Questions asking about support for referendums are tricky. Almost whatever you ask, people support referendums. I suppose it’s not really surprising – asking if people support a referendum on X is pretty much the equivalent of asking “Should you get a say on X, or should politicians make the decisions for you?” As far as I recall, I have never seen any poll showing people opposed a referendum on anything. To some extent this is a reflection of reality – people like the idea of more democracy, but I suspect it is wrong to take from this that referendums are always a political plus that can’t become a vulnerability for a government.

Back in March 2009 YouGov did a poll on the Scottish referendum that tried to open out attitudes to a referendum a bit, seperating the principle of the referendum from the practicalities of it. At the time, YouGov found people supported a referendum on Scottish independence, but didn’t think it was appropriate that year.

YouGov carried out a similar set of questions for tomorrow’s Sun – on the principle of a referendum on electoral reform, there remains overwhelming support – 69% support a referendum being held, only 12% oppose it.

The support is soft though, asked if they thought it was appropriate given it would likely cost £80 million pounds at a time when the government was cutting expenditure (the sort of argument that Conservative party and media critics of the referendum are making) only 35% thought it was, 46% thought it wasn’t. In other words, the government are vulnerable to criticism along these lines (assuming they get traction of course, given that all three party leaderships support the referendum). Support for the referendum is very high, but is not necessarily very robust.

YouGov also have the voting intention from the daily polling this week up on the site, the most recent figures from Thursday are CON 42%, LAB 36%, LDEM 15% – they have been very similar all week, though the continuing downwards drift of the Lib Dems is worthy of note.

UPDATE: Fun point from James Graham – the £80 million cost originally came, I think, from Prof Robert Hazell and was quoted a lot in the last Parliament when the Labour government’s bill went through Parliament, the current government have not, as far as I’m aware, commented upon the likely cost so it is unclear how cost relates to whether it is held in conjunction with other elections or not, but it’s logical that it will be more to do it standalone, less to combine it. With that in mind, the other controversial point about the referendum plan is whether it is right to do it on the same day as the elections next year – on that point, these findings are an argument in favour of the government’s position, since they are saving money by combining polls!

78 Responses to “Support for an AV referendum high… but vulnerable”

1 2
  1. Here is a survey of voting systems in the EU
    2 countries (Cyprus, Netherlands) have PR without threshold and no regional split (the whole country is 1 region). It is the most proportional system of all.
    4 countries ( Belgium, Spain, Poland, Portugal) have PR with no threshold, but applied on a regional basis. 10 countries (Austria, Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, Latvia, Germany, Slovakia, Slovenia, Sweden) have PR with threshold (2-5%)
    2 countries (Greece, Italy) have PR with threshold and bonus seats for the first party (Greece) or the first coalition of parties (Italy).
    4 countries (Bulgaria, Hungary, Lithuania, Romania) have a mixed system: some seats are distributed via PR, and some others via a FPTP system or a majoritarian system with two rounds).
    1 country (France) has a majoritarian system with two rounds. FPTP is applied only in constituencies where a candidate has 50%+1 vote. In the other constituencies, there is a second round. In this way, the coalitions are formed BEFORE the elections and voters know what they vote for.
    1 country (Ireland) has AV.
    2 countries (Malta, UK) have FPTP. In Malta, if the first party in number of votes gets less seats because of FPTP, it is given extra seats in order to have a majority.
    Finally, Luxembourg has PR, but every voter has 6 votes and can distriibute them to candidates from different parties.

  2. Jay Blanc,

    I’ve seen no evidence of a Honeymoon Period, nor any causal factor that might cause such a period. Still, the other methodological issues are worth remembering: Conservative/Liberal Democratic support could be higher or lower than it seems right now.

    However, few polls are meaningless and the trend definitely suggests rising support for the Tories and falling support for the Liberal Democrats, which is only half of the script that was predicted after the election. The LDs are suffering, but Labour are not (yet) capitalising.

  3. Alec,

    WHAT honeymoon period? How is a period where the coalition is uncovering the biggest cuts in living memory and creating an alliance between ideological rivals comparable to any ‘honeymoon period’ since WWII?

