The AV Referendum

It is reported that the AV referendum will be held next year, on the same day as the local, Scottish and Welsh elections. I am sure we will have lots of detailed polling on the issue in the days and weeks ahead, but for the record I’ve collected the polls we’ve had so far on voting intention in a referendum on AV here.

So far the polls have consistently shown a lead for the YES campaign, ranging from 27 points in a ComRes poll in March, in just 8 points in a YouGov poll last week. YouGov have asked the AV referendum question several times over the last two months, and their more recent polls seem to be showing a slight downwards trend in support for AV.

The difference between the figures from different pollsters may also be down to the language of the questions, which at the moment need some explanation as to what AV actually is. That will be less necessary and less important as public awareness of what is being offered grows. Sooner or later the government will also announce the question they plan on actually asking in the referendum, at which point the question pollsters use will change to reflect that.

It is still early days of course, and polls on referendum issues that people haven’t really thought about much yet can change rapidly – for example, there was a Gallup poll in January 1975 showing a majority would vote to leave the EEC, and early polls prior in the North East devolution referendum in 2004 indicated support for devolution. The picture could change dramatically by the time of the actual referendum.

52 Responses to “The AV Referendum”

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  1. In Ireland we have referenda all the time, much moreso than england. The major lesson to be learned is that an energised no campaign almost always succeeds.

    AV will never become the method whereby we elect members for parliament. This is because the camapign energy for a no vote exceeds the yes campaign. If the Yellows cant manage the footsoldiers to take advantage of a post debate surge, what evidence is there that having done a deal with the divil (metaphorically speaking) they could encourage foot soldiers (mainly the youth) to campaign for AV.

  2. Interesting to note that whereas the lead in favour of change has fallen steadily, this is almost entirely down to supporters of change shifting to “don’t know” while the FPTP support has remained at around 34%.

    Could it be that the initial high levels of support for chaneg were coloured by the timing – just after an inconclusive GE ?

    Maybe some Lab supporters are less keen on the idea of change since their earlier assumptions that a Hung parliament would always deliver a Lab-Lib coalition have been confounded.

    I reckon this issue is wide open. As and when teh details of the referndum become clearer, I propose to hold a local public meeting with speakers from each party to debate the case for / against change.

  3. Eoin,

    You may think that the LDs have done a deal with the “divil” – but that devil has delivered something that the reds had oft promised, but which was forever tantalisingly out of reach just beyond the next election.

    There is a challenge for Lab in this referendum. Are they up to it ?

  4. Here we go!

    As a democrat I believe we should have pure PR. All votes should count.

    However AV is tentative step forward, away from the distorting effects of FPTP.

    Let’s hope we get a “yes” vote.

  5. Northern Ireland elections – under STV – on the same day – this is a ridiculous idea from the LibDems – shame on them not respecting Northern Ireland, Wales and Scotland

  6. @Doug Stanhope:

    Why exactly is it disrespectful to have them on the same day as the devolved elections? It’s been the case for years in this country that elections take place on the same day as each other, so why shouldn’t a referendum also take place then? I honestly don’t see where this whole ‘disrespect’ thing has come from…

  7. I wonder how many Lab voters will vote against AV, not because of thier opinion on the method of electing an MP, but more in the hope that a no vote will bring about the end of the coalition

  8. The Yes camp will win, but that won’t stop me from voting No.

    The great strategic question for the Liberals is how long is the handle on their spoon. What sort of benefits will they get, or, what sort of road to ruin will they be on. The Divil will put his own first.

  10. @JOHN F
    The Guardian readership may well behave as you say John. The immigrant and tribal class probably wont bother to vote.

  11. @ Roland

    An the huge Lab vote North of the Border have no love for the LD’s either and gain no benefit from AV either

  12. Of course the result of the recent GE proved (IMPO) that the present system can give almost exactly the government people vote for. A more equitable system of votes per constituency, preventing Labour from having its customary 40 seat lead before a vote is cast, would offer a very satisfactory system.

  13. I personally would prefer the Rock, Paper, Scissors method. There would be no need for turn out and the candidates slug it out in numerous Rock, Paper, Scissors matches until a winner is announced. Of course the only downside is that there is no democracy whatsoever in such a method, but then again the same can be said for PR ;)

  14. For starters, the AV Referendum should NOT be held on the same day as other elections, particularly those for Scotland, Wales and London. It is likely that turnout will be higher in the regions, including Scotland, with other imprtant elections. And as it is very plausible that the percentage of voters on one side of the question will be higher in those regiobns than in others this arrangement could bias the result – as it happens I suspect probably in favour of AV.

