s infrastructure to recover before introducing an Australian-style points-based visa system. The full immigration policy, including details on how UKIP intends to triple the number of borders agency staff and deport all illegal immigrants

which sounds pretty close to One Nation.
http://www.ukip.org/content/latest-news/1603-ukips-common-sense-immigration-policy

And again, while I’m not entirely clear, the support base of UKIP looks to me to be fairly similar to that of One Nation – largely middle-aged and older, more likely to be male, economically under pressure, unhappy with change in general, and generally racist but in a Daily Mail, anti-political-correctness-gone-made kind of way, rather than the kind of violent racism that I see in the BNP and corresponding groups in Oz.

Feel free to set me straight.

33

Alex 04.28.11 at 11:37 am

You don’t share my suspicion that a “Yes” victory will result in the same 80% saying firmly that the public have got what they wanted now and should stop complaining and any further electoral reform will be off the table for generations? Especially since its unlikely the Lib Dems will be holding the balance of power in parliament for a while.

The problem here is the assumption that there is something called “off the table” that is predictively useful. The model is Scottish devolution; people will tell you that the failed referendum in 1979 put it “off the table”.

But this is nonsense. What was it that prevented devolution between 1979 and 1999? It wasn’t some nebulous state of “off the table”. It was Tories. There was a Tory government that was angrily opposed to it. When there was no longer a Tory government, devolution passed.

And the whole “depend on the Lib Dems to do the right thing” plan seems to have gone a bit floppy.

34

donpaskini 04.28.11 at 11:54 am

@32 – that sounds about right. UKIP has links with the “True Finns” who did well in the most recent Finnish elections, and they sometimes talk about being a British version of the Tea Party. I suspect they’d get on well with Tony Abbott.

35

NomadUK 04.28.11 at 11:58 am

I also idly wonder why, if people like NomadUK think that the British electorate are such appaling idiots, he wants them to have more of a say in determining the government.

I actually do wonder that myself, quite frequently, and it’s the main reason I don’t support an elected House of Lords.

I suppose I can only say that hope springs eternal — though that gets more and more problematic as the years and abominations accumulate.

36

dsquared 04.28.11 at 12:00 pm

Further to Alex’s #33, I would very much surmise that if it turned out to be the case that AV benefited the Liberal Democrats and cemented them as a permanent party of coalition government, they might very well decide that it wasn’t such a miserable little compromise any more, and “momentum” for a truly proportional system could dissipate quite quickly. The more I think about this, the more I think that “You cannot trust the Liberal Democrats” is the defining issue in this referendum.

37

chris y 04.28.11 at 12:20 pm

Destroying Nick Clegg’s career is definitely achievable;

This will be done by the electors of Sheffield Hallam at the next election without any outside assistance. Hallam appears to be a safe Lib dem seat because all the natural Labour voters vote tactically to keep the Tories out. Before the 1990s it was safely Tory, and will be again because the Labour base will go home.

38

Sam Dodsworth 04.28.11 at 12:49 pm

The problem here is the assumption that there is something called “off the table” that is predictively useful.

A fair point. My reasoning is that it’s unlikely the existing minority parties have enough support in any one constituency to win seats under AV – at least in the next 10-15 years. And, as dsquared says, it takes actual seats to win electoral credibility. Lib-Dem gains might offset that but it’s going to take time for them to rebuild their credibility – and I’m not sure they’d keep pushing for PR if they started doing well under AV.

So I’m thinking AV could turn out to be a purely cosmetic change, at least in the short to medium term. I’m going to vote “Yes” anyway because I think any reasonable change is worth a try and I don’t expect AV to be any worse than what we’ve got now, but I’m not finding a lot of reasons to care deeply about the result.

39

john b 04.28.11 at 12:51 pm

never mind that Labour offered the same or more

Can we at least squish this one? It was impossible for the LDs to do a deal with anyone other than the Tories after the 2010 GE, based solely on the seat allocation and distribution. A Lab/Lib pact would also have needed to feature Plaid Cymru and the SNP voting with the coalition *on England-only issues* to command a majority against the Tories in England. Anyone who thinks that one would’ve been tenable is welcome to explain how it’d work…

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Alex 04.28.11 at 12:53 pm

A Lab/Lib pact would also have needed to feature Plaid Cymru and the SNP voting with the coalition on England-only issues to command a majority against the Tories in England. Anyone who thinks that one would’ve been tenable is welcome to explain how it’d work…

Confidence and supply, ocker.

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john b 04.28.11 at 1:03 pm

Doesn’t work. Haha, etc, but the difference between the two systems is pretty much the only direct consequence of not having an English Parliament (or, more sensibly, some regional parliaments of a few million people each. I wonder what happened to that idea?), in that you can’t tenably have different parties in charge of the UK and England.

If England were devolved or federalised, then a Lab government with the LDs and nationalists supporting on confidence and supply would’ve been fine, I agree, and their best option. But a minority Labour government of England, with the Tories holding a majority, just after the (unfairly, but very) hated Brown administration, with the LDs and the Celts pledged to back the government if the Tories ever proposed a vote of confidence? That was never on the cards, even if Labour pretend it was just the LDs who refused to accept it.

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Alex 04.28.11 at 1:07 pm

How doesn’t it work? News: the West Lothian question doesn’t exist! It doesn’t have any legal force; there is no requirement to have a majority of English MPs. (Think of it the other way around – nobody thinks the central government must have a majority of Scottish MPs to be legitimate.)

The Tories would whine, I agree. But that’s not actually an argument.

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Brian Weatherson 04.28.11 at 1:08 pm

I don’t see why “it takes seats to win credibility”. The Australian Greens went froma fringe group to 12% of the vote without winning House seats. They did win Senate seats, and maybe the hypothesis is that without that they would not have been credible, but I’m a little sceptical.

In any case, the England and Wales Greens already have a seat, and if Australian history is a guide, AV will help them win more in the short run. That’s all I need for the model where AV moves them from a low vote equilibrium to a much higher vote equilibrium.

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dsquared 04.28.11 at 1:12 pm

Anyone who thinks that one would’ve been tenable is welcome to explain how it’d work…

All you would have had to have done was simply to make sure you didn’t accidentally pass a statute or process rule which prevented Welsh and Scottish MPs from voting on England-only matters?

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Brian Weatherson 04.28.11 at 1:14 pm

None of this is my reason for preferring AV by the way. I like it because I don’t think elections should turn on which side has the better voting analytics.

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john b 04.28.11 at 1:17 pm

Sorry, should’ve added “whilst expecting Labour or the LDs to ever have any chance of winning anything in England again, and without the Tories getting in (and immediately passing every kind of English Democrat-style legislation to stop the same thing ever happening again) when the whole thing finally collapsed”.

Even if you think it’d’ve made the LDs less unpopular than they currently are and so kept them onside, I don’t see the incentive for the nationalist parties to prop up a government that only exists because the UK exists in the current constitutional format that they want to abolish.

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Phil 04.28.11 at 1:18 pm

The Australian Greens went from a fringe group to 12% of the vote without winning House seats.

They now have 12% of the vote and one MP. The duopoly hasn’t exactly been shaken to its core.

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Brian Weatherson 04.28.11 at 1:23 pm

They’ve also turned the traditionally safest Labor seats, the ones cabinet ministers hold, into marginals. That has a difference I think in terms of shaking the duopoly.

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Phil 04.28.11 at 1:23 pm

I don’t see the incentive for the nationalist parties to prop up a government that only exists because the UK exists in the current constitutional format that they want to abolish.

a) because Labour and the *cough* Lib Dems are their Natural Partner in a Progressive Alliance; this rhetoric has some genuine traction in SNP and PC circles, and is not reducible to
b) Labour aren’t the Tories, and no nationalist likes Tories.

In any case, your argument wasn’t that an Everyone But The Tories government was unlikely but that it was impossible (Clegg, of course, now says something similar) – and I think that’s the real canard that needs squishing.

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john b 04.28.11 at 1:23 pm

Phil: On the other hand, the Greens do have the balance of power in the Senate, which is elected by PR. I suppose the question is then “do you think the House of Lords will survive, or be replaced in the foreseeable future by some kind of proportionally elected system?”. For my money, “abolishing the LibDems” doesn’t strike me as the most likely way to achieve “House of Lords replaced by PR”, but again your mileage may vary.

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Brian Weatherson 04.28.11 at 1:25 pm

And the government can’t get most legislation through either house without Green support. That’s a lot more power than the various UK Green parties have, which is the contrast I wanted to draw.

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Brian Weatherson 04.28.11 at 1:28 pm

In Victoria the upper house was moved to PR at a time Labor had a majority in it, and were guaranteed at least one more term of majority if they had simply done nothing. Sometimes the Labo(u)r party simply does the right thing, especially if they have promised to do so in exchange for minor party preferences.

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Phil 04.28.11 at 1:28 pm

an English Parliament (or, more sensibly, some regional parliaments of a few million people each. I wonder what happened to that idea?)

Almost everybody hated it, and you can see why. A Welsh assembly with limited or no real powers looks like a step on the way to a Welsh assembly which can do stuff (and so it came to pass). A North-Eastern assembly with limited or no real powers looks like a waste of time and money to everyone who doesn’t gain from it directly, i.e. everyone except professional politicians and Geordie nationalists.

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weaver 04.28.11 at 1:28 pm

Farah – Australia has had an effective two-party system ever since adopting AV. Why, or more specifically how, would AV promote new party formation in the UK?

That depends on whether you believe the growth of the Greens in Oz is the product of people being able to vote for a smaller party without risking throwing the seat to their least preferred major party (the lesser of two evils thang). Australia is not much of a pristine experiment for this notion as we have an elected upper house with multi-member constituencies (i.e. the states) where candidates are elected by PR. The Greens first entered the Federal Parliament in the Senate.

But then of course Australia does not actually have AV voting (except in the state elections in NSW and Queensland – weird neither Brian nor John has pointed that out). Federal elections and those in other states are by preferential voting where ranking all candidates is compulsory. Thus the two major parties can pretty much ensure that so-called “protest votes” will eventually return to one of them. That said, the current Green MHR (lower house MP) and the independent Mr Wilkie owe their election to preferential voting plus the weird decision of a large number of “Tory” voters to rank them higher than the other major party. In normal circumstances this would have been a strategic vote that may have helped deny the other “party of government” a seat, and enough seats for government, but under the bizarre circumstances of the last election’s results these voters actually achieved a situation where the minority Labor government may need to curry favour with two individuals in most respects further (i.e. actually) to the left. Wilkie and the Green fellow would have lost under AV, as Tory voters would simply have stopped ranking after picking their preferred major party. (They are also unlikely to win at the next election, when the results of the last will persuade Tory voters they really do prefer Tory-Lite to the Greens or a passionate anti-imperialist like the Member for Denison.)

If y’all are intending to knock down AV because you’re concerned it will stymie future moves to PR, then fair enough, even if AV is truistically more democratic than Simple Plurality (or First Past the Post, or, as I like to call it, Biggest Tribe Wins). I say this despite believing that those who think the political establishment of Britain will ever countenance PR must be residents of the Ponyverse, but, heh, what do I know. It is a position that reminds me of those who argued against supporting the minimal Australian republic because it would stop us ever getting a real one – oh, wait, I was one of those people…

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Phil 04.28.11 at 1:31 pm

Brian – OK, I hadn’t looked at the figures for the Senate. But the fact that the government can’t get legislation through the lower house without the Greens is an artefact of a very unusual election result rather than a sign of Green strength as such.

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Daragh McDowell 04.28.11 at 1:47 pm

Confidence and supply, ocker.

Except nearly half the Labour PLP were firmly against coalition with the LDs in the first place, and went screaming to the media to denounce the idea as soon as it was raised.

I know, I know – Nick Clegg is still history’s greatest monster for governing with the Tories, introducing a University fees system that is slightly more progressive than the status quo ante and putting the brakes on Lansley’s NHS reforms.

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john b 04.28.11 at 1:49 pm

Phil: Wales is an almost entirely artificial construct which – not least by being given political power over the last 30 years or so, with the WAG the most important single step on the way – has become a significant political entity, despite the fact that North Wales is closer connected (economically and socially) to Northwest England than it is to South Wales. The Northeast as a region is far more economically and socially cohesive than Wales was 10 years ago, and quite possibly than Wales is today. That won’t be the case in 25 years time, as the WAG continues to use its now significant powers to boost Welsh cohesion and integration.

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dsquared 04.28.11 at 1:54 pm

introducing a University fees system that is slightly more progressive than the status quo ante

Daragh, please give up on this talking point. It does more to erode your personal credibility than anything else. Seriously. Stop saying it, and ask whoever gave you it to report for serious retraining.

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ajay 04.28.11 at 1:56 pm

My reasoning is that it’s unlikely the existing minority parties have enough support in any one constituency to win seats under AV – at least in the next 10-15 years.

This is kind of my gut feeling as well. Brighton Pavilion aside, the Greens seem to be a solid fourth or worse pretty much everywhere, generally getting less than 1% and only breaking even 5% in a couple of places.
And I don’t buy the idea that a majority of 2010 Lib Dems are frustrated Greens voting Lib Dem for tactical reasons; it’s as likely that a majority were frustrated Labour or Conservatives voting Lib Dem for Iraq reasons.

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Daragh McDowell 04.28.11 at 1:58 pm

Daragh, please give up on this talking point. It does more to erode your personal credibility than anything else. Seriously. Stop saying it, and ask whoever gave you it to report for serious retraining.

Sorry, how is providing government loans with extremely generous terms of repayment less progressive than the prior system? Indeed how is it functionally different to a graduate tax or any of the other fixes that Labour have come up with for a uni system that remains underfunded?

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dsquared 04.28.11 at 1:58 pm

Wales is an almost entirely artificial construct

What, is it built on polders or something? News to me. Wales has existed since the days of Gerald of Wales, mate.

despite the fact that North Wales is closer connected (economically and socially) to Northwest England than it is to South Wales

New Mexico is closer connected to Mexico than it is to Massachussets. Parts of Italy are closer connected to Austria than they are to Rome. Switzerland has four different languages. In general, Wales is not the only country in the world that has regions.

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ajay 04.28.11 at 2:00 pm

What, is it built on polders or something? News to me. Wales has existed since the days of Gerald of Wales, mate.