    If this was 2000 or 1990 or 1980 or 1970, I’d be amazed by the lack of Conservative support. However, at the current time, it is a surprise result that demands explanation. Why is any government- let alone the party of Thatcher, moats and duckhouses- able to announce £113 billion of cuts and not be below 30%?

  4. @ Frederic Stansfield

    Amber Star, I am not a Tory voter, but the Conservatives are being quite reasonable if they want boundary changes. The present ones favour Labour grotesquely.
    By about 10 seats, I believe. Hardly “grotesque” over-representation of people who are, generally speaking, under-represented in terms of influence with the UK.

  5. @ Bill Patrick

    If this was 2000 or 1990 or 1980 or 1970, I’d be amazed by the lack of Conservative support. However, at the current time, it is a surprise result that demands explanation. Why is any government- let alone the party of Thatcher, moats and duckhouses- able to announce £113 billion of cuts and not be below 30%?
    Because they are in the ‘honeymoon’ period that you are denying exists! 8-)

  6. Who is paying for daily YouGov polls? Seems quite pointless.

  7. Thanks Barney C, Eoin and Howard for the replies.

    Why AV though? It seems like the ‘second, third or worse choice’. It is a bad selling point that the casting vote could in some constituencies be handed over to Monster Raving Loonies.

    On a different topic, hearing the head of M&S very relaxed about VAT; do large retailers pay the tax daily, monthly? Is there an avantage from handling the extra revenue?

  8. @ Billy Bob

    Businesses pay VAT quarterly by default or monthly by arrangement with HMC&E.

    M&S boss would look too silly having publicly supported the Tories, to now say that their VAT change is very unwelcome.

    The quashing of the employer’s part of th NIC rise plus the Corporation Tax cut will ensure that the major retail corporations are on-side. 8-)

  9. @Amber Star

    I do think that ‘letter’ about NIC set the tone to some extent for the election campaign. GB did a *lot* of wooing ‘the city’ etc prior to 1997. So many people do take their cue from the ‘high ups’ ;)

  10. Meanwhile away from the world of opinion polls , we can see if real votes cast on Thursday agre that the LibDem vote is well down and Conservatives enjoying a honeymoon .
    In the principal council elections 2 LibDem gains from Conservative and vote share up inall the 3 seats contested . Conservatives gained 1 seat from an Independent where there was no Labour or LibDem candidate but vote share down in all the other seats fought . Labour vote share more mixed some seats up some down .

  11. BillyB,

    They’re quarterly like the rest of us :)

    Closed Party list is the worse possible system PAtronage galore..

    STV has so many advantages, you could fill a book on them. It would a huge step forward for orthodox lefties. I’m counting the days….

  12. @Eoin… I am trying to find a Buckminster Fuller type out there who has developed a voting system that no one has thought of yet.

    With STV – the surplus votes of the candidate who has attained the threshold… the second preferences on the surplus votes. Which *actual* ballot papers are they from? Do you take a bundle off the top of the stack (random) OR tally all and allocate proportionately?

    I’m still concerned with the simplicity/complexity trade offs, and the fact that second preferences can be ‘worth’ more than first preferences. (All second preferences are equal, but some are more equal than others… and, some voters are getting two bites surely?)

    Each voting system fulfilling different criteria. Perhaps an argument for the ‘no change’ result that you see (we do like our horses) ;)

  13. BillyB

    Italy introduced a new voting sytem recently. If you get a chance check it out…. the smaller parties club together under one banner… quite smart of them really…

    D’Hondt is just one of many theorists on it.. did u know that Labour introduced a AV bill in the 1931 parliament?

    STV was also discussed in HoC 1931 but the speaker barred a motion from debating it……..

    the world really does repeat itself a lot…

  14. @ Mark Senior

    While it is roughly right what you said about council by-elections, it’s important to point out that there were 9… We are speaking of several hundred votes…

    Moreover unique attributes of some of these elections would render it pretty useless to forecast anything from them – look at the indepedents.

  15. @ Virgilio

    Thanks for the summary at about 8 pm. It’s really great.