    Regulars on the site will know that I didn’t think that a General Election should be held on the same day as local elections. I am being consistent.

    Another issue abour the proposed Referendum. I noticed on the “Today” program that some Tory I’d never heard of popped up as head of a camapaign to save First Past The Post. Are we going to have the same sort of arrangement as at Eurpopean Refernda in the past of one “official”, funded campaign on each site? This is likely, again, to be frightfully biassed. It can be manipulated by effectively appointing heavy weight figures on one side and lightweights on the other. Also, there are a wide variety of arguments on, particularly, the NO side – in particular there is a major divide between people who positively want First Past The Post on the one hand and those who are amenable to electoral change in principle but think that AV is an unacceptable system. it should simply be up to any interested organisation – and there are plenty of them – to campaign using its own resources.

    It seems to me that the NO campaign is likely to be led by pro-First Past The Post people. But from initial comments here it is already clear that there are large numbers of people who would lijke PR, but not AV. A major component of the NO campaign should be to persuade people that AV is NOT an acceptable second best on the way to proper STV, as practised in Northern iIreland.

    AV grossly favours small supposedly middle ot the road parties, i.e. the Liberal Democrats. If we have AV, the LibDems will wag the tails of the major parties for ever, even though they are likely to lose much of their support at the next General Election in terms of voters. I think there is precious little chance that they would ever progress to proper STV, even if that is the system their grassroots memebrs. Please, please, don’t see AV as a first step towards STV.

    Anthony rightly points out that the Government will have to come up with a referendum question. But I think they will also have to get legistalation through parliament. The first campaign should be to ensure that the legistation is ameneded so that there is an option on the ballot paper for STV. And I would add to change the date. And as the Lords may care to look closely at such issues, particulatly as the Referendum was not in the manifesto of the largest party in the Con-Dem coalition, which may affect the date of the Referencum (I hope it does) if they exercise their delaying and scrutinising functions.

    Lords and other fair minded legislators might be wise to amend any legislation needed to provide for a minimum turnout before the referendum is to be regarded as any mandate for electoral change. And I think there should be very strict limits on the use of postal, or still worse, proxy, votes in the Referendum.. As many voters probably have little real interest in the topic, if postal votes are available on demand it is all too likely that they will get lent out, for instance to community leaders who might quite reasonably see AV as increasing the effectiveness of block voting at future elections.

    I hope the NO vote wins on the merits of the argument rather than as a protest at Con-Dem economic disaster, but as the Con-Dem finaicial proposals appear to be repeating the first tow years of the Thatcher government, when unemployment soared, I suspect that the NOs may win on a tide of protest, even though “the establishment” is likely to be gunning a heavily for AV as it did for entry into Europe. (OK, Cameron is a sceptic. So was Wilson on Europe).

    In conclusion, I think this proposed referendum stinks as a political expedient on a constitutional matter. The question of electoral change should be addressed from the basis of political principle, by a Government with a mandate on the issue. And I suspect that many financially pressed voters will come to see likewise.

    And whichever side loses the Referendum will have plenty of scope to cry “foul”,

  15. Paul H J

    there is a case for reds supporting AV> They will most likely benefit from it especially when one considers that seats are going to be reduced.. the sequeeze that puts on scot / ne wales anyway means that in the midlands, humber etc… reds could well do with some yellow, green preferences…


    I like you. Your a man of principle- the strategic benefit of a short term coalition has not prompted you to pretend yellows are your best buddies. I have to say, I have my utmost respect for that….


    excellent post – the sort you have to read a few times because there is so much useful information in it… the regional election on the same day will be a benefit… given that english local elections are also on the same day and reds are likely to benefit form an anti-coalition backlash, what decision they make will be important to the outcome


    If your gonna fix an electoral system better to do it properly. That means STV – Not AV.

  16. Anthony

    I gather there were a few Voting Intention polls in the Sun this week. Have you commented on them?

  17. i think its rather strange that we end up with a referendum on a policy that was in the Labour manifesto and not either of the coalition partners. The Lib-Dems wanted STV after all.

    I disagree with posts here that say that the Lib-Dems will be the main beneficiaries. All indications are that Labour will be the biggest gainers as roughly two thirds of Lib-Dem voters would favour them over the Tories. In reality, the change with AV would probably not be all that great – the boundary changes would probably have a much greater impact on the outcome of the election, and ultimately reform of the Lords may prove to be the biggest and most important change.

  18. Thanks Eion.

    Yes, there are local elections in England outside London next year. However, most voters are savvy enough to realise that English local councils have little autonomy left, certainly by comparison with the Scottish Parliament, and this is all too often reflected in the turnout figures.