Axiomatically, no one with the power and resources to build a country the size of Wales would build one like Wales. It’s sort of a Blind Watchmaker argument – Wales, like the human retina and the vestigial feet of the boa constrictor, could not possibly be the result of an intelligent designer.

(sorry)

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dsquared 04.28.11 at 2:03 pm

Daragh, as you know, because I’ve told you, and I’m not the only one, the progressivity of the university fee system only exists at the top end – the system was made more expensive for everyone, but proportionately more so higher up the income scale. And the Education Maintenance Allowance was abolished as part of the same package. This can only be called “progressive” in a wholly technical and economically irrelevant sense, and as a defence against your party having broken a specific promise it is really nothing short of insulting – do you really think so little of us that you think we’d be fooled by that? Seriously, you are not helping yourself.

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dsquared 04.28.11 at 2:06 pm

Axiomatically, no one with the power and resources to build a country the size of Wales would build one like Wales.

Well, they’d try and pick better neighbours, true.

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Phil 04.28.11 at 2:15 pm

even if AV is truistically more democratic than Simple Plurality

Sorry to hog the thread, but I just don’t see this. Approximately 10,000 MPs have been elected at General Elections since 1945, of whom 30 have had less than 33.3% of the vote (source: Wikipedia). So when we talk about the voters who are left unrepresented in FPTP (hereinafter SP for Simple Plurality), the proportion of voters we’re talking about – the shortfall between the percentage share of the largest single vote and the 50%+1 required by AV – just isn’t that high: the most we’re talking about is 1/6 of the voters, and most of the time it’s considerably lower than that.

And what happens when that 16% have their say? Two very simplified scenarios:

33% vote Left, all with Centre as second preference (L1, C2)
18% vote C1, L2
13% vote Centre, with Right as second preference (C1, R2)
24% vote R1, C2
12% vote Neo-Nazi, with Right as second preference (N1, R2)

First round: N eliminated; 36% R, 33% L, 31% C
Second round: C eliminated: 49% R, 51% L. Left candidate duly elected.

In this scenario the 33% of the voters who put the L candidate first are happy, as are the 18% who put them second; therefore only 49% of the voters are unhappy. Result. But the outcome would have been exactly the same under SP, the only difference being that those 18% of voters would have had to explicitly state that they preferred L to R instead of just thinking it to themselves.

Scenario 2:

33% vote L1, C2
16% vote C1, L2
15% vote C1, R2
24% vote R1, C2
12% vote N1, R2

All that’s changed is the split within the Centre voters, and even that hasn’t changed by much (18/13 to 16/15 – the majority is still C/L rather than C/R).

First round: N eliminated; 36% R, 33% L, 31% C
Second round: C eliminated: 51% R, 49% L. Right candidate duly elected.

Our happy (represented) 51% now consists of the 24% of the voters who supported the Right party – which came third in first preference voting – together with the minority of Centre voters who preferred Right to Left, and the Neo-Nazi voters. It’s not at all clear to me that the fact that 27% of voters for smaller parties lean more to right than to left should be given enough weight to overturn the verdict expressed by first preferences. (And I say this as an enthusiast for PR systems, which express the vote much more directly and make these perverse results less likely.)

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Daragh McDowell 04.28.11 at 2:16 pm

a defence against your party having broken a specific promise

The promise was a Lib Dem government wouldn’t raise tuition fees. As part of a coalition that’s an issue they gave ground on in negotiations, along with many other issues because they did not win the election. Frankly having experienced both the Irish sytem (totally free at point of entry) and the UK system, and taken a look at the results of both I’m glad they did. ‘Free’ fees is, IMHO, not actually that good a policy.

And I’m frankly less concerned about the level of fees as I am about access. If a student pays £9K a year, but is guaranteed that money through a government loan with very generous terms of repayment I think that’s preferable than a student being asked to pay £3K per year but having to pass up the opportunity due to being unable to access funds. Now whether this increase in access compensates for the rather marginal potential decrease in ‘staying on’ rates due to the scrappage of EMA (about 6% according to the IFS) remains to be seen.

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Phil 04.28.11 at 2:16 pm

as you know, because I’ve told you, and I’m not the only one, the progressivity of the university fee system only exists at the top end – the system was made more expensive for everyone, but proportionately more so higher up the income scale

It’s worse than that – it’s progressive (the interest rate increases) up to earnings of £42k/year, after which it’s flat & hence effectively regressive.

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dsquared 04.28.11 at 2:18 pm

If a student pays £9K a year, but is guaranteed that money through a government loan with very generous terms of repayment I think that’s preferable than a student being asked to pay £3K per year

Please please please, take a job in finance. I need all the counterparties I can get.

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ajay 04.28.11 at 2:20 pm

Well, they’d try and pick better neighbours, true.

Tell me about it, O fellow Celt.

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Daragh McDowell 04.28.11 at 2:20 pm

Please please please, take a job in finance. I need all the counterparties I can get.

Might have been nice to include the last part – not everyone can get the £10K in credit required just for the fees in the private market Dan.

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Phil 04.28.11 at 2:21 pm

Wales is an almost entirely artificial construct

But it’s one that people believe in, and have done for some time (longer than 30 years, I can tell you).

The Northeast as a region is far more economically and socially cohesive than Wales was 10 years ago, and quite possibly than Wales is today

I know. But nobody – aspiring politicos and Geordie nationalists* apart – thinks of it as a country. Subnational regionalism is therefore stuffed on the starting blocks.

*If there even is such a thing. Lancashire nationalism is pretty much dead in the water these days.

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Phil 04.28.11 at 2:24 pm

The promise was a Lib Dem government wouldn’t raise tuition fees.

No. It. Wasn’t.

“We will resist – vote against, campaign against – any lifting of that cap.”

Plenty more where that came from. Google “nick clegg promise”, it won’t take long.

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john b 04.28.11 at 2:27 pm

What, is it built on polders or something? News to me. Wales has existed since the days of Gerald of Wales, mate.

But “Wales” in the days of Gerald was an English construction that meant “the bits of Great Britain south of Scotland that we haven’t conquered” (the ‘Anglo-Saxon word for foreigner’ etymology is pretty clear and accepted). So sure, there’s a historic Wales, but it includes Kernow, and included England in general before the blond dudes in the boats turned up.

[it is absolutely bloody lovely, however, to discover that Gerald’s name at the time was Gerald of Barry.]

What I mean is, Wales is two regions that never had any real social or economic ties, because the whole concept of social economic ties in any modern sense only happened after they were annexed, but on which a sizeable chunk of a modern state has been built over the last 100 years based solely on pre-Anglo-Saxon culture. Which is awesome, and of which I don’t disapprove – the context in which I was making the comment was arguing against the suggestion that northeastern England, which is much more connected than Wales in nearly all respects, would not have gained any additional cultural identity or push towards further autonomy if it had its own government.

New Mexico is closer connected to Mexico than it is to Massachussets.

…and was a part of Mexico full of Mexicans, and is only part of the US because it was annexed by an overwhelming military power, made a territory then a state, and has been self-governing-ish within the US federal system for 150 years. Again, this is the point I’m making about the importance of political institutions in defining a region.

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Daragh McDowell 04.28.11 at 2:29 pm

No. It. Wasn’t.

Apologies – I hadn’t seen that. And its a fair cop – my interpretation from the campaign had been as I explained above. I still don’t think its the most important broken promise in the long history of broken political promises, but it is a broken promise none the less.

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john b 04.28.11 at 2:38 pm

not everyone can get the £10K in credit required just for the fees in the private market

WTF? Even under the current system, nobody [British] needs to borrow GBP10k in the private market: it all falls within the government system, which is very similar to the one the Coalition are introducing (the one part of your argument which isn’t false is that the Coalition’s system does feature lower income thresholds before repayments kick in). Credit for accepting the LDs broke their pledge, but preceding that with a personal-smear-on-commenter-and-lie-of-your-own isn’t cool.

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Phil 04.28.11 at 2:38 pm

the suggestion that northeastern England, which is much more connected than Wales in nearly all respects, would not have gained any additional cultural identity or push towards further autonomy if it had its own government.

I didn’t make that suggestion. I agree that quite a few good things might happen if you could magic a north-eastern regional tier of government into being. Ask the people if they want one, though, and most of them are going to tell you to clear off. This is the point I was making – Wales has a functioning tier of sub-national government now because it already had an identity before it had one.

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belle le triste 04.28.11 at 2:43 pm

Is it built on polders or something?

Someone once showed me a book he was reading that argued — with diagrams! — that the mountains in Wales were entirely artificial, like hollow stage scenery. It was called something like “Expose the false spectacle of LANDSCAPE!”

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john b 04.28.11 at 2:45 pm

I agree, having a referendum on it was a daft idea. Unless you start off as Switzerland, he answer to “would it be a good idea to have a referendum?” is generally “no”. The AV one – a fairly minor change in voting practices that didn’t involve a referendum in the other places where it was introduced – is a good example, and also an example of why Clegg is either an out-of-depth idiot or (pace B&T) something worse.

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Daragh McDowell 04.28.11 at 2:57 pm

@John B – again apologies. From the coverage of the legislation as I’ve read it in the newspapers I was under the impression that the loans system was ‘new.’ I’ll admit that that particular bit of information gives me a bit of a pause to rethink, so I’ll refrain from commenting further and apologise to dsquared – though I did not intend a ‘personal smear.’

Strongly disagree with you on the idea that you can change the voting system without a referendum though. Changing the basic democratic rules of the game, even in a relatively minor fashion requires a direct mandate.

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dsquared 04.28.11 at 2:57 pm

But “Wales” in the days of Gerald was an English construction that meant “the bits of Great Britain south of Scotland that we haven’t conquered” (the ‘Anglo-Saxon word for foreigner’ etymology is pretty clear and accepted)”

Rather falls apart on the rock of the fact that “Cymru” is a Welsh word meaning “Us, Friends, Community”, and “Cymru” is the root of “Cambria”, the Roman name for Wales before the Saxons even arrived.

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nick s 04.28.11 at 3:06 pm

The Northeast as a region is far more economically and socially cohesive than Wales was 10 years ago, and quite possibly than Wales is today

From a distance, that’s true. In practice, most people living south of Gateshead or north of Morpeth saw the proposal as “Geordies in charge”, and they’d rather be governed from afar by home counties Tories than by people who think the north-east doesn’t extend past the Metro map.

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john b 04.28.11 at 3:13 pm

Cymru derives from the Brythonic Celtic word for “us / countrymen”, which was used across the south of the island of Great Britain as well as in before the Romans arrived (I had to look up Brythonic, but I knew Brittany and southern GB shared a linguistic community, whence their names are derived, and yer premier online reference source – and more importantly, its actual references – support the view that they all used something like ‘combrogi’ to mean “countrymen”). So Cymraeg = “us lot as opposed to those Roman/Saxon bastards”, in the same way that Welsh = “that lot, as opposed to us Saxons”.

It’s not clear from any of the texts why the Romans specifically chose to call what-is-now-Wales ‘Cambria’, but I’d guess it’s much the same reason why the Saxons called it Wales (ie “the places where that lot are still quite fervent and not very subjugated).

“Large linguistic community is beaten back into small pockets of not-very-accessible-to-each-other-land, develops independently, is annexed by aggressive major power, and many hundreds of years later creates a modern national identity based on the concept of the much larger community that used to exist” isn’t in any sense a bad thing. I’m citing it as a good thing. But you don’t need to claim, against any particular evidence, that Wales existed as a distinct place from the rest of Britain in the days when it were all Celts round here, to accept the concept of Wales as a modern nation based on a shared cultural heritage from them days.

83

ajay 04.28.11 at 3:25 pm

77: WANT. Can you remember if the author thought that all mountains were fake, or just Welsh ones? Had he seen a picture of a Welsh coal mine and extrapolated too far or something? (Dave Bowman voice: “It’s hollow! It goes on and on for ever! And – my God – it’s full of baritones!”)

84

john b 04.28.11 at 3:26 pm

Or was he was a Welsh nationalist, who believed the so-called “mountains” were an English conspiracy to keep the North and South apart?

85

reason 04.28.11 at 3:30 pm

Phil @25
“Farah – Australia has had an effective two-party system ever since adopting AV. Why, or more specifically how, would AV promote new party formation in the UK?”

This is a good question, which shows that the UK doesn’t really understand the effect of AV. What AV does is allows parties to have influence, without winning representation. (Look up DLP in Wikipedia.) By giving voters alternatives, they influence the policy spectrum, without there being the instability often associated with proportional representation. And it allows new third parties to form and grow in influence, if the major parties become too dogmatic and out of touch (see Greens in Australia). Peter Garret may have joined the ALP, but that was in part because the ALP was forced to move towards him.

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belle le triste 04.28.11 at 3:32 pm

83: It might have been all mountains everywhere, but Wales was certainly (and correctly in my opinion) singled out.

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belle le triste 04.28.11 at 3:33 pm

84: the mountains keep the marches from the beach.

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ajay 04.28.11 at 3:37 pm

The mountains look on Cardigan, and Cardigan looks on the sea,
And I look down on the English, and the Welsh look down on me.

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Phil 04.28.11 at 3:38 pm

What AV does is allows parties to have influence, without winning representation.

Very interesting – and that is so not the way it’s being sold over here. The DLP story – as far as I understand it from a quick skim – goes some way towards validating one of the No camp’s points, which is that it will make UKIP (and potentially the BNP) far more influential than they are now.

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dsquared 04.28.11 at 3:50 pm

many hundreds of years later creates a modern national identity based on the concept of the much larger community that used to exist

This is Neil Kinnock’s view of Welsh history circa the 1979 referendum debate and it really doesn’t stand up; particularly you have to kind of skate over the Glyndwr rebellion.

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chris 04.28.11 at 3:56 pm

It’s not at all clear to me that the fact that 27% of voters for smaller parties lean more to right than to left should be given enough weight to overturn the verdict expressed by first preferences.

Well, if you don’t think second preferences from people with small-party first preferences ought to be considered as important as first preferences for a major party, then of course you’re going to be led to the conclusion that FPTP is optimal. You’re pretty much assuming that it is optimal when you decide to care mostly about first preferences.