    Actualy it shows that voting systems do matter, if we take one of the countries you described “mixed”, Hungary. It’s essentially a system where you have two votes: party lists (PR) and constituency list (FPTP with 50% threshold). There are certain parts of the country that would never vote of the HSP, while in some, it’s the first preference. Yet, when the mood goes in one way (like in this year’s election because of an extremely incompetent HSP leadership), it meant that in those constituencies that are more HSP supporters, the difference was that the the right wing won by less percentage (the swing was less). Almost all of the non-right wing MPs got in because of the PR element of the election system.

    Actually this was the only important thing in the elections this year – if the rightwing can get 67% and it dependended on the PR element. They did and they use it (so that they can change the democratic constitution)…

  16. I don’t think, after tonight news of more of the cutting plans, it matters if it’s AV or not AV.

    If it’s serious (i.e. it’s not scaremongering in a massive scale that could hit back to the Tories) there will not be a LibDem party after October. Thus the question in AV will be very simple, if it happens, what will the Greens, UKIP and BNP put down as second preference.

  17. @Laszlo –40% Cuts

    I think the stories are a bit of good old fashioned expectation management we will all be relieved at mere 25% cuts with LDs seen as the moderators in this or am I being cynical !

    Alternately just as in business they are being asked to prepare a worst case scenario in case we do get a full blown sovereign debt crisis in the Eurozone

  18. Yes, I agree with that, I don’t think they can make even that size of a cut (25%).

    My point is a bit more: it’s clear that target figures are set for the departments (and for “back office” spending even harsher). These will be cascaded down and the easiest (and sometimes the only possible) way to deal with it for a middle manager if he or she cuts service. It’s the aim anyway…

    I actually think that this will kill off the LibDem party as it exists today – it is simply undefendable from a LibDem stance (VC, SH had problems of defending much smaller cuts).

  19. Frederic Stansfield/Eoin

    Agree with your loathing of closed party list systems, but remember that FPTP and AV are also closed list systems – with a list of one! In practice how that one gets selected then becomes the question – but all the UK parties seem to have been increasingly centralising about it – with Labour the worst.


    Actually, Ireland and Malta both have STV; Malta with the top up you describe.

    Billy Bob

    Northern Ireland claim to redistribute all votes with surplus, each with a reduced value. So if a candidate gets twice the quota each of their votes is distributed with a value of 0.5.

    Ireland has a different system for details, see here:

    ht tp://,1895,en.pdf

    Please do not read this while driving or operating heavy machinery (or at midnight on Saturday night). ;)

    There is talk of STV counts being computerised, which should be fairer but would lose all the fun of it. Irish ones in particular have their own sub-culture with their talleymen and their rumours and where the counting and the speculation goes on for days (weeks in some notorious examples) and commentators sit round discussing whether the tallies from Ballynotmuch mean that Mrs O’Reilly has changed her second preference from Fine Gael to Green. Admittedly this just proves my theory that all psephology in (the island of) Ireland is a higher form of gossip and thus the greatest pleasure in life.

    To get back to your question: surplus transfers do mean that some voters get two or more bites; but their smaller bites and nobody’s bites add up to more than one.

    Eoin (11:10)

    Actually according to Wikipedia:
    “In 1917, the Speaker’s Conference in the United Kingdom advocated the adoption of STV for 211 of the 569 constituencies in the UK, and instant-runoff voting for the rest. Although the House of Commons voted in favour of the proposals five times, the House of Lords continually rejected it until the nationwide effort was ultimately abandoned in parliament. Nonetheless in 1918 STV was adopted for the university constituencies … ”
    So the HoC had about a dozen STV elected MPs up to 1950 (including the great independent A P Herbert).
    Not many people know that. :)

  20. Richard Dawson/Laszlo

    Agree completely with both of you – except possibly for the effect on the Lib Dems. I wonder if they’re expecting the literal impossibility of these cuts to sink into the Tories’ brains now. Though such intelligence may be expecting too much of any politician at the moment.