    P.S. Please forgive the typos in my previous post, but I think it is clear throughout what I meant to say.

  19. “A particularly tricky problem in coalition bargaining is the sequence in which parties secure gains”

    This statement comes on page 5 of 22 in a paper: Coalition Governance Institutions in Parliamentary Democracies (Kaare Strom, Wolfgang C Muller)
    h t t p://

    In other words objectives should be gained in an even progression by partners, otherwise there is less incentive to continue.

    @Laszlo, very much appreciate the courtesy of replying to my enquiry with such diligence. I will do my best to study it. Thank you :)

  20. This will be the big one for LDs:

    Win and the new voting system will stick (it will not be a stepping-stone to their preferred objective).

    Lose, and it is forgotten. (Or will this become a rumbling issue akin to independence for Scotland?)

  21. BillyB,

    How much strain on the coalition will there be if Murdoch/Ashcroft’s millions produce a no vote?

  22. @Eion

    An intolerable one. The constituency party has been essentially promised AV as it’s consolation prize for having to go along with Conservative policies. Failure to win a Yes campaign would lead to melt-down within the party, which I see leading to either or both of a leadership challenge or withdrawal from coalition.

  23. according the guardian the Conservatives would lose 26 seats under AV, mostly going to Libdems, a few to Labour. if we pretend the recent election was under AV.

    If that’s at all likely – not sure it is – no wonder the Conservatives aren’t keen. losing 26 seats when you’ve not got enough to start with is bad news.

  24. also I seem to remember another simulation based on the 1997 (just after the election) again pretending it was AV. Labour got a slightly bigger majority, mostly from the Conservatives.

  25. The *real* coalition agreement is a gamble on the referrendum result?

    Yes: LDs get more seats.
    No: Tories get chance for overall majority (5 years from before the austerity measures kick in, until after an upturn emerges).

    Either way an election well before 2015?

    @Eoin – Ashcroft lost his job? Mr M …mmm :( there was I enjoying my Friday evening and you have to bring him up :)

  26. JayB,

    I agree, with a leadership contest the more likely


    Sorri :(

  27. @Eoin, Mr M took his time taking to Mr C, maybe he secretly *hearts* DM? (just to put the mockkers on your Friday evening :) )

  28. It is going to be a yes and the Whigs can toddle off being very happy and the Tories not so happy. But the Yes camp will have to work hard. After all, the campaign will spew up all sorts of problems. Labour will jump on the first bandwagon that moves, so we shall see what one. But I feel that this is something that has large amounts of support for years, so I can’t see how it will not go through.

    Unless Cameron suddenly removes 20 Whig MPs so he can get a Majority and kick the Whigs to Kingdom Come :)

  29. Perhaps I can make one point and then raise a separate query please:

    1. I think another hurdle apart from the referendum itself is that after the result is declared, would ALL MPs be bound to vote the way the referendum went. I don’t think so. How could a government make a referendum result binding on parliament? Some MPs don’t believe in referenda on principle.

    2. If we move to AV, is the change wef the next General Election whether in May 2015 or whenever OR would it apply to future by-elections in the present parliament please? I am guessing the former but can anyone confirm former or latter please?

    Thanking you

  30. BillyB,

    That worked… the hairs are now standing on my neck – thanks for that.

    Is DM our Willie Hague? Can I buy his baseball hat (almost typed bat- Sigmund at his auld work again)

  31. The tying together of AV and the boundary changes is interesting and makes the outcomes much harder to predict. AV certainly favours Labour and the Lib-Dems (my reckoning is that Labour would have gained most of the Tory losses in different results under AV, but this is balanced out because many of the Lib-Dem gains would be from Labour). The boundary changes, on the other hand, are likely to be in the Tories favour. Is the net result more even all round?


    to answer your first question I believe the legislation will be written so that the referendum is the last requirement before a change of electoral law .It is a binding referendum

  33. I know it is small minded. I will now vote ‘No’

    just to annoy the Clegg

  34. @Eoin – couldn’t resist, troublemaker that I am :( Can I mention Polly T (Toynbee not Ticks!)?
    According to her the question of the Labour leadership revolves around whether this is a Conservative country or not? (DM probably thinks yes, EM has just said no).
    (Captcha geni is working SDP into my posts this evening)

  35. from CONHOME:

    Voters unenthusiastic about holding AV referendum on cost grounds says new poll

    A new poll for tomorrow’s Sun newspaper (conducted by YouGov) shows little appetite for the Government’s proposed referendum on changing the voting system.