Also: if a country with those preferences had an electoral system that forced the number of contenders down to 2, the first thing that happens is that the neo-nazis join the Right, making them the largest of the 3 remaining parties. Then the Left and Center parties have to merge to compete, and the voters wavering between Center and Right hold the balance of elections. But the leftists within the Left-Center big tent party have less money to fight intra-party battles (because they’re leftists and more hostile to moneyed interests), and rational electoral strategists point out that the leftist base has nowhere to go anyway when the only other viable party is the Right, while elections are won by appealing to those center-right waverers, so over time the party becomes more centrist. The end result is that you have a center party and a right party, leaving the leftists to choose between holding their noses for the center party, or sitting idly by as the righties walk into power.

Hmm, it seems to me that I have seen this sequence of events play out in a large country with FPTP elections. People here tend to be somewhat down on the results.

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Aaran 04.28.11 at 4:11 pm

“They got a large boost in this when they opposed military intervention in Iraq, something that both major parties supported.”
That’s not true; the Australian Labor Party did not support military intervention in Iraq.
Read this:
http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2003/03/18/1047749757036.html

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Shelley 04.28.11 at 4:26 pm

Thank God. I thought I had lost my mind that I couldn’t understand this post, and then I slowly realized that it wasn’t about my home territory (U.S.) But Liberal Democrats rings a bell!

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sg 04.28.11 at 4:30 pm

Phil, it will make UKIP more influential than they are now because that’s what British society wants. Speaking democratically, that’s a good thing. Britain faces a simple choice – if you don’t want UKIP, rort the voting system.

Also, if you introduce AV without compulsory voting, well that’s just madness. And holding your election on Tuesdays? Fucking stupid. Not just because working people can’t vote, but because it sends a simple message to the working class: we’re trying to keep you out.

Hold it on Saturday, make everyone come, and give them a genuine choice. This is what we in the antipodes call “civilization.”

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dsquared 04.28.11 at 4:39 pm

This is what we in the antipodes call “civilization.”

must … resist … temptation …

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sg 04.28.11 at 4:49 pm

go on dsquared, you can do it.

Defend your weird northern practice of holding non-compulsory voting on a weekday. Give it a whole post. It’ll rank up there with your Budweiser post. Only it’ll be a lot flakier.

Face it, the antipodes do democracy and rugby better than you lot.

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dsquared 04.28.11 at 4:51 pm

No, I’m more interested in the discovery that you lot have got hold of the word “civilization”. Does it just refer to the voting thing, or is lager and football in there too?

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Phil 04.28.11 at 4:55 pm

Well, if you don’t think second preferences from people with small-party first preferences ought to be considered as important as first preferences for a major party, then of course you’re going to be led to the conclusion that FPTP is optimal.

Comprehension fail – the comment you’re quoting ends with me saying I’m in favour of PR. I’m not saying that simple plurality voting is a good system; I’m saying that AV is even worse. Specifically, my comment argues that the one identifiable superiority of AV over simple plurality voting (it gives representation to an unrepresented fraction of the voters in each constituency, which may be as high as 1/6) comes at a price (it differentially empowers supporters of runner-up parties – in my scenario the runner-up party voters’ second preferences determine the result).

sg – I’m all in favour of UKIP being represented in proportion to their vote. That’s not what you’re describing; in fact you seem to be arguing that for a party like the DLP to have influence without representation is in some way superior to them simply having MPs.

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Phil 04.28.11 at 4:59 pm

Sundays would be better, but compulsory would be worse, surely – worse still with AV, and worst of all with the exhaustive preference voting system described upthread. Woe to any candidate whose name begins with Z.

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dsquared 04.28.11 at 5:03 pm

Woe to any candidate whose name begins with Z.

Apparently the Australian system (to avoid what was apparently a genuine trend toward politics being dominated by A’s – no wonder David Aaronovitch is a supporter!) now randomises the name order on the ballots. So “woe unto one candidate in each constituency, selected at random”.

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Phil 04.28.11 at 5:06 pm

Random woe! Jolly good. And presumably an equally random spike in first preferences for whoever fetches up at the top of the list – although if they aren’t Labour or Coalition it’s not going to make much odds. (Any countries with a >2-party system using AV or anything similar?)

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sg 04.28.11 at 5:08 pm

dsquared, I’ve lived in England. Until you lot can work out how to clean your beer taps and support a football team without a fight, you genuinely don’t have a clue. Also being able to build a railway station or run a train on time[<- something that seems to be lacking in the entire english speaking world], and knowing how to get to work in an inch of snow would be useful for that whole "civilization" thing. But for starters, if you could figure out how to change your government in a way that actually represented the will of your population, you'd be doing well. As it is, your government is barely representative of the population. And then you have Nick Clegg.

Just think about that for a moment. I’m sorry dsquared, but you can’t run around pretending to have some claim on the “c” word (well, not on “civilization” anyway – I’ll grant you other “c” words) while he’s hanging about, can you?

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sg 04.28.11 at 5:09 pm

although, truly, civilized people close their tags

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dsquared 04.28.11 at 5:12 pm

dsquared, I’ve lived in England

Ahhh, that must be where you heard about it.

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Brian Weatherson 04.28.11 at 5:47 pm

But then of course Australia does not actually have AV voting (except in the state elections in NSW and Queensland – weird neither Brian nor John has pointed that out). Federal elections and those in other states are by preferential voting where ranking all candidates is compulsory.

I actually hadn’t realised they’d changed the Federal Law on this since I was last involved in elections.

Between 1984 and 1998 in Australian Federal Elections, it was possible (though not obvious) to not rank all the candidates. Now, I guess, it is compulsory again. (See Langer voting for more on this.)

But as John said, this seems to go naturally with having compulsory voting.

Before this referendum, I had never thought of terms like AV as describing the Australian model. I thought of it as Instant Runoff Voting. It really clarifies a lot of the issues about AV if you think of it as a runoff system. For instance, there’s the frequent complaint that supporters of small parties get to vote twice (or more) under AV. But that’s only true in the sense that *everyone* gets to vote twice, once in the first round, and then in the runoff.

Anyway, if you’re going to have compulsory voting, including at the runoff stage, then it makes sense I think to have compulsory ordering of preferences. I’m not super committed to it – in general I think things are done better in Victoria than in NSW or Queensland, but I’m sure there are exceptions, and maybe this is one of them.

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Daniel 04.28.11 at 5:48 pm

Is it compulsory weak-ordering, or do you really have to spend time on ranking minority parties and independents you’ve never heard of?

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Brian Weatherson 04.28.11 at 5:50 pm

Any countries with a >2-party system using AV or anything similar?

Well, Australia for one. You’re leaving out the fact Australia has *never* had an election that left only two parties represented in the House of Representatives. For every election since the Liberal Party was formed, Labor, Liberal and National have all had seats. So there are plenty of 3-cornered contests between those three.

It’s true that Liberal and National have been in coalition Federally for some time now. But this hasn’t always been true at the state level, and isn’t even really true in all Federal contests these days.

I’m not particularly fond of the Nationals, but it is true that AV has often given conservative voters a choice of which conservative party they would like to support.

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Brian Weatherson 04.28.11 at 5:52 pm

Is it compulsory weak-ordering, or do you really have to spend time on ranking minority parties and independents you’ve never heard of?

It’s back to being compulsory strict ordering these days. But for 80+% of the population, it is no trouble at all. You figure out who you want to vote for, get their How to Vote card at the polling station, and follow their recommendations on preferencing. If you want to figure out which Independent you put above which other, you’re free, but if you want to save time the parties are more than happy to offer advice.

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Brian 04.28.11 at 5:57 pm

That’s not true; the Australian Labor Party did not support military intervention in Iraq.

I seem to recall Hawke being in favour of intervention in Iraq, and leading the Labor Party. Is that not enough?

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chris 04.28.11 at 6:05 pm

it differentially empowers supporters of runner-up parties – in my scenario the runner-up party voters’ second preferences determine the result

This is only true because you arranged the first preferences to be indecisive, and you designed the alternative scenarios to differ *only* in second-place preferences. An equal or larger shift in first-place preferences in the opposite direction would have overwhelmed the effect of second-place preferences, and an equal shift in the same direction would have made it irrelevant.

How is allowing minor-party first-supporters to build a majority where none exists in first preferences worse than disenfranchising them completely (unless they vote tactically) as FPTP does?

Under almost any voting system anyone is likely to propose, a party with an outright majority of first preferences wins. The argument is about what to do in the very common situation that no such party exists.

As for PR, it’s off-topic, isn’t it? The thread is about a referendum between AV and FPTP, and the comment you quoted was about a direct comparison between AV and FPTP. I’ll admit to overlooking your parenthetical, but I think my point that your dislike for AV is pretty much forced by your disregard for second preferences is still valid, even if FPTP isn’t actually your ideal system — since your ideal system is also one that disregards second preferences of voters.

The parties might take them into account in coalition building, but as Clegg demonstrated, they aren’t required to. Clegg, once seated, is no longer bound by his constitutents’ views on which major party is the lesser evil. Do you think that’s a good thing? It hardly seems as if it can be described as democratic.

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mollymooly 04.28.11 at 7:34 pm

@weaver #54

But then of course Australia does not actually have AV voting (except in the state elections in NSW and Queensland – weird neither Brian nor John has pointed that out). Federal elections and those in other states are by preferential voting where ranking all candidates is compulsory.

Whoa, there. My understanding is that they are all AV (aka IRV). The specific details vary, and the names Australians use for the different flavours vary, and none of them is exactly the same as the UK proposal. But they are all AV. Right?

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Brian 04.28.11 at 7:39 pm

I think weaver was making it definitional of “AV” that one could formally vote without expressing a full preference ranking. This probably isn’t the way I’d define “AV”, but I don’t have any reason to think my definition (which is more like mollymooly’s) is either more widely attested or more useful.

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Phil 04.28.11 at 7:46 pm

How is allowing minor-party first-supporters to build a majority where none exists in first preferences worse than disenfranchising them completely (unless they vote tactically) as FPTP does?

Look again at my first scenario; it plays out exactly the same under SP and AV. The number of situations in which a voter is ‘represented’ under AV but not under SP is smaller than you might think. I’m saying that imposing the artificial constraint of single-member seats on STV (which is how you get AV) doesn’t just modify STV but ruins it, changing it from a system that faithfully reflects the popular vote to one that predictably overweights runners-up, second preferences and the second preferences of runners-up. And yes, I do think that a system where the sole representative of an area is at least guaranteed to be the first choice of a plurality is the lesser of two evils.

I think my point that your dislike for AV is pretty much forced by your disregard for second preferences is still valid

You’re overreading. I don’t have a disregard for second preferences; my ideal system is STV (although I’d settle for AMS). PR is relevant inasmuch as you seem to be convinced I’m opposed to electoral reform; I need to keep bringing it in so as to assure you otherwise.

Brian: It’s true that Liberal and National have been in coalition Federally for some time now.

I think that’s the understatement of the year. I’d never even heard of a “two party preferred” vote count until I started researching AV.

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Phil 04.28.11 at 7:48 pm

Clegg, once seated, is no longer bound by his constitutents’ views on which major party is the lesser evil. Do you think that’s a good thing?

No. What reform do you have in mind?

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chris 04.28.11 at 9:20 pm

And yes, I do think that a system where the sole representative of an area is at least guaranteed to be the first choice of a plurality is the lesser of two evils.

This seems nuts to me. First choices are afflicted by vote-splitting from candidates located ideologically too close to each other; a sensible voting system (by which I definitely don’t include FPTP) shouldn’t be strongly affected by the splitting or merger of parties that are close together anyway. Therefore there’s nothing special about first choices.

If there’s only going to be one member for a district (which I agree is nonoptimal, but again, I don’t believe that’s on the table in the current context), then it should be someone not too far from the preferences of a majority. A plurality can be arbitrarily far from the majority *and* arbitrarily small and still be a plurality, if there are enough splitter parties in the ideological space where the majority is. In fact, they can be the outright last choice of an outright majority and still have a plurality of first choices. If the last choice of an outright majority isn’t guaranteed to lose there is something seriously wrong with your system, isn’t there?

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Daragh McDowell 04.28.11 at 9:41 pm

Clegg, once seated, is no longer bound by his constitutents’ views on which major party is the lesser evil.

Sorry, but in a parliamentary democracy absolutely nobody, once seat as an MP is ‘bound’ by his constituents’ views on anything, at least assuming that said MP isn’t interested (or primarily interested) in re-election. A recall statute, or some variant of Ukraine’s effective prohibition on MPs leaving parties in the middle of parliaments is the only real way to fix that.

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Brian Weatherson 04.28.11 at 9:48 pm

I agree with Chris. Under FPTP we have very little idea about who has the most support, because tactical voting complicates everything. Maybe a system where the candidate who is the first choice of most voters wins would be good. FPTP isn’t that system.

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chris 04.28.11 at 9:49 pm

A simple example: suppose you have three candidates, the conservative, the moderate liberal, and the radical liberal. (Theoretically any part of the spectrum can split, but it seems that in practice liberals are more prone to it.) Voter preferences are as follows:

45% C, ML, RL
40% ML, RL, C
15% RL, ML, C

55% of voters want to keep the C out (or to look at it another way, 55% of voters prefer the ML), but if you don’t look at second preferences, he gets in. And does so while owing nothing to any group but his own (if the ML is elected on second-preference votes he has at least some incentive to throw some bones to the RL base, or even offer the RL candidate a cabinet post or the like).

This doesn’t just call for tactical voting — it calls for tactical candidacy. The ML’s supporters are going to be furious that the RL didn’t withdraw from the race and ask all his supporters to tactically vote ML to keep the C out (not to mention that the RL voters didn’t have the sense to do so on their own).

Non-tactical RL voters are securing their own worst outcome by voting honestly rather than tactically, but so is the RL candidate by appearing on the ballot at all. This is what I mean about being oversensitive to splitter parties; the fact that the RL voters prefer the RL first shouldn’t be allowed to obscure or devalue their preference for the ML over the C, given that those are the serious contenders.

This sequence of events, including the recriminations, has also played out in a large country with FPTP, and I don’t particularly care to see it do so again (although the prospects of averting it are remote, except by stepping hard on anything that even looks like a spoiler candidacy, which is a troubling phenomenon in its own right).