  21. @Lazlo
    Of course electoral systems matter. For instance, under the Greek system, it is almost impossible to have a government without the first party in number of votes, since it gets 50 extra seats as a bonus. So, what happened recently in Slovakia, where the 2nd, 3d and 4th party formed the new government, would be impossible in Greece, unless the first party was under 35% and ALL other parties (from extreme right to radical left) agreed on a common program. In France, on the other hand, what is important is to be part of a pre-electoral alliances. Parties with no allies get very few or no seats at all: in 1997 the National Front had 15% of the vote but no seats at all, since even in constituencies where it was the first party, and would have gained the seat under FPTP, it was not able to garner 50% at the second round.
    Do you know what the new voting system will be in Hungary?
    @Roger Mexico
    Thanks for the correction.

  22. @Bill Patrick (7.59pm 3rd July)

    “WHAT honeymoon period? How is a period where the coalition is uncovering the biggest cuts in living memory and creating an alliance between ideological rivals comparable to any ‘honeymoon period’ since WWII?”

    I think Bill that you are making the classic mistake of thinking that just because the government have said they are going to do something people have come to a settled view on it. This is the honeymoon period – that’s why Tory support is around 4 – 5% higher than at the GE. The strains will come not when we hear generalised figures about the % spending cuts, but rather when we actually see things being closed down.

    Try not to be so partisan about this. Clegg took a significant personal hit in Sheffield over the withdrawal of an £80m loan to Forgemasters. Multiply this by £113b and you’ll begin to imagine the stress that Tory poll numbers will soon be under.

    On the wider picture, things are looking very bad indeed. The economic news from the US is poor, China and India have slowed sharply in the last two months, and the Eurozone has produced some alarmingly bad manufactring data. The combined impact of state led austerity drives is really beginning to hit home and the likelihood is that collectively our global governments have led us into the second and much wore phase of the financial crisis by repeating the mistakes of the 1930s.

  23. Roger,

    Interesting stuff….

    Colsed lists FPTP is not since you do have some idea who specifically you will get as your MP… National closed party lists you dont have a local MP… and you do not know which guy on the list to contact…. Thus, I would say FPTP is slightly more deomcratic than a closed list system

  24. @Roger Mexico

    Thanks, yes I realise now that no one gets two whole bites… As to vote the Green vote lost to Fine Gael, have a word with Mrs O’Riordan at the Post Office, she had tea with Mrs O’Reilly’s cousin Frank the stockbreeder from Knocknaclue last Thurday, and I’m sure the matter was dicussed thoroughly :)

  25. @ Virgilio

    “Do you know what the new voting system will be in Hungary?”

    For the time being it affects only the local elections (will be held in the autumn).

    It reduces the number of councillors, increases the number of endorsements candidates have to submit, reduces the length of the election campaign and reduces the PR element (redistribution of votes) in larger towns (over 10,000 inhabitants – in Hungary constitutencies are determined by the number of inhabitants and not by the elector roll).

    The change in the rules about the endorsements and campaign length is quite important: instead of 5 weeks, candidates have only 10 days to collect the endorsements (1% of the electorate), which puts independents and small parties in a very difficult position.

    In the case of the mayoral elections in small places endorsements of 3% of the electorates, in towns between 10-100 thousand inabitants 2%, larger towns 1% with the exception of Budapest, where 2% is required. This means that in Budapest the candidates would have to collect 26 thousand endorsements in 10 days, instead of the current 7,000 in 35 days.

    PR in local elections exists only in towns larger than 10 thousand inhabitants and Budapest districts. There are types of councillors: those elected as individual candidate and those from the compensation lists. The individual is FPTP.

    The number of council places between individually elected and list-elected are determined in the following way:

    Under 25,000 inhabitants: 8 individual, 3 compensation;
    Under 50,000 inhabitants: 10 individual and 4 compensation;
    Under 75,000 12 individual and 5 compensation;
    Under 100,000 15 individual and 6 compensation; After this for every 10,000 inhabitans there is one more individual and after every 25,000 one more compensation.
    In Budapest there is one councillor for every 50,000 inhabitants.

    All votes that do not win a seat (that is votes for non-winning candidates) are moved to the compensation list of the party concerned and added up in the particular town or Budapest district, thus although the voting is FPTP, the loosing votes are not lost.

