29 March 2011

"Majority Support" is an AV myth

The proponents of the Alternative Vote (AV) make several exaggerated claims for the system that are myths, at best. The biggest of these are around the claims that it delivers MPs with "majority support".

This claim fails on both the micro and macro levels. Let's pull it apart at the detailed level first.

The problem with "majority support" is that "majority" does not mean majority and "support" does not mean support in any normal usage of these words.

Clearly the majority referred to is not a majority of constituents as a high percentage of people don't even vote. Amazingly this claim is still made by some people - and they say AV is easy to understand!

Nor does it mean a majority of voters as many people will only vote for candidates that are eliminated before the final round of counting and so are not included in the final result. For example, if I vote Green then Labour in Richmond Park I am not included in the final run-off between the Conservatives and Lib. Dems.

What it actually means is a majority of votes that are left in the final round of counting. At this point calling it a majority is meaningless.

It would be just as sensible to carry on the reallocation of votes from the lowest candidate in each round until there is only one candidate left and then claiming that MP had unanimous support. This is clearly ridiculous but the claim for majority support under AV is equally so.

And "support" is a problem too. If I vote Green then Labour it's reasonable to suppose that either of those parties has my positive support but if I then vote Conservative to keep the Lib. Dems. out then it is hardly fair to say that I support the Conservatives. Hating one party slightly less than another is not the same as supporting them.

A simple way of dismissing the majority support argument is to just think about what voting actually does. Voting tries to measure our support for candidates, it does not, of itself, determine that support. That is we feel the same way about each of the candidates irrespective of how we then vote for them.

So under FPTP we get MPs elected on a minority of votes but under AV we get mostly the same MPs elected but now we claim that they have greater support than they had before. This is clearly madness but, sadly, is exactly the confused thinking that most AV proponents are guilty of.

AV tries to fool people in to thinking that it will deliver more popular MPs when all it does is redefine what "popular" means. It's an AV myth.


  1. Matthew and I frequently disagree over matters political, as we have differing beliefs. On this occaision I totally agree that the supposed benefits of AV are a Parlimentary Myth and quite frankly if an MP can't get enough votes to win by first past the post, who do they really represent - the person that very few really wanted! Sorry SAY NO to AV and vote to retain at least a little control in our future!

  2. Regarding your objection about showing support for a candidate, if you rank every single candidate on your ballot paper, then you have accurately expressed your opinions. AV is not "first preference plus one alternative", it is a way of expressing your opinion on *all* candidates.

    FPTP doesn't allow you to say "I'd prefer Party X, but if that's not possible, I'll go for Party Y", and so encourages tactical voting. AV eliminates the need for tactical voting.

    And to preempt your response re "multiple" votes in AV: A vote in FPTP is for a single candidate. A vote in AV is a single vote expressing preferences for all candidates. It's still one person one vote, and still allows everyone the same influence.

    Of course, we also need a "none of the above" option, but that's missing from both FPTP and AV.

  3. All AV tells you is the order of preference, e.g. I prefer Green to Labour and Labour to everybody else. It does not tell you, for example, if I positively want Labour to win or if I am voting for them tactically to try and keep the Tories out. We do not know what the lower preferences mean and claiming "support" for anything other than the first candidate is simply not justified.

  4. All FPTP tells you is whether the option is the least worst which is likely to win the vote, e.g. I prefer Green to Labour, but don't think they'll get in so vote Labour to keep the Conservatives out. It does not tell you, for example, if I positively want Labour to win or if I am voting for them tactically to try and keep the Tories out. We do not know what the single vote means and claiming "support" for anyone at all is simply not justified.


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