P.S. Under PR with these preferences, the most likely result is ML-RL coalition (provided of course that the RL isn’t considered toxic like the German ex-communist party or something), which is a pretty reasonable result and probably not too different in practice from allowing the ML to be elected on second preferences. I’m not saying PR is a bad system. But like I said, it seems off topic for the thread.

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Aaran 04.28.11 at 10:21 pm

Oh, that Iraq.
The Democrats opposed that?

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ajay 04.28.11 at 10:31 pm

This is what we in the antipodes call “civilization.”

“Ah, Australia,” he said, pronouncing the word as though his mouth would have to be disinfected before he used it again.

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Phil 04.28.11 at 11:32 pm

A plurality can be arbitrarily far from the majority and arbitrarily small and still be a plurality

In practice, in 17 general elections over 65 years, the plurality in a single-member constituency has been below 1/3 of the votes exactly 30 times (and below 30% 7 times – 1 SNP, 1 DUP, 2 Tory and 3 Lib Dem(!)). I’m not too worried about “arbitrarily small”.

The gain in representativeness that AV guarantees is the difference between “66.7% unrepresented” and “50% minus 1 vote unrepresented”. That’s not a big gain, and it’s paid for by (for many voters) valuing second preferences over first ditto.

Maybe a system where the candidate who is the first choice of most voters wins would be good. FPTP isn’t that system.

È vero. The only situation in which I support plurality voting is where I believe the alternative is even worse.

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novakant 04.28.11 at 11:36 pm

The current UK election system is highly undemocratic and any rational person who is able to compare the number votes to seats has to agree with that. Proportional Representation, as it is practiced e.g. in Germany, assures much more democratic results, – just look them up. It shouldn’t matter which party benefits or not, democracy shouldn’t be a protection racket.

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Tim Dymond 04.29.11 at 12:02 am

‘I seem to recall Hawke being in favour of intervention in Iraq, and leading the Labor Party. Is that not enough?’

No Brian it is not enough. Your little analogy does not make it clear that you are talking about the 1991 Gulf War. Bob Hawke was Labor PM at the time and did support that war. Neither the parliamentary ALP or Bob Hawke supported the 2003 Gulf War:

http://www.abc.net.au/lateline/stories/s798351.htm

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Phil 04.29.11 at 12:12 am

novakant – as soon as PR is on offer, I promise you I’ll vote in favour and encourage as many other people as possible to do so.

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weaver 04.29.11 at 12:23 am

Between 1984 and 1998 in Australian Federal Elections, it was possible (though not obvious) to not rank all the candidates. Now, I guess, it is compulsory again. (See Langer voting for more on this.)

True, a’ course (I thought mentioning it might be a swerve into obsessive detail). Preferential voting resembles AV when electoral officers act under the brief to count any vote where, and up to the point, the preferences of the voter are clear. So while being told to number all bozes, you can still choose not to and cast a valid vote.

Where electoral officers are briefed to throw out any vote that doesn’t exactly conform to instructions, you don’t have AV. Which is what happens in Oz after the Coalition has been in power because of their assumption that those most likely to cast informal votes by misnumbering or misreading the instructions are most likely to be less educated or NESB voters; ie people more likely to vote Labor. A definite drawback, albeit not huge, of the preferential system or any more complicated system (anyone mentioned Hare-Clark yet?) than just drawing an X.

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Kenny Easwaran 04.29.11 at 12:32 am

I had assumed the second example was Canada’s New Democrats – I hadn’t heard of the Australian Democrats. (Maybe the history is wrong about the New Democrats emerging from one of the major parties, but aren’t the Liberal Democrats older than Labour anyway? Weren’t they the party of John Stuart Mill and co?)

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Neil 04.29.11 at 12:32 am

I live in Oxford East for 3 months of the year. I think the idea of Lib Dem support recovering there is extremely remote.

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weaver 04.29.11 at 12:37 am

Woe to any candidate whose name begins with Z.

“Compulsory voting” doesn’t mean being forced to vote; it means being forced to show up at a polling station on election day and being handed a ballot paper. If you really have no opinion you can then drop it in the ballot box blank or enscribed with the expletive-laden curse of your choice. It’s illegal to tell people to vote informally (a stupid interpretation of a reasonably sensible law); it’s not illegal to actually vote informally. Secret ballot n’ all (another Australian invention).

That said, there are apparently a few people dumb enough to sequentially number their ballots even though they have no interest in actually voting. I’d be fascinated to get an insight into the minds of these idiots.

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snuh 04.29.11 at 1:49 am

i have been amazed by the lies told about australia’s voting system by the no to AV people. i should say, not in this thread, just in general.

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Strategist 04.29.11 at 3:36 am

“i have been amazed by the lies told about australia’s voting system by the no to AV people.”
Specifically, we are told that in the rest of the world only Papua New Guinea and Australia have it, and Australians want to get rid of it. Assuming there are indeed some Aussies who want to get rid of AV, how many of those are clamouring for FPTP? Any Aussies here who can help with the facts on that?

But you got to admit, No2AV are bloody good at effective lie memes – snappy, memorable and spreading like wildfire. My favourite: they want to take away one man, one vote.

And this by the way answers the question on why the voters want to keep FPTP – they’ve been persuaded by an expert PR campaign that if you’re sick of the political establishment, you should want to keep FPTP. It’s brilliant, and only slightly less genius than erecting hollow stage scenery all over Wales to fool the Welsh into thinking they inhabit a mountain environment.

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snuh 04.29.11 at 5:55 am

Specifically, we are told that in the rest of the world only Papua New Guinea and Australia have it, and Australians want to get rid of it.

well for example, frederick forsyth’s statement that:

Worldwide, just three countries have decided to use it. The largest, Australia, is seriously thinking of rejecting it in short order and reverting to first-past-the-post.

is false. and false in 2 ways: (1) in national elections australia does not use the AV, it uses a system where you must order all candidates on the ballot, which is not proposed in the UK, and (2) there is no mainstream political party (or indeed any political party of which i am aware) that wants first-past-the-post voting in australia. there is no pressure group advocating this either.

but i was thinking about the more demonstrable falsehoods. like claims that australia’s system is so complicated it requires voting to be done by machine. or that the added complexity is the reason it takes so much longer than the UK for results in electorates to be declared. things that are just flat out lies.

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Emma in Sydney 04.29.11 at 5:56 am

Speaking as a political tragic, I would say that exactly no Australians are demanding FPTP, and very few complain at all about the voting system. There is some grumbling about the fact that we all have to show up and vote, sometimes, but usually from conservative politicians who believe that they would do better if voter turnout was lower. A bigger issue is the undemocratic apportionment of Senate seats equally between states that are hugely variant in population, and that house works on modified PR (within each state). So, yes, you have been told lies. Lots of them.

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weaver 04.29.11 at 7:14 am

Specifically, we are told that in the rest of the world only Papua New Guinea and Australia have it, and Australians want to get rid of it.

Local psephologist Antony Green has been looking into this stuff. I think it was a commenter at his site who pointed out that a map of the world that indicated how many democracies still use only SP would look about as sparse as the AV one.

I’d prefer to see preferential voting replaced with “AV” because while I see the value in ranking candidates I don’t believe anyone should be forced to if they really can’t be arsed (yes, I’m New South Welsh). But then, if it was up to me, the archaic system of regional representatives would be replaced entirely with nationwide PR. But I’m hardly Oz-typical in that regard.

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sg 04.29.11 at 7:18 am

I’ve never met an Australian who thought AV was a bad idea or wanted to get rid of the system we have. I think for every Australian I know who wants rid of compulsory voting, I know about a thousand who are proud of it and think other countries should adopt it.

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reason 04.29.11 at 8:25 am

sg
I second that. But then I’m an ex-pat, and crooked timber voters are not necessarily typical. But I think on balance it is a good system. PR sort of works as well (as long as the minimum votes for representation are high enough) but to me the idea of having a local representative (and in Australia we do occasionally elect local independents) is also something that has value.

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reason 04.29.11 at 8:35 am

In the fact, as regards the point about independents, that is another issue that hasn’t been discussed here. Mostly, this happens when the electorate is dominated by one party, but that party has internal divisions. If enough people dislike the official candidate, you get to pick another one. I get the feeling that AV in general tends to favour pragmatism over ideology – and that is one case where it often has that effect. Compared to FPTP, it gives more power to the voters and less to the major parties. On balance, that is surely a good thing.

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Sam Dodsworth 04.29.11 at 10:35 am

I get the feeling that AV in general tends to favour pragmatism over ideology

I find that interesting – one of the major selling-points I’ve heard from Lib-Dems is that AV means “the end of tactical voting”.

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sg 04.29.11 at 10:42 am

Sam, maybe that’s because under AV it’s possible to vote according to your preference, with some expectation that your preference will be reflected in the final vote count (it’s not perfect, obviously, but it does give this effect sometimes). Whereas with FPTP you have to vote for the person you think will get in. e.g. all the people I know in the UK who say “I live in a safe [insert party here] seat so there’s no point voting.” if you look at the discussion of elections in Australia recently you’ll see a lot of debate has gone into predicting which safe labor/liberal seats will fall to the Greens. In fact, famously John Howard (the Prime Minister) lost his seat in 2007.

Where AV favours pragmatism is not in your judgment of who to vote for, but in the way parties have to appeal to a cross-section of the populace, cut deals with each other, and so on. E.g. in Australia, much attention is focussed at every election on just what the ALP (Labor) will offer the Greens “in exchange for their preferences.” Thus the Greens’ voters pragmatic intentions (to vote for their preferred party first, and deliver preferences to or against a major party) strongly influence non-Greens policy. But at no point in this process do Greens voters have to vote against their own preferred candidate (except in very rare, perverse situations).

Someone who did a Government class in High School, please correct me if I’m wrong about this…

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Phil 04.29.11 at 10:59 am

E.g. in Australia, much attention is focussed at every election on just what the ALP (Labor) will offer the Greens “in exchange for their preferences.”

This strikes me as not so much abolishing tactical voting as institutionalising it.

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William Bowe 04.29.11 at 12:05 pm

The specific details vary, and the names Australians use for the different flavours vary, and none of them is exactly the same as the UK proposal. But they are all AV. Right?

All the Australian single-member electorate systems have what academics classify as AV, but there are in fact two variants: “compulsory preferential”, where voters must number every box, and “optional preferential”, where they can number as many boxes as they like (as is proposed in the UK). The former operates for the federal lower house and state lower houses in Victoria, Western Australia and South Australia. The latter operates only for the state lower houses of New South Wales and Queensland.

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William Bowe 04.29.11 at 12:10 pm

E.g. in Australia, much attention is focussed at every election on just what the ALP (Labor) will offer the Greens “in exchange for their preferences.”

In fact, rather too much attention is focused on this. For all the talk of the Greens being able to “give” their preferences to Labor, they are in fact able only to distribute flyers recommending this, which most of their supporters ignore. Regardless of what the how-to-vote card says, a great majority of Greens preferences end up with Labor. For another thing, the Greens haven’t made good on a threat to preference the conservatives in 16 years. They have two real options: actively recommend a preference to Labor, or withhold recommendation and tell supporters to make up their own minds.

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Peter Whiteford 04.29.11 at 12:50 pm

As others have pointed out much of the UK comment on the Australian system has been pretty bizarre (and I say this as someone who has spent much of the last 3 weeks in England and reading the newspapers). The idea that there is anything like a groundswell to make changes to the preferential voting system in Australia has no basis in fact – having said this, if you read the Murdoch press then there appear to be more people out there now saying that the conservatives (whom we mischievously name the Liberals) were robbed in the last election.

But also as others point out preferential voting is only part of the story – voting is compulsory in Australia and because we have therefore apparently fallen into the habit of voting (more than 90% of us do) – in Australia you have to get close to half of the vote of 90% of the population to become government. Whereas in the UK you can become government on say 40% of the 80% (or perhaps less) who turn out to vote. So for the Tories to become the government in the UK they only need about one third of the population to vote for them, while for the Tories to become government in Australia they need 45% to 50% of the population to vote for them.

So on the whole we have more reasonable Tories than the UK – although our current Tories are eagerly trying to disprove my thesis!

But we also have the complement of this – a more middle of the road Labor party – although the UK Labour party has apparently become more centrist under T Blair than even Australia did under Hawke and Keating.

But the crucial point is that preferential voting not only changes the incentives for voters, it changes the incentives for political parties.

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Woland's Cat 04.29.11 at 12:57 pm

AV is a weakened form of preferential voting used in Australia, but in a way is more interesting: it gives voters themselves the power to choose to throw away their vote or not. It doesn’t help geographically unrelated voting such as is typical of Greens or Democrats party voting – proportional representation is needed for that. Clegg, Cable etc know this, so I believe they are campaigning sincerely from an ethical point of view, not a tactical one.

As an expat Australian living in the UK, I find the quality of the AV debate poverty-stricken. The Lib-dems are quite right in their complaints about Tory mis-information, and Cameron & co should be embarrassed either by a) their profound ignorance of the issue or b) their dissembling. Except that Torys do the latter for a living as a matter of pride….

The key thing to understand in preferential voting systems is that they really do reflect the overall best available preferences of the whole populace (i.e. those who vote and use all available preferences), not some partial representation as in FPTP. Have a look at the work on preferendum in Northern Ireland.

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Sam Dodsworth 04.29.11 at 3:47 pm

Sam, maybe that’s because under AV it’s possible to vote according to your preference, with some expectation that your preference will be reflected in the final vote count… Whereas with FPTP you have to vote for the person you think will get in.

I’m not sure that’s very helpful if you support a minor party. In a Tory/Lib-Dem marginal seat under FPTP, I might want to vote Green but end up voting Lib-Dem to keep the Tories out. Under AV I could have Green as my first preference but I’d still have to vote Lib-Dem as second choice if I wanted to keep the Tories out. So the net result is tactical voting plus an exit poll about which party you really wanted to win. Which sounds depressingly like one of those “consultation exercises” local authorities have when everyone knows they’re going to build the shopping centre anyway.

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Phil 04.29.11 at 3:54 pm

in Australia you have to get close to half of the vote of 90% of the population to become government

Or else you need to have an agreement between political parties each of which represents less than half of the voters, as they do in most countries. My gut feeling about AV from the start has been that it tends to entrench two-way contests, and you’re not persuading me otherwise.

tactical voting plus an exit poll about which party you really wanted to win

Zigackly. The reason I prefer STV to AMS is that the latter is a two-vote system – “vote for the candidate who’s got a chance of winning, then vote for the one you really support”. But at least under AMS the second vote counts.

