The Alternative Vote – What Do The People Want?

Image courtesy of the BBC.
Image courtesy of the BBC.

In 2011, the United Kingdom voted in a referendum to reform general elections. What was proposed was a change from the traditional First Past The Post system to an Instant Run-off system (referred to as the Alternative Vote). With the referendum defeated by a majority of 68%, it can be said that having received only 42% turnout to the vote does not represent the majority of the UK.

There is also an argument that the referendum was poorly publicised and that the proposed changes simply left the voters confused, which strengthened the argument against reform. So let us discuss this simply without the lengthy, and equally confusing replies we can hear from politicians.

The proposed question on all ballot papers if the referendum was successful would read as follows:

“Remember—use 1, 2, 3 etc at this election—this is an election using the alternative vote system. Put the number 1 next to the name of the candidate who is your first choice (or your only choice, if you want to vote for only one candidate). You can also put the number 2 next to your second choice, 3 next to your third choice, and so on. You can mark as few or as many choices (up to the number of candidates) as you wish. Do not use the same number more than once. Put no other mark on the ballot paper, or your vote may not be counted.”

Quite long, isn’t it? Basically:

  • Number the candidates you want to win the election in numerical order (1 being most preferred, 2 being second most, so on and so forth).
  • You don’t need to number everyone – just choose who you want.
  • OBVIOUSLY don’t draw pictures of dinosaurs or cocks if you want your vote to count.

Pretty simple so far, eh? Counting all the votes up is pretty simple too. If one candidate gets the majority of 1st preferred votes, they win. If not, then there will be different rounds in order for someone to reach a majority, which goes like this:

  1. The candidate with the least amount of votes is eliminated.
  2. The votes of the eliminated candidate will then be divided up between the remaining candidates in regards to the next preference of each vote.
  3. Repeat until someone gets a majority of votes.

It’s like washing your hair: rinse away the losing candidate, lather the votes all over the others, and repeat until you’re done!

Now that AV has been explained, will there still be a demand for it 4 years on from the referendum?

I conducted my own survey giving people the option to choose who they want to elect, in any circumstance, and in order of preference. The option to only choose one candidate was also offered. The results were as follows:

1st Pref 2nd Pref 3rd Pref 4th Pref 5th Pref 6th Pref
Conservative and Unionist Party 0 1 1 0 3 3
Green Party 11 57 5 1 0 1
Labour Party 3 3 8 5 1 1
Liberal Democrats 1 1 9 5 1 0
Scottish Nationalist Party 130 12 4 1 0 0
Scottish Socialist Party 1 6 2 0 0 0
UK Independence Party 2 0 1 0 3 2

Votes rejected due to being filled out incorrectly: 4

Clearly, the SNP have won a majority in this example. However, the reason why I created the survey was to see who would actually vote for more than one candidate. Those results were as follows:

Preferences Data

The majority of voters in this example have chosen more than one party, proving a demand for it. However, there are a lot of people who still prefer one party over all others.

The only case FPTP seems to have is that it is much more simpler to understand – but then again, it’s not like we’re doing the counting! As for the cost, this could result in a reduction of the cost with ever-growing technological advances.

Wouldn’t it be better to have a system where an MP can’t get a win unless most of the people are happy to have them to represent them?

If you want to stick to just voting one person, you can! But wouldn’t it be much better to have a bigger voice? Why restrict the power of your vote when you have the chance?

While people may think that this post is four years too late, it’s never too late to learn and to campaign for change.

Thank you for reading this post. I haven’t written a political based column in a long time so just wanted to try it out again and see how it goes. If you have an opinion on anything that was discussed in this post, comment below and let me know!


Big thank you to Wings Over Scotland and Jazza John for sharing the survey and helping out!