Mark – my words

Three arguments for AV and against FPTP

I was challenged on Twitter by @ticobas :

Hi Mark, what in your view are the best three arguments FOR #AV, aka the three biggest problems with #FPTP?

Here is my response.

  1. AV gives MPs more legitimacy by requiring a higher level of support: the AV winner requires “more votes than the other candidates put together“.   FPTP on the other hand  allows your MP to be elected with a minority of votes, when majority of voters might positively disfavour the winner. (Technically, FPTP allows the Condorcet loser to win, AV does not.)
  2. AV Encourages honest voting for truly preferred candidates: voters need have no fear that their vote will be wasted by giving it to a minority candidate; conversely, FPTP  encourages dishonest, tactical voting. (Technically, tactical voting is possible in AV but it is problematic and risky. See this LSE paper.)
  3. AV is a simple evolution of the familiar current FPTP system; it retains the constituency link, it is very similar to vote in (instead of X, you mark 1, 2, 3, …), it is very similar to count and won’t take much longer; it produces arguably equally decisive results nationally – no more likely to result in coalitions than FPTP. But it is a system that is better adapted to our multi-party electoral environment. FPTP really only works when the contest is two-way. See the IPPR report downloadable from here.

I hope this helps. Please feel free to comment – I promise to approve all non-spam comments.


4 responses to “Three arguments for AV and against FPTP

  1. Tico 2011-04-02 at 10:57

    Mark, taking a pot at no.2 “AV Encourages honest voting for truly preferred candidates”.

    Under what circumstances would people vote tactically under FPTP? I think we can both agree they only do so if they perceive that their preferred candidate has almost certainly no chance of winning. As long as there is a reasonable chance of your preferred candidate winning I’m not convinced that people can be persuaded to vote tactically.

    Imagine person X, she is a LibDem supporter. X lives in a constituency where LibDems have never delivered an MP. Traditionally the race is tight and between Labour and Conservatives with the LibDems far from getting close to a chance. Because X doesn’t want the Conservatives to win, X voted Labour under FPTP. Let’s assume AV is introduced. What would be the rational thing to do for X assuming she ideally wants a LibDem MP but alternatively a Labour MP? Stop tactical voting, i.e. put Labour MP on no. 1, LibDem on no.2? NO!!!

    For those constituencies where the race is very uneven, tactical voting will remain an issue regardless of whether FPTP is replaced by AV.

    • poplarmark 2011-04-02 at 15:25

      In your example, it makes perfect sense for the voter to vote honestly, putting LibDems as their 1st choice and Labour as their 2nd. If/when LibDems are eliminated, their vote will transfer to Labour and achieve what was their FPTP tactical aim of excluding the Conservative. No other ranking makes sense for this voter. This is not tactical voting, it is honest AV voting.
      Tactical voting under AV is an entirely different proposition, and while it is possible, it is fraught with danger, in that the attempt could just as easily backfire and cause the favoured candidate to be eliminated instead of winning.

  2. Tico 2011-04-02 at 11:17

    Imagine a constituency where the party with most votes has fewer than 50%:

    Under AV the 2nd choice votes of the party with the fewest votes are now redistributed over all the other parties. Why does AV not consider the 2nd choice of all the votes cast for parties that are no longer in it to win it.

    Imagine constituency X with 20,000 votes cast:

    Party 1 9000
    Party 2 8000
    Party 3 1800
    Party 4 1200

    Under AV the 1200 votes for Party 4 are redistributed over Party 1-3 according to 2nd preference. Let’s assume for argument’s sake that 1001 of the 1200 votes have ticked a ‘2’ for Party 1. This makes Party 1 the winner. However, if on the other hand all the votes of Party 3 and 4 are assessed for 2nd preference it could well be that Party 2 would have been the winner. Under AV the voters for Party 3 may feel aggrieved that there wishes have been less considered than Party 4.

    • poplarmark 2011-04-02 at 15:27

      I agree with you, that it would make sense to eliminate at the same time all candidates who could not possibly win – in your example this would be both 3 and 4. However, that’s not how the proposed UK version of AV will work.
      I’ve not seen anyone claim that AV as proposed is a perfect system – it clearly isn’t. However it’s a good deal more likely to produce representative MPs than FPTP does, and on that basis, it makes sense to vote Yes on May 5th.

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