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Salient 04.29.11 at 4:27 pm

Frequently when folks vote in a big U.S. election [FPTP] it’s because they passionately don’t want some particular candidate to win.^1^ Often enough it’s true that I would want to put much more weight in my “please oh god not this person” anti-vote than in my “I’d prefer this person” pro-vote.

If we (perhaps dangerously) assume that most folks in a voting population feel that way and vote tactically to optimize their anti-vote effect, which is the more reliable means for ensuring the least preferred candidate doesn’t win, FPTP or AV? (If I understand the system correctly, under typical PR it’s effectively impossible to anti-vote.)

I am asking in part because I think it’s a roundabout way to address D^2^’s question, if we assume that lots of folks want to screw over the LibDems.

tangentially — if the AV referendum returns the resounding “no” that everyone’s predicting, is there any chance the LibDems might respond by leaving the coalition and calling for a vote of no confidence on Cameron? I’m assuming this would be career-suicidal of them, but not entirely sure.

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mollymooly 04.29.11 at 4:29 pm

@Sam Dodsworth

Under AV I could have Green as my first preference but I’d still have to vote Lib-Dem as second choice if I wanted to keep the Tories out. So the net result is tactical voting plus an exit poll about which party you really wanted to win.

You would have to give the Lib Dem a higher preference than the Tory, but you don’t have to put them second. It would be, not tactical voting, but rather an accurate reflection of the fact that you prefer the Lib Dem to the Tory.

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Sam Dodsworth 04.29.11 at 4:51 pm

It would be, not tactical voting, but rather an accurate reflection of the fact that you prefer the Lib Dem to the Tory.

I think my point is that tactical voting would also be an accurate reflection of the fact that I preferred the Lib Dem to the Tory.

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sg 04.29.11 at 5:38 pm

Sam, tactical voting under FPTP only represents your choice in fortunate situations – it could just as likely be that your choice ends up being meaningless. AV gives you the chance to vote for the person you want to win, and then to preference the person you would prefer to win if your ideal world doesn’t happen. This is better than trying to guess your fellow citizens’ choice and vote accordingly.

Phil, the “institutionalization” you mention is a good thing. It forces the party of labor to consider those to its left, and puts a limit on how far to the right it can go, because it needs preferences from parties to its left.

Also, AV in Australia would be a lot more friendly to the left if it weren’t for the Coalition – that is, a rump of fuckwits agrarian socialists who have formed a coalition with the conservatives and enable the cons to win government even when the cons themselves have a minority vote. These idiots give the lie to the idea that minor parties can’t benefit under AV – they just happen to be stupid enough to think that siding with the liberals is a good idea. If you aren’t sure how stupid these people are, google “Barnaby Joyce.”

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sg 04.29.11 at 5:41 pm

also what mollymooly said is important. In a list of 50 candidates I can put all the lefties in the top 10, then provided I put lib dem above tory I’m safe – so I can put lib dem at 49 if I want, and tory at 50.

Of course, you always end up with this dilemma: should I put the Shooter’s Party above the BNP? What about the Fishermen’s Rights party? And is “Say No To Islam Now” actually a front for the BNP? But they’re all down around 45-50, and you can tell how toxic they are by looking at the how-to-vote cards anyway. Or just vote “above the line” for the party you prefer, and assume they’ve figured out the preferences more effectively than you have.

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Kevin Donoghue 04.29.11 at 6:28 pm

It’s not at all relevant, but from time to time I get the sense that there is some weird psychic connection between Paul Krugman and dsquared.

Krugman, 27-4-11: “… S&P can call invisible bond vigilantes from the vasty deep, but they won’t actually come when called.”

dsquared, 28-4-11: “… you have to kind of skate over the Glyndwr rebellion.”

Have these two ever been seen in the same room?

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Phil 04.29.11 at 6:54 pm

the “institutionalization” you mention is a good thing

It seems to me to involve renouncing any possibility of the party you support ever forming part of the government, or the policies you support ever being any more than a bargaining counter.

Another way of looking at AV would be to say that plurality voting in single-member constituencies only really works if there are only two serious competitors, and the function of AV is to resolve multiple-party politics to this two-party norm. (Runoff voting was introduced in Australia with this explicit purpose, at least if I can trust Wikipedia.)

AV in Australia would be a lot more friendly to the left if it weren’t for the Coalition

True, and FPTP would be a lot better for the Left if it weren’t for the Lib Dems.

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Emma in Sydney 04.29.11 at 10:21 pm

I think this gets down to the old economists’ joke. If a better voting system existed in the world, Britain would already have it, amirite?
Never mind. You can have your coalition government and we’ll have ours.

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Phil 04.29.11 at 11:09 pm

If a better voting system existed in the world, Britain would already have it, amirite?

Whose comments are you referring to? On the off-chance that it’s mine, I’ve said repeatedly that I’d like to see PR introduced – I just think AV is even worse than FPTP.

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Strategist 04.30.11 at 3:26 am

Many thanks Aussies (and others) for your insights.

Given that so many of you are obviously electoral system nerds (and I mean that in a nice way), please can you help with this one?

What’s the case for saying you must (literally must? is your ballot actually void if you don’t?) cast a preference for every single candidate down the very dregs (eg Official Monster Raving Loony @9 -v- breakaway Democratic Monster Raving Loony Party @10)????

We Poms struggle with the civil liberties implications of compulsory voting, but I simply cannot imagine how you would ever get popular support here for the “rank every candidate” requirement.

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Emma in Sydney 04.30.11 at 4:06 am

There are variations within Australia on this. (Takes deep breath). In NSW (lower house) and Queensland elections we have what is known here as Optional Preferential Voting where you can number however many squares you want to. In these elections, you don’t have to vote all the way down the ballot, you can stop any time after 1. Federally and in other states except Tasmania we have Preferential Voting, where for a lower house ballot to be valid, you must number every square. As Brian points out above, interpretations have varied as to whether ballots are informal if you miss one number but your intention is clear, and so on.
I won’t go into Upper house electoral systems in the states, Tasmanian elections, or Senate elections, because how long have you got? Anthony Green’s your man for that — a quite brilliant psephologist who knows everything, cited in comments above. For myself, I was permanently scarred by having to help count Hare-Clark elections for a student representative body a few years in a row. Absolute torture for an English literature student, but these are the things we do for politics.
One’s last preference never counts of course, and effectively usually the last few, really, because those candidates are either the winner, or eliminated before your vote is distributed that far. As for popular support — well, all Australian voters now don’t remember other systems, and that’s just the way you do it. Maybe we are particularly docile? Civil liberties don’t really fly as an argument, because you don’t actually have to vote, you only have to turn up and get your name marked off. If you don’t, they send you a letter asking you why you didn’t turn up, and if you give a reason that’s acceptable, such as advanced pregnancy, illness, travelling, working, they let you off. If you don’t have a reason you get fined a tiny amount, I think $20. If you don’t answer, they wipe you off the rolls and you have to go and re-enroll at your new address. It’s not onerous, and if it gets more than 90% turnout, it seems well worth it to most people.
I remember being taught that voting was a duty and a responsibility, and should be taken very seriously.

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William Bowe 04.30.11 at 5:08 am

My gut feeling about AV from the start has been that it tends to entrench two-way contests, and you’re not persuading me otherwise.

Nonsense. Where presently smaller parties need to come first on the vote count, AV will give them a big chance of winning seats if they run second, owing to mutual hostility between the major parties. Why else would the Lib Dems be pushing this?

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William Bowe 04.30.11 at 5:14 am

So the net result is tactical voting plus an exit poll about which party you really wanted to win.

In a sense, all voting is “tactical”. However, I think the useful definition here would be “voting other than in accord with your real preference”, which AV would indeed abolish. Referring to the primary vote total as “an exit poll about which party you really wanted to win” is actually not a bad way of putting it – but what’s wrong with that?

What’s the case for saying you must (literally must? is your ballot actually void if you don’t?) cast a preference for every single candidate down the very dregs (eg Official Monster Raving Loony @9 v breakaway Democratic Monster Raving Loony Party @10)????

None. “Optional preferential voting”, as proposed in the AV referendum, is a plainly superior system to the compulsory preferential one which mostly operates in Australia.

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sg 04.30.11 at 6:35 am

Thank you for the explanation of the difference between preferential and tactical voting, William Bowe.

In answer to strategist’s question, I think until about 10 years ago it was not illegal to not fill in all your preferences, at least federally – but it was illegal to advocate doing so. I think it was referred to above (Langer voting, maybe?) and the idea fell apart after someone tried advocating it publicly at an election and got arrested (I think this was Langer). That’s when it became compulsory preferential voting.

I think if there’s any part of Australia’s voting system that Australians would be convinced to change, it would be this – and I think it has been changed in many states now (as Emma observes).

I think the thing that all Australians understand is that the “compulsory” element of voting is not actually in any real sense “compulsory.” It’s not much trouble at all to not vote, you just have to pay a small fine, and if you don’t enrol to vote it’s not illegal. The important thing about the law is that it makes clear to all Australians the importance of voting as a social responsibility, and the expectation of the state that you will at least try to engage. The 90%+ turnout we get at elections is thus related to this law, but it’s not because it’s illegal to stay home.

I think it speaks to a very different view of the relationship between state and individual than exists in the UK or the US. My personal view is that Australian politics is more explicitly focused on building consensus than British or American, and that this is because of our historical circumstances on the edge of the world, in a harsh environment. Our state makes a bigger attempt to be inclusive, and is conversely harsher on those it chooses to exclude (e.g. Aborigines). This is purely my personal view though and almost certainly bullshit.

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Sam Dodsworth 04.30.11 at 9:16 am

Referring to the primary vote total as “an exit poll about which party you really wanted to win” is actually not a bad way of putting it – but what’s wrong with that?

Nothing’s wrong with it at all – which is why I’m voting for AV – but it’s hardly an epochal change in the political landscape. More than anything else, I just resent being told that it’s a once in a generation chance to change the face of British politics by (mostly) supporters of the one party who might see a mild benefit.

I’d like to echo Strategist’s thanks to the Aussies, though. It’s been very helpful to hear from knowlegable people who aren’t part of the UK debate.

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Phil 04.30.11 at 10:06 am

Referring to the primary vote total as “an exit poll about which party you really wanted to win” is actually not a bad way of putting it – but what’s wrong with that?

Nothing’s wrong with it as long as you accept that it goes along with making the second (or in a few situations third) vote a tactical vote, cast for the party you think has a chance of winning and are willing to put up with.

Also (me then William B.):

My gut feeling about AV from the start has been that it tends to entrench two-way contests, and you’re not persuading me otherwise.

Nonsense. Where presently smaller parties need to come first on the vote count, AV will give them a big chance of winning seats if they run second, owing to mutual hostility between the major parties. Why else would the Lib Dems be pushing this?

Top tip: if somebody from another country says something which seems transparently absurd based on what you know of that country, consider the possibility that you’re misreading them.

It’s true, of course, that AV in Australia has entrenched two-way contests on a national scale; a couple of commenters here have even presented that as a good thing. But my reference here was to two-way contests in individual constituencies. Up and down the country, the Liberal Democrats consistently campaign on the position that “$X can’t win here”, X being the Tories in Labour seats and Labour in Tory seats; you can see one particularly misleading example of this approach here (scroll down). (And here’s what happened next.) They’re not interested in three-party politics; their ideal is to turn every constituency into a “two-horse race” (a phrase that appears in Lib Dem literature almost as often as those bar charts), one of them being the Lib Dems. And AV is well suited to producing this result – far moreso than the PR systems the party has historically supported.

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Emma in Sydney 04.30.11 at 10:15 am

For the last time, no it hasn’t. We have had three major parties for decades. The National Party (agrarian socialists) would not still exist if not for preferential voting. The fact that they have been in permanent coalition with the Tories is not the fault of the voting system. We now have more than three parties, one of which is the Greens, which may indeed be in permanent coalition with Labor for some time, because who else would they possibly agree with? This will change things. It is already changing things. Because I can vote Green then Labor, I do. Without any fear of enabling the vile ‘Liberals’ (aka Tories). Or I can vote 1 Green, 2 Socialist Alliance, 3 Socialist Workers, 4 Random Reds, 5 No Airport Noise, 6 Labor and 7 ‘Liberal’. For the Win.
Labor knows this. There’s a reason our local Labor member, who is greatly in danger from the Greens, is the Greenest member of the party.

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Emma in Sydney 04.30.11 at 10:16 am

Bugger. That was supposed to start with a blockquote cite of this: AV in Australia has entrenched two-way contests on a national scale. I even used the HTML tags visible in the comment box. More fool me.

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Phil 04.30.11 at 10:48 am

Emma – I specifically didn’t say “two-party contests”. Looking at election results since 1949, it seems very hard to argue that AV hasn’t entrenched two-way contests on a national scale – more so even than FPTP in Britain. On http://www.australianpolitics.com there’s a page listing “Two-party-preferred statistics for all federal elections since 1949” (“The two-party-preferred vote is the total number of votes received by the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Coalition (Liberal & National Parties).”). I’d never even seen the phrase “two party preferred” until I started reading about Australian elections.

As for the current – and very welcome – rise of the Greens, you seem to be saying that the fact that the system has allowed it to happen should count in the system’s favour. But earthquakes happen in any system: preferential voting was initially intended to shut out the ALP, and look how that worked out. I’m saying that changes like the rise of the Greens can happen much, much sooner under a more representative system. In this case, it might even have happened sooner under FPTP, which does at least favour determined minorities with a geographical base. (As I think I said upthread, 0.15% of our MPs are Greens, on a national vote share of 1%; the corresponding figures for Australia are 0.67% and 12.7%. Their relative under-representation in Australia is nearly three times the UK level, in other words.)

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Emma in Sydney 04.30.11 at 11:06 am

Well, that’s the thing. The Nationals have a geographic base. The Greens don’t. If we didn’t have AV, we’d have no Greens in the parliament at all, and probably more Nationals.

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ejh 04.30.11 at 11:45 am

They’re not interested in three-party politics; their ideal is to turn every constituency into a “two-horse race” (a phrase that appears in Lib Dem literature almost as often as those bar charts), one of them being the Lib Dems

Quite.