    The wording of the question was as follows:

    “Before the election the Conservative party criticised an AV referendum as likely to cost £80 million at a time when the government would be needing to make major spending cuts. In view of the government’s current cuts in public spending, do you think it is an appropriate or inappropriate time to hold a referendum on AV?”

    The responses were:

    Appropriate – 35%
    Inappropriate – 46%
    Don’t know – 19%


    Has there ever been a more biased question in an opinion poll !!!?

  36. Jonathan Freidland warns labourites not to attack LDs so much (the human sheilds).

  37. I am shocked, shocked to see YouGov pressured by The Sun into using leading questions in their poll.

  38. Not very good set of local by elections for the Tories yesterday – they lost two seats to the LD’s, and their vote declined in 6 of the 7 contests. Not quite what you would expect from the opinion polls.

  39. @Johnty

    See past comments, and article on my own Blog (click on the link in my name), on why the current polling is likely best ignored.

  40. @Eoin, Sigmund at it again with me. Though thinking about England for a moment, it is conservative with a big ‘C’.
    EM’s strategy seems to be to energise the fabled lost Labour vote (those who have defected to other parties, and the majority who don’t bother to vote now). I have my doubts.
    Not so much Willie Hague, as a choice between two Foots. One of the left (again) and one of the centre?

  41. Thank you Richard for answering my first point at 10.18 above.

    Anyone for my second point please?

  42. @Peter Election Follower
    The AV referendum and the equalization of constituency boundaries will be linked to ensure that the Lib Dems could not jump ship after ta yes vote on the AV referendum. My runderstanding is that the new voting system would not come into force until the new constituencyl boundaries are in place – and therefore would not affect byelections which will be fought on old boundaries.

  43. I think it’s important that first the voting on the Bill of Election reform has to be passed. Labour has a few little games that it could put in the way.

    1) Free vote – it may actually result in a “no”vote, though unlikely, so more likely:

    2) A number of amendments. Among them perhaps a proportional version of AV that the LibDems cannot refuse along with the deal on (no) changing constitutencies.

  44. @ Billy Bob

    My pleasure :-)

    As to the Essex paper. It’s a good one, but I’m not sure if it’s quite applicable to the UK even in medium term.

  45. Peterelectionfollower –

    I think the answer to both questions is “it depends”.

    The government could pass legislation implementing the change beforehand, that only came into force if approved by referendum (or automatically lapsed if not approved by referendum within a certain period of time). Post referendum legislation would not necessarily be necessary.

    My guess is that the new electoral system would come into force at the next general election, and that by-elections would be held on the current system… but it’s purely a guess. There is no reason at all that legislation couldn’t be drafted such that by-elections were fought on the new system.

    It’s going to be very interesting to finally get a look at this legislation, considering it should give us a look at the referendum arrangements (or at least, any that differ from the standard boilerplate referendum arrangements in the PPER Act 2000), the new electoral system, the new rules for reviewing constituencies AND the changes to the PM’s power to request a dissolution of Parliament. I’m not sure when it is finally supposed to surface.

  46. I would assume that the bill with be written as an enabling and directing bill, with a conditional statute.

    First it defines and legislates a referendum, and defines the conditions for it having affirmatively passed.

    Then it will enable the relevant secretaries of state to make the required procedural changes under the circumstance that the referendum passes, and then it will direct them to do so if the referendum affirmatively passes.

    Then the statutory changes will be enumerated as statements all conditional on something like ‘The 2011 election referendum having affirmatively passed’. These will still be ‘law’ if the referendum fails, but they’ll be law that essentially says ‘nothing changed’. And will eventually be removed in one of the regular bills that clean-up redundant and obsoleted statutes.

  47. Is it just me or does anyone else also think that Clegg has been an eejit?

    On the back of comments he made during the GE campaign he pretty much tied the LDs into working with the Cons.

    Lab had a referendum on AV set out in its manifesto. Note that there was nothing in the Cons manifesto on this.

    Under the coalition negotiations the Cons offered a referendum but basically are able to argue for a No vote (even if the legisaltion for a referendum gets through Parliament!).

    To me at this moment it seems very likely that the NOs will win the referendum. What then for the LDs? And arguably the whole issue of electoral reform could be killed off. And, IMO, all because of NC’s stupid comments during the GE.

  48. Mike N,

    excellent post. Buffonary of the highest order…. x factorisation of politics is a disaster… it has cost us some great political figures…

    blunkett, c kennedy, john reid, ming campbell, widdecombe, g brown…

    We have replaced these intellectual minds with spice boys

  49. Since the election my only recollections of Clegg are of him sitting on the front bench next to Cameron with a fixed expression.

  50. andy,

    That expression is part of his sponsorship deal with immodium :)

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