    Now, the modification of the election law by the new government reduced the number of councillors and also increased the hurdle of gaining from the compensation list: previously those parties gained from the compensation list, who had candidates in a quarter of the wards. Now it’s half.

    So, the new local election law reduces the chance of independent candidates and candidates of small parties to be elected. Essentially, it is an attempt by Fidesz (the government party) to legalise its victory in the local elections before the voting takes place (the votes against them would fragment and votes cast, apart from the largest opposition party – HSP (and maybe the new party: LMP), will be lost).

  26. @Laszlo
    Thanks for your very enlightening response.
    In France and Greece (the two countries where I have the right to vote), regional and local elections are held in two rounds. If no list gains 50% of the vote (and this is the most frequent case) , then a second round is organized between the first and second lists. In France, the third or fourth list can also participate in the second round, if they have more than 10%. In both countries, the list that wins takes 60% of the seats in the regional (or local) council, and the other lists take the rest following a proportional distribution. In Greece, the lists cannot merge between rounds, whilst in France any list over 5% can merge with one of the lists present in the second round (In the last election of March 2010 in almost all cases Green and Communist lists merged with the socialists for the second round, thus offering them victory and receiving posts in the new executive. The center-right, on the other hand, presented unique lists from the 1st round, and thus had no reserves for the second. Extreme right FN not only refused to support moderate right candidates in the 2nd round, but also maintained its lists where it had more than 10%, thus reducing ever more the chances of Pres. Sarkozy’s coalition to win).

  27. @ Virgilio

    In the national (but not local) elections there is a 50% winning vote hurdle in Hungary too, plus 50% turnout – normally the top three go to the second round, although often one of them do not contest the second round (to support the affiliated party). It can be rather difficult. There was a particular constituency in the 1990s, where there was no MP as no by-election resulted in 50% turnout. The constituency took a kind of pride of it.

    In the late 1990s-early 2000s there were cross-party committees for the electoral reform, but at the end there was no major change (essentially two questions: number of MPs and one or two rounds as the second round tends to disproportionatelly allocate new seats to the most popular party).

    Changing some of the election law articles would require changes in the Constitutions (hence the cross-party consultation in the past). Now Fidesz has enough majority to change the constitution (they have already started it), so there could be major changes in the election law too – the direction of the changes will depend on the popularity of the government.

    There is also separate rule for local councils of minorities (Roma, German, Slovak, Romanian, various Southern Slavic nationalities, Greek (although most of the Greek people returned to Greece in the late 1970s) – minimum 30 people declaring themselves as minority in a town or village. In a few years Hungary can have a Chinese council.). The elections are held parallel with the local government elections.

  28. Amber Star,

    A honeymoon period comes about when a government gets to announce a lot of its popular programme and can control the political agenda a bit using the powers of new incumbency. The latter might be the case, but the former isn’t, unless there is great support for cuts and higher taxes. Of course, there’s doubtless some other narrative that implies that everyone except the richest really hated Osborne’s budget or would do so if they weren’ so stupid. Such a narrative is as misleading as a narrative where everyone loved the budget and where people adopt a blitz-spirit through the next five years. Frankly, it’s hard enough to explain these figures, let alone predict the figures of the next few years, as many people here are confidently doing.


    So if your hypothesis is correct, we should see a steady decline of Conservative support once the cuts and tax rises start to bite? That’s an interesting explanation and something we can empirically test.

    I would say that the charge of partisanship is strange, since I’m not a Tory, but I suppose it is true that I am anti-Labour. However, the last 13 years have made me respect the appeal of New Labour and Blairism to the British people, which is why the current performance of Labour is so strange given the favourable political climate (they can be the party that gives hypothetical honey to everyone) but perhaps the lack of an effective leader and the loss of the powers of incumbency are hurting Labour more than I expected. That’s the curious thing for me: I can understand why the Lib Dems are in decline, but I’m surprised that Labour aren’t in the lead yet.

    If there IS a honeymoon period, it would be interesting to check the polls with comparable periods of government cuts to see if this is precedented. However, I suspect that if you can go back far enough and find a time of comparable cuts, there are no reliable opinion polls (if any) in existence with which to compare the current polls.

1 2