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Daragh McDowell 04.30.11 at 11:51 am

They’re not interested in three-party politics; their ideal is to turn every constituency into a “two-horse race”

Well given that PR-STV has long been a goal of the LDs, and the offer of a referendum on a more proportional system was the only thing that kept the Lib-Lab ‘rainbow coalition’ ball in the air after the election (despite the fact that half the Lab PLP was immediately on TV pissing all over the prospect) I’m pretty sure that’s not true.

But frankly, your ‘objection’ could be rephrased as ‘the Lib Dems aim to win as many seats as possible during elections’ – a trait I’m relatively certain they share with every political party bar the Monster Raving Looneys.

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ejh 04.30.11 at 12:16 pm

What I think he means, and what you should be bright enough to work out he might mean, is that they are seeking to change the electoral system very much in their favour while posing about as disinterested supporters of fairness and democracy. Not just that they seek to win more seats, but changing the system so that the both-sides-of-the-street approach itself produces richer rewards than now.

Not a hard distinction to see if you want to.

But that’s LibDemmery.

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Ben Alpers 04.30.11 at 2:03 pm

A few observations from afar….

1) Political parties will, in general, support electoral systems that they believe will help them. Period. This explains the positions of every single British political party on AV, as far as I can tell.

1a) It is thus silly to point one’s fingers at any politial party and say “aha! you only support/oppose this electoral reform because it helps/hurts you!” What else would they do?

2) Voters whose politics are principally partisan will tend to see votes over electoral systems in the same narrow, consequentialist terms as their party’s leadership.

3) Such narrow, partisan consequentialist arguments are a generally poor way to make decisions about electoral systems.

Which leads to a question….

How did AV come about in Australia?

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William Bowe 04.30.11 at 2:22 pm

Ben, in Australia the conservative side of politics consists of the (conservative) Liberal Party and the (agrarian) National Party. When the latter emerged immediately after World War I, the resultant vote-splitting in rural constituencies damaged the anti-Labor forces electorally. The conservatives were in office at the time with majorities in both houses, so they changed the electoral system to suit themselves. All of which sits very well with your observations. It took a while coming, but the change eventually came back to bite them – the system has primarily been beneficial to Labor over the past three or four decades as the biggest minor parties have been of the left.

However, it should be noted that causation here runs in both directions. If the conservatives had not been able to introduce AV, the Liberals and Nationals probably would have merged. Indeed, they have done just that in Queensland, where the “weaker” optional preferential form of AV (introduced in 1991) means the Liberals and the Nationals damage their cause when they field candidates against each other – particularly since increasing numbers of voters in Queensland have adopted the “just vote one” option as they have slowly come to realise that the rules are different for state and federal elections.

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William Bowe 04.30.11 at 2:57 pm

It’s true, of course, that AV in Australia has entrenched two-way contests on a national scale; a couple of commenters here have even presented that as a good thing.

I don’t think this is true at all. Australia’s two-party system is a consequence of a single-member electoral system, together with its homogeneity. Australia lacks the UK’s national minorities or Canada’s linguistic one. Its lack of a “Liberal” party is due to the historically early arrival of Labor, which compelled conservative and liberal forces to form a united front not so long after federation in 1901. This happened before AV was introduced. A better comparison is New Zealand, which had first-past-the-post until it introduced proportional representation in 1996. As you can see here, its parliament was only very rarely disturbed by minor parties or independents in the first-past-the-post era.

On http://www.australianpolitics.com there’s a page listing “Two-party-preferred statistics for all federal elections since 1949” (“The two-party-preferred vote is the total number of votes received by the Australian Labor Party (ALP) and the Coalition (Liberal & National Parties).”). I’d never even seen the phrase “two party preferred” until I started reading about Australian elections.

That’s because it’s a bit of jargon designed to accommodate a perfectly good thing that the system has produced. Under compulsory preferential voting, every ballot paper is required to express a preference of one major party over the other, and we are thus able to meaningfully say which of the two contenders to form government is preferred by an absolute majority. It’s an invaluable concept in the Australian context, but it wouldn’t be if we did in fact have a three-party system – and AV itself is not the reason we don’t.

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Phil 04.30.11 at 4:11 pm

Well, obviously national peculiarities and historical contingency can explain an awful lot – although, for what it’s worth, our Labour Party fought its first national election in 1906. But given the combination of
– AV’s tendency to favour no more than two parties in any one constituency
– FPTP’s marginally greater openness to third-party challenges
– the almost total dominance of Australia’s lower house by two parone party and one coalition
– the marginally better representation of third and fourth parties in the British House of Commons
and, not least,
– arguments advanced here in favour of a two-party representative duopoly, with smaller parties functioning as external fractions or pressure groups

I’m not seeing much that persuades me that AV would give Britain a more representative electoral system.

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Phil 04.30.11 at 4:12 pm

Most of hose -s should have been preceded by line breaks. Please edit mentally.

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Phil 04.30.11 at 4:12 pm

Most of those -s.

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Emma in Sydney 04.30.11 at 10:31 pm

I should say that anyone interested in electoral systems and outcomes in Australia should be reading William’s blog, Pollbludger. If they are not already.

We are seeing a huge change in Australian politics as Labor’s century-old hold on the left dissolves. The electoral system won’t stop it, in the end. Labor doesn’t seem to have the first idea what to do about it, and continues hippy-punching even as the left moves to the Greens. Interesting times.

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sg 05.01.11 at 4:24 am

Phil, I think that statement at 172 puts too much blame on the electoral system and not enough weight on the particular cultural qualities of the countries. It’s always likely under any system that the UK will have more small parties than Australia, because of its national minorities, and AV doesn’t actually favour a two party system – a third party can form in Australia but will only succeed if it has a geographical base (as Emma observed) because of the single-member system. If, e.g., the Greens had a genuine geographical base in Tasmania they would have good representation in the national house of reps. Similarly if a radical industrial leftist party formed on a strong base in, say, Melbourne, this would happen.

For a good example of this see Pauline Hanson.

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john b 05.01.11 at 11:58 am

I should say that anyone interested in electoral systems and outcomes in Australia should be reading William’s blog, Pollbludger. If they are not already.

This is absolutely 100% true – it’s an invaluable and well-written resource if you’re interested in Australian election number-crunching, or indeed electoral number-crunching and the outcomes of voting systems in general.

However, it’s unlikely to be much help if your main objective is: “pretend that you have reasons other than ‘I hate Nick Clegg’ for your otherwise unjustifiable political position”. So I’m sceptical that many of the No2AV supporters on this thread will find it of interest.

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Phil 05.01.11 at 1:34 pm

“pretend that you have reasons other than ‘I hate Nick Clegg’ for your otherwise unjustifiable political position”

Your engagement with opposing viewpoints is a lesson to us all, John.

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john b 05.01.11 at 2:11 pm

SG: the useful unit of analysis here is ‘England’ rather than ‘UK’, precisely for national-party reasons (apart from anything else, the UK HoC includes Northern Ireland). When it comes to LDs in the southwest, you can make a geographical case – but the LD seats in the rest of the country don’t fit that model.

Phil : I’m trying to remember the exact psephological term for “I know you are, you said you are.”

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weaver 05.01.11 at 2:16 pm

But given the combination of – AV’s tendency to favour no more than two parties in any one constituency – FPTP’s marginally greater openness to third-party challenges

This is nonsense – the exact opposite is the case. The UK is not the best example for the effect of SP (with, as has been mentioned frequently, its regionally based nationalist parties); the best is the US where every vote for an emerging third party has to leap the hurdle of voters thinking they’ve cast an effective vote for the worse of two evils. (They can’t really rely any more on the state violence, outright fraud and rigged electoral systems that destroyed the Populist Party. SP and the thanksralphism that goes with it will have to do.) While Green representation in Oz is, as a practical matter, the direct product of PR in the Senate, their growing voter base is a product of preferential / AV voting for lower houses, where those intending to vote Green aren’t stymied by the prospect of objectively assisting the Tories win. This undoubtedly increases the Greens’ primary vote, with all the usual discourse benefits to say nothing of campaign financing, and also helps make the case for a move to the even better system of PR, for why should a party that gets 5 to 8% of the vote (the Nationals) be a partner in government due to the regional seats it wins while a party getting 8 to 12% of the vote like the Greens wins no seats at all. Without some variant of AV, quite a large percentage of those voting Green would choose to not do so for tactical reasons, making the Greens’ support base appear smaller than it is, giving it no ability to build on voter support for its policies, and inflating the false appearance of legitimacy of the regional representative system.

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Phil 05.01.11 at 2:18 pm

John: on this one I’m going to give you the lie direct. It is not true to say that I have no justification for voting no to AV other than hating Nick Clegg, and it’s not true (a fortiori) to say that I’ve acknowledged this.

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Phil 05.01.11 at 2:25 pm

The UK is not the best example for the effect of SP (with, as has been mentioned frequently, its regionally based nationalist parties)

I’ve been thinking in terms of England – I’ve no idea how an AV-based election would play out in Scotland or Wales, although I’m confident that the result would be less representative than those of the PR systems already used for their sub-national elections. When I say ‘third and fourth parties’ I’m thinking of the Liberals, the SDP, the Lib Dems and the Greens – I should have spelt this out. And again, I’m not saying that SP is a good system; I’m saying that AV is even worse.

for why should a party that gets 5 to 8% of the vote (the Nationals) be a partner in government due to the regional seats it wins while a party getting 8 to 12% of the vote like the Greens wins no seats at all)

So AV’s good because it’s not representative and therefore makes the case for PR?

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Leinad 05.01.11 at 3:18 pm

I’m still trying to work out why a pro PR person is against a measure that would at minimum improve the representation of parties that want PR.

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Phil 05.01.11 at 4:17 pm

Leinad – any chance of reading my earlier comments on the thread?

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Phil 05.01.11 at 4:23 pm

…but for a one-line answer, it would greatly improve the position of the Lib Dems but no other party (in England), and would create even higher barriers to entry for small parties than exist at the moment. There are also conjunctural political considerations (not reducible to a dislike of N. Clegg), which would probably make me vote No even if my judgment of AV vs PR was neutral or even a small positive, but at the end of the day that doesn’t apply. AV is not PR, I don’t believe getting AV will improve the chances of getting PR, and I think AV has disadvantages relative to FPTP that outweigh its advantages relative to FPTP.

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derrida derider 05.02.11 at 1:01 am

Based on Australian experience, the strongest argument for AV is NOT that it tends to permit third parties to get parliamentary representation (I think it does a little, but single member systems are always going to make life unfairly hard for third parties that do not have a strong regional dimension). No, the strongest argument is that it forces the two dominant parties to pay attention to individual issues that concern third party voters, because those voters’ preferences now matter as they can be directed to the other party.

Emma’s post @162 is a practical demonstration of the effect – and a common one on both left and right in Australia (yes, AV would probably move the Tories rightwards on immigration, for instance).

So AV would not benefit the LDP all that much as a party, but it would ensure some of its concerns – eg civil liberties – get more influence within the dominant parties.

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Robert Bollard 05.02.11 at 2:31 am

Just to correct the political history in the original post. The Australian Democrats emerged as a centrist party in the late 1970s and did indeed begin to pose to the ALP (on some issues – not all) from the left during the Hawke/Keating Labor governments (1983-1996). I have no memory of opposition to the First Gulf War playing much of a role in this and opposition to the Iraq War clearly wasn’t relevant as the Democrats imploded in the late 1990s (apart from the fact that Labor were in opposition by 2003 and opposed the war).
The Democrats imploded due to a decision by their leadership to pass Tory legislation in 1998 to introduce a GST (a sort of VAT) – they had the balance of power in the Senate at the time. Essentially, the contradiction between a centrist wing of the party and a left of Labor wing blew them out of the water.
As far as the electoral system goes, Australian voters have learned to use the system in an interesting way which is, in some ways, similar to tactical voting.
1. Minor parties like the Democrats (and now the Greens) get consistently more votes in the Senate (elected by PR) than in the lower house. So voters, even though they can vote Green in the lower house without throwing away their vote, are still more inclined to vote for a minor party where there is a good chance of someone getting elected.
2. The fact that we have state governments which run health care and education means that voters can vote for a different party at the state level compared to federal elections. So, for instance, by the end of Howard years, Labor was in power in all states. Now, the states are one by one falling to the Tories.

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sg 05.02.11 at 9:34 am

Yes Robert, I do think 2 complicates things for england. You can’t necessarily punish the party that took you to war (Blair) without voting in the party you think is going to destroy healthcare (Cameron). This is not a problem in Australia (as much). But even without federalism, if you have AV you can make clear your disapproval of the war, knowing your vote will not benefit the party of destroying healthcare.

I think some people on this thread, looking at Australia from afar (and bizarrely counting themselves lucky to be doing so, in ajay’s case) are really unaware of the extent to which preferences and pleasing minor party voters matter in Australian politics. possibly also people are unaware of the weight given to analysis of third- or fourth-party voting trends. There’s been continual debate about the cause of the collapse of the ALP’s primary vote and the growth of the Greens, and it’s largely taken as a signal that squibbing on climate change legislation was the cause.

It’s unlikely that climate change would even be an issue in Australia if it weren’t for the role of the Greens in national politics.

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Phil 05.02.11 at 10:02 am

possibly also people are unaware of the weight given to analysis of third- or fourth-party voting trends.

So each of the two parties is a coalition with external fractions. I’ve said my piece on this thread (boy, have I said my piece on this thread) but I do think it’s interesting that I’ve never heard this model of electoral politics anywhere except on this thread – for values of ‘anywhere’ which include every British person I’ve heard advocating a Yes vote.

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Phil 05.02.11 at 10:05 am

dd – So AV would not benefit the LDP all that much as a party

Oh yes it would – see my comment upthread (and google “Liberal Democrats two-horse race” for plentiful illustrations). AV imposes a duopoly in each individual seat: it’s ideal for eternal second-placers with a core of activists & an opportunistic appeal to both sides of the street. (This is one reason why I’m not making any bets as to how it would play out in Scotland or Wales.)

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William Bowe 05.02.11 at 11:07 am

AV imposes a duopoly in each individual seat.

I gather that your argument rests on the idea that the Liberal Democrats have some cunning plan to turn each individual constituency into a “duopoly” involving themselves and one of the major parties, which AV will enable them to achieve for reasons not specified. It is entirely clear that this is the opposite of the truth. It is first-past-the-post which encourages such a tendency, by forcing voters into tactical voting for duopoly candidates. There is only one conceivable reason why a seat will be a “duopoly” under AV: because only two parties have support there. There is no basis in fact or logic for asserting that AV will cause support for one of the three parties to wither away in seats where all three are currently competitive. People will vote for the party they support, pure and simple. AV will benefit the Liberal Democrats, but it won’t have anything to do with any of this nonsense.

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Phil 05.02.11 at 11:35 am

which AV will enable them to achieve for reasons not specified

I’d have a bit more patience with these lofty dismissals of my arguments if the people making them showed any sign of having read what I’ve written. As I’ve said more than once in this thread, I’m talking about the effect of counting previously unexpressed weakly-held preferences for runner-up parties with bland and/or opportunistic programmes.

There is no basis in fact or logic for asserting that AV will cause support for one of the three parties to wither away in seats where all three are currently competitive.

My argument is that, in a three- or four-way contest, a minority party with a consistent and distinctive programme has a much better chance of getting a plurality of first preferences than getting an overall majority by runoff voting. It’s a slim chance – which is why I support PR – but it’s still a better chance than that party would have under AV, which tends to favour a smaller number of contenders aggregating a wider range of preferences. Given that supporters of AV on this thread have not only acknowledged this but claimed it as a positive feature of the system, I’m at a loss to understand why you’re dismissing it so categorically.

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sg 05.02.11 at 11:45 am

Phil, there’s no way that the Greens can be seen as an “external fraction” of the ALP, nor the Democrats. In fact, the thing that sank the democrats as a party was their decision to act as an external fraction of the Liberals. After that they were toast.

Reducing preferencing decisions under AV to “the major parties plus external fractions” is really really ignorant. The Greens, for example, sprang up in opposition to the narrative constructed by the two major parties, and have single-handedly forced the issues of water management, asylum seekers, climate change and human rights in Tibet onto the agenda. The major parties have to respond to these parties in a policy sense, in order to gain their preferences. The Greens have 8-12% of the primary vote, but they loom large over policy debate in Australia and they control the balance of power in the upper house (you guys don’t have a democratic upper house – i.e. you don’t have a proper democracy yet – so you probably don’t understand how important this is). Both parties’ policy-making process is conducted against this backdrop.

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Peter Whiteford 05.02.11 at 12:09 pm

While this is a thread that should have died a natural death some time ago, one cannot pass by the idea that the Greens have put human rights in Tibet on the Australian political agenda without bemusement, or indeed bewilderment.

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Peter Whiteford 05.02.11 at 12:26 pm

Phil at 164 said ” (As I think I said upthread, 0.15% of our MPs are Greens, on a national vote share of 1%; the corresponding figures for Australia are 0.67% and 12.7%. Their relative under-representation in Australia is nearly three times the UK level, in other words.)”

A couple of observations – one of the reasons why the Greens in Australia get 12.7% of the vote is because we have preferential voting – if we had first past the post then a lot of people who vote Green would presumably reluctantly vote Labor – or if we didn’t have compulsory voting wouldn’t vote at all. So preferential voting allows more people to reveal their preferences – which I think is the idea of the system.

.

196

john b 05.02.11 at 1:15 pm

Phil: first up, apologies for being unclear above. “I know you are, you said you are” was a playground formulation of “tu quoque”, based on your deliberate misrepresentation of both AV and the situation in Australia and complete ignoring of everything your opponents write, followed by accusing me of failing to engage with *my* opponents’ arguments. It wasn’t intended to accuse you of having explicitly stated things about your motivations that (although I’m fairly sure they’re true) you haven’t stated.

I’d have a bit more patience with these lofty dismissals of my arguments if the people making them showed any sign of having read what I’ve written.

…and the same continues to apply.

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Phil 05.02.11 at 4:39 pm

deliberate misrepresentation of both AV and the situation in Australia

???

No, seriously, ??? I wasn’t aware I’d even been accused of deliberate misrepresentation etc etc. (I certainly haven’t insulted people who don’t agree with me or ridiculed their arguments. Just mentioning.)

Reducing preferencing decisions under AV to “the major parties plus external fractions” is really really ignorant.

The major parties have to respond to these parties in a policy sense, in order to gain their preferences.

But I don’t see how that’s not “the major parties plus external fractions”. I mean, it certainly isn’t “the major parties plus smaller parties with independent representation”. If ‘fractions’ is too unflattering, how about “the major parties plus minor parties which don’t seek lower-house representation in their own right but operate by exerting influence on one of the major parties through the medium of preferences”?

In any case, I do think it’s worth noting that the idea that AV might promote this kind of influence-for-representation tradeoff between major and minor parties hasn’t featured at all in the arguments put forward by the Yes campaign; it hasn’t been taken up by the No campaign, for that matter.

you guys don’t have a democratic upper house – i.e. you don’t have a proper democracy yet

Dear Lord. As well as repeating every few days that I don’t support FPTP, have I now got to reaffirm that I believe in a democratically elected second chamber?

198

ajay 05.03.11 at 8:20 am

Best argument on the AV question: “good ideas do not need to have a lot of lies told about them to secure public acceptance”. The No to AV side has been telling a lot of lies. Therefore, vote Yes.

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Phil 05.03.11 at 8:39 am

I’m not convinced either side has been lying outright, but I’m pretty sure that both campaigns have bent and stretched the evidence until they could make balloon animals out of it. Therefore, I’m going to ignore both of them and decide what to do myself.

200

ajay 05.03.11 at 9:26 am

I’m not convinced either side has been lying outright

Nope, the No side has actually been lying outright – both by saying that AV would cost £250 million and by saying that British troops in Afghanistan are short of body armour and could be supplied with it if the money wasn’t spent on AV.

201

Daragh McDowell 05.03.11 at 3:13 pm

So folks – anyone thinking of changing their minds now that Canada just got a right-wing government despite the fact that 60% of its citizens voted centre-left, directly due to the result of vote splitting?

202

dsquared 05.03.11 at 3:18 pm

Or alternatively, anyone thinking of changing their minds now that an amazingly unpopular leader of a complacent and unprincipled political party with “Liberal” in its name has had his career finally and deservedly destroyed?

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Daragh McDowell 05.03.11 at 3:47 pm

Oh I almost forgot Dan. Destroying the careers of politicians you don’t like is far more important than encouraging structural and systemic changes. Oh – and its also TOTALLY WORTH putting a Nixonian creep in an untramelled position of authority on a minority of the votes to prove this point. How could I fail to appreciate the flawlessness of your logic?

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dsquared 05.03.11 at 3:52 pm

This was a self-inflicted wound by the Liberal Party. FPTP didn’t make Michael Ignatieff support the Iraq War, it didn’t make him lose his nerve in previous confidence votes, it didn’t force him to engineer an early and ill-timed election, and it didn’t even make him such an unappealing and wooden politician.

205

Phil 05.03.11 at 3:57 pm

despite the fact that 60% of its citizens voted centre-left

That would be quite a result, given that voter turnout was 61.4%. Anyway, we had already noticed something similar happening last May (there was a left-of-Tory majority vote in England, let alone Scotland and Wales).

206

Daragh McDowell 05.03.11 at 3:59 pm

@dsquared – no one is disputing any of those things. But that’s not the point. The point is that 60% of Canadians voted for parites that under almost any reasonable definition are of the centre-left (some more centre than left, admittedly.) Less than 40% of Canadians voted for a party of the centre-Right (whose leadership is arguably more right than centre.) Under an IRV/AV system it is almost certain this would have resulted in a centre-left coalition. Under FPTP it resulted in a Tory majority – that is a result 60% of the people did not want. THAT’S what this debate is about, how the electoral system reflects the will of the people, not which ultimately transient political leader the destruction of whose career you’ve decided is the most pressing political priority this week.

207

Phil 05.03.11 at 3:59 pm

Daragh – encouraging structural and systemic changes is a terrific idea which Iwe should all whole-heartedly support, if we think they’re good structural and systemic changes. If that condition doesn’t obtain, some would say that encouraging structural and systemic changes is actually a bad idea. And how right they would be.

208

dsquared 05.03.11 at 4:04 pm

As far as I can see, the “political will of the people” (“You think the Voice of the People is shouting ‘Hail Spode’!) involved fairly weak preferences about the national government (turnout was historically low), and fairly strong preferences about whether the NDP or Liberals ought to be the face of opposition from the Left. Since AV would have frustrated the second, I’m not sure at all that you’re right.

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Daragh McDowell 05.03.11 at 4:09 pm

turnout was historically low

Eh no, it increased slightly but significantly over the last election. So scratch that one.

fairly strong preferences about whether the NDP or Liberals ought to be the face of opposition from the Left

As well as overwhelming Liberal preferences for the NDP over the Tories – that is Liberals wanted to be the face of the left, but were prepared to accept Jack Layton over Steven Harper if they lost that fight. Which they did.

210

Chris Bertram 05.03.11 at 4:12 pm

Personally, I’ve switched from No to Yes, having decided that fucking-up the Tories (also retrospectively re Thatcher) is more important to me than fucking-up Clegg.

But on the subsidiary issues covered in this thread:

1. Why was Daragh M allowed to get away with the claim that it was Clegg who torpedoed Lansley’s health changes? (a) because it isn’t clear they are sunk yet and (b) because the Libdem bases seem to have forced him into it.

2. Why was sg allowed to get away with (a) more of his ridiculous anglophobia and (b) specific claims concerning a drink (beer) which Australians can’t make properly.

211

Daragh McDowell 05.03.11 at 4:23 pm

@Chris Bertram

To your question – its frankly immaterial as to why Clegg torpedoed this, if he’s actually a closet enthusiast for the reforms and his hands were forced, or if he was always opposed and the party conference gave him the political cover to force Lansley to back down. In either case its an outcome that wouldn’t have happened without the Lib Dems moderating policy. And as to the first point – I’m relatively certain that while reform of the NHS will happen in some form (which, I beleive in the abstract is a good thing due to the system’s significant failures in certain areas) it won’t happen in the way Lansley originally intended, and will likely be much less ‘Tory’ in its final policy form.

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Chris Bertram 05.03.11 at 4:36 pm

“To your question – its frankly immaterial as to why Clegg torpedoed this”

Well no, it isn’t immaterial to the claims you were making about Clegg, namely that he’s less bad than we think he is.

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Daragh McDowell 05.03.11 at 4:44 pm

“Well no, it isn’t immaterial to the claims you were making about Clegg, namely that he’s less bad than we think he is.”

Well given that neither of us are able to look into Clegg’s heart and divine whether his motivations are pure and true, or driven by baseness and wickedness its probably an argument that would be futile, unless you would like to claim psionic and telepathic powers to support your claim (which I’ll admit would be surprising, but only just.)

I think the evidence, on balance, suggests that Nick Clegg is not history’s greatest monster, but rather a decent and reasonable guy trying to do a tough job under enormous pressure with political preferences that you (and in some cases I) would often disagree with, but who has in any case, led a party that has demonstrably moderated Tory policy in certain key areas. Happy?

214

Phil 05.03.11 at 4:55 pm

the evidence, on balance, suggests that Nick Clegg is not history’s greatest monster

Daragh, can you get through one single comment without setting up a strawman? That’s not a question, it’s a suggestion. One step at a time.

215

Chris Bertram 05.03.11 at 4:57 pm

No-one, Daragh, thinks that Clegg is “history’s greatest monster”. However, many of us think of him as an sleazy opportunist, a hypocrite and a serial liar. I don’t need “psionic and telepathic powers” to form that judgement.

216

Daragh McDowell 05.03.11 at 5:00 pm

@Chris – I was using the ‘history’s greatest monster’ in its internet meme form, in terms of the propensity of certain people to wildly overreact to and overemphasise the failings of certain political figures instead of trying to evaluate their actions in a reasonably coherent and rational fashion.

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Chris Bertram 05.03.11 at 5:09 pm

I’m tempted to use certain words (in their internet meme form) to refer to you Daragh, but I’m sure you’re perfectly nice in real life.

218

Daragh McDowell 05.03.11 at 5:19 pm

Likewise Chris, and while I will admit to being rather churlish here so have you, and I think objectively there has been a distinct cognitive bias on behalf of you and other commentators to the tune of ‘Nick Clegg is a bad person, therefore his actions are bad, thefore policies supported by him (such as AV) must also be bad.’ I find your analysis of many other topics to be very keen and incisive, but frankly there’s an element of knee-jerk tribalism when dealing with the coalition which is very, very common in British politics and which shuts down reasonable debate.

219

Phil 05.03.11 at 6:18 pm

I think objectively there has been a distinct cognitive bias on behalf of you and other commentators to the tune of ‘Nick Clegg is a bad person, therefore his actions are bad, thefore policies supported by him (such as AV) must also be bad.’

I think, as objectively as you like, that you can’t provide evidence that this bias exists, and that there is abundant evidence to the contrary. You could start with my comment #185, or go right back to #65 if you prefer. I’m going to vote against AV because I believe AV is an even worse electoral system than the one we’ve got at the moment, for reasons I’ve set out at a length which is starting to bore even me.

220

john b 05.03.11 at 11:03 pm

Anyway, we had already noticed something similar happening last May (there was a left-of-Tory majority vote in England, let alone Scotland and Wales).

Which, had the election been conducted under AV, would have led to a left-of-Tory coalition. Under FPTP, a left-of-Tory coalition would have had a minority of English seats, as above, so wouldn’t have been viable.

specific claims concerning a drink (beer) which Australians can’t make properly.

Mass-market counterexample: Coopers Pale. Better than anything you’ll find on draught in a non-specialist English pub, and far better than anything you’ll find on draught in a non-specialist US pub. Pure Blonde and Hahn Super Dry are acceptable mass-market German-style lagers. VB and Carlton are swill, of course.

I believe AV is an even worse electoral system than the one we’ve got at the moment, for reasons I’ve set out at a length which is starting to bore even me.

I apologise for calling bad faith earlier – it was uncalled for. But re-reading your arguments against AV (versus FPTP, I mean), I’m still a little baffled – apart from “because it helps the Lib Dems” (which you have actually stated, and which I’m struggling to see how it *isn’t* reducible to ‘because I don’t like Nick Clegg’), they seem to be based on an extremely contrived example of a case where strange and unlikely bad things could happen under AV but not FPTP (#65) and an somewhat contrived example of a case where strange and unlikely good things could happen under FPTP but not AV (#192).

Even if AV were actually no better or very slightly worse than FPTP (I don’t believe this), there are still strong reasons for someone in favour of electoral reform to support it:

1) the ‘no’ vote will be spun by the Tories and by the illiberal end of Labour as a ‘no’ to electoral reform, not a ‘no’ to AV (see: if the Welsh referendum had been lost in 1997); 2) as in Australia, the increased share of votes to minority parties will help them win seats in an elected upper house – which itself is far more likely if we get a ‘yes’ rather than a ‘no’ to electoral reform; 3) even on a sheer-partisan basis, the worst bastard in the UK government at the moment is David Cameron, he’s the only leader campaigning against AV, and he’ll take a ‘no’ as a personal victory.

(it’s also worth noting that if the *referendum* had been held under AV, “rank the following in order, FPTP, AV, STV, additional member”, we’d certainly be getting electoral reform at this point…)

221

dsquared 05.03.11 at 11:05 pm

the ‘no’ vote will be spun by the Tories and by the illiberal end of Labour as a ‘no’ to electoral reform, not a ‘no’ to AV (see: if the Welsh referendum had been lost in 1997)

The Welsh referendum was lost in 1979.

222

dsquared 05.03.11 at 11:09 pm

Also, and sorry if I’m putting words into Phil’s mouth, AV doesn’t just help the LibDems, it helps them specifically in proportion to the extent to which they use the tactic “campaign left in some seats, campaign right in others, campaign opportunistically everywhere and then form as unprincipled a coalition as you like”. I don’t agree that you can add Labour and LD votes together and get a “left of centre” number in any straightforward way.

223

Myles 05.03.11 at 11:11 pm

If people haven’t already seen this, they should. It’s pure awesome, total bi-winning.

224

Myles 05.03.11 at 11:12 pm

(It’s AV for cats)

225

john b 05.03.11 at 11:22 pm

The Welsh referendum was lost in 1979.

And then it took the best part of 20 years to get another one. I’m happy to clarify that, when I say the anti-reform camp will spin a ‘no’ vote as the issue being closed, I mean “closed for 20 years”, not “closed forever”.

226

dsquared 05.03.11 at 11:27 pm

And then it took the best part of 20 years to get another one.

Well, it had been rejected really quite comprehensively – have a look on Wikipedia at how bad the results really were for the Nashie cause. I think there would have been cause for complaint if someone had come back five years later for another go. You have more of a case with respect to the Scottish referendum, but this brings things rather into focus – it wasn’t that the anti-referendum camp had “spun” the 1979 result, it was because we had the unusual situation of 18 consecutive years of Conservative (and Unionist) government.

227

Phil 05.04.11 at 7:45 am

apart from “because it helps the Lib Dems” (which you have actually stated, and which I’m struggling to see how it isn’t reducible to ‘because I don’t like Nick Clegg’)

The only problem with this is that I’ve said repeatedly that I’m in favour of STV, which would also help the Lib Dems at the expense of the other two main parties. See D^2’s comment at 222, and also my comment that AV would greatly improve the position of the Lib Dems but no other party (in England), and would create even higher barriers to entry for small parties than exist at the moment.

they seem to be based on an extremely contrived example of a case where strange and unlikely bad things could happen under AV but not FPTP (#65)

In the scenario at #65, both Labour and Tory voters gave second preferences to the Lib Dems, while the Lib Dems split more or less evenly between Labour and Tory. BNP voters gave second preferences to the Tories. The split in Lib Dem second preferences determined whether the Labour or the Tory candidate got elected. I’ll let others decide how ‘strange and unlikely’ that scenario is.

The point, anyway, was to say that going to AV from FPTP gives you a gain in representativeness of at most 17% (in absolute terms), and that this is paid for by inflating the value of second preferences. (But only some second preferences, and in a multi-party contest it may be impossible to know beforehand which ones. Some don’t get counted at all; see scenario here.)

and an somewhat contrived example of a case where strange and unlikely good things could happen under FPTP but not AV (#192).

Also known as ‘Brighton Pavilion’. (Yes, I know Caroline Lucas is pro-AV. Bog knows why.)

the ‘no’ vote will be spun by the Tories and by the illiberal end of Labour as a ‘no’ to electoral reform, not a ‘no’ to AV

Probably, but the system will still be broken. If AV passes the question of PR really will be closed for a generation: AV’s supporters and beneficiaries will be happy anyway, the supporters of FPTP will regroup to fight for single-member constituencies, and there’ll be no public appetite for dicking around with the electoral system again.

228

dsquared 05.04.11 at 8:15 am

The point, anyway, was to say that going to AV from FPTP gives you a gain in representativeness of at most 17% (in absolute terms),

The maximum here is almost certainly a wild over-estimate – after all, as Matt Turner has pointed out once or twice, the LibDem voters would still have second preferences under a FPTP system, so around half of them would actually end up getting the result under FPTP that they actually “wanted” under AV.

229

sg 05.04.11 at 8:35 am

did I make specific claims about beer? I thought I said I disagreed with dsquared’s views on budweiser…? I don’t think that’s a specific claim about beer. And I don’t think you’ll ever find me defending Australian beer! (I like English ale far more, thank you very much). Unless you’re referring to my accusation that British pubs don’t clean their beer taps? That’s a specific claim about pubs, not beer.

Surely we need to get the basic parameters of the argument correct before we start slinging accusations about…?

dsquared at 208 – the soft bigotry of low expectations? Is your defence of FPTP that we should keep it because it will enable voters to give a better sense of which left wing party they would like to represent them in opposition? That’s really lowering your hopes for the left.

I sense disingenuous arguments being trotted out because Canada just roundly made the pro-AV point. Personally I think you should stick with “I want to sink Clegg.” It’s admirable, necessary, and entirely appropriate that his preferred vote reform should sink purely because he advocated it. And anyway, shouldn’t you be campaigning for compulsory voting, elections on the weekend, and a democratically elected upper house first? Once Britain has learnt how to be a democracy, maybe then they can tinker with their particular system…

(and yes, that was deliberately inflammatory. But was a word of it not true?)

230

reason 05.04.11 at 8:41 am

SG – I think you could argue (from Canada) that one of the ADVANTAGES of FPTP is that it lets you make dramatic experiments (Harper, Thatcher and yes Wilson), that would never be tried under AV.

231

reason 05.04.11 at 8:43 am

Of course the case of George Bush shows that unfortunately some (even a substantial part) of the electorate never learns – even from dramatic experiments.

232

Phil 05.04.11 at 12:04 pm

shouldn’t you be campaigning for compulsory voting,

You haven’t explained why this is a good thing, other than that it’s what you’re used to.

elections on the weekend,

Good idea.

and a democratically elected upper house

Excellent idea.

first

OK then. “No to AV – Yes to real democratic reform!” Works for me.

233

djr 05.04.11 at 9:15 pm

AV seems to reduce the risk that two parties can split the vote, allowing a third party to win under FPTP. Given that vote-splitting seems to be more prevalent on the left than on the right, surely everyone on the left should be in favour of it?

(“Vote splitting” is, of course, another way of saying “letting the people choose between different options, rather than having the party leadership decide”.)

234

Phil 05.04.11 at 10:51 pm

Given that vote-splitting seems to be more prevalent on the left than on the right, surely everyone on the left should be in favour of it?

This is where principled argument and hatred of the Lib Dems tend to blur into one.

235

Chaz 05.05.11 at 12:56 am

As far as I can see, the “political will of the people” (“You think the Voice of the People is shouting ‘Hail Spode’!) involved fairly weak preferences about the national government (turnout was historically low), and fairly strong preferences about whether the NDP or Liberals ought to be the face of opposition from the Left. Since AV would have frustrated the second, I’m not sure at all that you’re right.

If you want to see the preferences of the Left, seat totals are a stupid place to look. Just look at each party’s share of the vote. Under AV you can see it even clearer, because you can look at the share of first preferences without tactical voting clouding the waters (as much).

Besides, under AV the NDP still would have beaten the Libs. As near as I can tell, the NDP and the Libs both would have gotten some seats at the expense of the Cons. Somehow I doubt the Left would mourn a “less clear” election that yielded a NDP-led coalition. The system that really would benefit the Liberals and Lib Dems–bland, moderate platforms for the win–is ultra-democratic Condorcet, where a party can come in third on first preferences and still win. Under AV the tepid centrist party can get all the second preferences in the world, but without a strong first preference base they just get eliminated.

___

As far as Clegg moderating Tory policy by joining the government, this American does not understand how that is supposed to work. Whether he leads a minority or a coalition, Cameron can only pass this stuff if a majority of MPs agree. The idea that Barack Obama the Lib Dems must make concessions purely out of bipartisan cooperation is absurd. If Cameron pushes a bill that the Lib Dems and Labour both hate, they don’t have to negotiate and convince him to moderate a bit. They can just vote no and block it entirely.

Really the only way the LDs can accomplish anything by supporting Harper is if, in exchange, the Cons agree to enact a LibDem priority that both the Cons and Labour oppose. So far they have gotten Cameron to give them exactly one thing: an AV referendum that they will lose anyway. Considering the “concessions” they’ve made for it, that’s a lousy deal. Even more telling, as soon as that referendum was scheduled, they had no reason to continue cooperating with Cameron, unless they just plain like his policies.

Worst of all, now that they’ve shown their true skin, everyone hates them. That means that Cameron really does own them because they’re afraid of forcing an election. But that is a situation of their own making.

236

Chaz 05.05.11 at 1:00 am

Ugh. On close reflection, I feel that my estimate of the British Liberal Democratic Party’s ability to influence Steven Harper was overstated.

237

Chaz 05.05.11 at 1:01 am

Oh Godda&*it! I think I better take a break.

238

Myles 05.05.11 at 2:12 am

Of course the case of George Bush shows that unfortunately some (even a substantial part) of the electorate never learns – even from dramatic experiments.

This is literally the most gratuitous George Bush electoral reference ever.

239

sg 05.05.11 at 3:56 am

Phil,

You haven’t explained why [compulsory voting] is a good thing, other than that it’s what you’re used to.

I’d love to hear your explanation for why having your govt selected by a biassed sample of the population is democratic. Are you in favour of voluntary jury duty as well?

240

Phil 05.05.11 at 7:51 am

OK, you’ve got me there.

Yes to PR! Yes to weekend voting! Yes to an elected House of Lords! Yes to compulsory voting only can we not use the actual word ‘compulsory’, it sounds sort of Bulgarian!

But today, the struggle. No to AV!

241

dsquared 05.05.11 at 8:47 am

Somehow I doubt the Left would mourn a “less clear” election that yielded a NDP-led coalition

You mean a coalition of the sort that Ignatieff specifically ruled out? In both the Canadian and UK contexts, the respective “Liberal” parties seem to be asserting property rights over second preferences of “the Left”, on the basis of no very good track record at all. Sorry guys, just because the Democrats can get away with this doesn’t mean you can.

242

dsquared 05.05.11 at 8:49 am

I’d love to hear your explanation for why having your govt selected by a biassed sample of the population is democratic

An election isn’t an exercise in sampling theory.

243

Phil 05.05.11 at 9:02 am

True, but there’s something a bit perverse about building in an option of “don’t even care enough to go and vote” and then ignoring it. Turnout is, or ought to be, just as big a factor in democratic legitimacy as the size of the majority among those who bothered to vote.

244

sg 05.05.11 at 9:24 am

Yes it is, dsquared.

Let’s try another tack (I know you’ll love this): if you had AV, the Lib Dems would be able to take their time to build a real, solid electoral base without being (unduly) sleazy or opportunistic, because they could rely on preferences to shore up their vote as they slowly developed their reputation, etc. So in an alternate universe where AV had been implemented under Thatcher (hahahaha), the modern Lib Dems would be a principled party of the centre left. Led by someone other than Nick Clegg…

245

Alex 05.05.11 at 9:25 am

You have more of a case with respect to the Scottish referendum, but this brings things rather into focus – it wasn’t that the anti-referendum camp had “spun” the 1979 result, it was because we had the unusual situation of 18 consecutive years of Conservative (and Unionist) government.

Yes. Yes. The precondition for progressive goals is called “a Labour government”.

246

dsquared 05.05.11 at 9:48 am

With respect to that particular comparison as well, it should be remarked that we are unlikely to make any major oil discoveries in the FPTP voting system – 1979 to 1997 marked the single most unlikely period in economic history since the Act of Union for Scottish independence.

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ajay 05.05.11 at 10:21 am

sg is under the mistaken impression that Australia has compulsory voting. It does not. It has, like several other countries, compulsory attendance at the polling station. An Antipodean overcome by disgust, apathy, or too much inferior Australian beer is entirely free not to vote for anyone at all, just as his Pom counterpart is. The only difference is that the Antipodean has been forced by his government to go along to the polling station in order to do so, while the Pom can register his disgust and apathy from the comfort of his own living room. Any arguments about “biased samples” are therefore true for the Australian system as well.

246: ah yes. Hence the legendary Scottish economic boom of the 1980s and 1990s.

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dsquared 05.05.11 at 10:26 am

I hate to be the one to break the news to you that Scotland’s oil money was stolen, possibly by the English.

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dsquared 05.05.11 at 10:28 am

#244: No it isn’t. If Australia thought that an accurate estimate of the preferences of the electorate, achieved through a representative sample, was an important quantity to measure, it would have a proportional electoral system. But it doesn’t, it has AV.

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ajay 05.05.11 at 10:42 am

248: yes, I know…

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Matt McG 05.05.11 at 11:52 am

re: 250

Surely Scotland is funded solely out of the taxes of hard-working SE of England Tory voters?

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sg 05.06.11 at 12:42 am

No I’m not, ajay. I’m well aware of the difference. Australia had 95% turnout in 2007, and a 4% informal vote casting rate. This has been mentioned above.

dsquared, you know full well that how you take a sample is not affected by how you measure that sample once taken. In fact, our voting system makes it perfectly possible to identify how things would have been different under proportional voting. In either case, the sample is representative of the population. The British sample is not, so it doesn’t matter how accurate your measurement system is, the result is still biassed.

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