YouGov have some more AV polling, this time for Channel 4. In the past the assumption has been that AV would help Labour and the Liberal Democrats, and indeed this was backed up by polling evidence from past elections. In their final poll before the 2010 election YouGov asked respondents how they would have cast their second preference votes if they had been voting under AV.

Amongst Conservatives voters 45% would have given their second preferences to the Lib Dems, 5% for Labour, with the rest not sure, not casting a second vote, or casting one for minor parties. Amongst Labour voters, 6% would have given their second preference to the Conservatives, 64% to the Lib Dems. Lib Dem voters would have split their second preferences in favour of Labour by 42% to 27% for the Tories. Peter Kellner’s estimate based on those splits is that this would have cost the Conservatives about 30 seats, with Labour gaining 11 and the Lib Dems 19.

However, AV does not by definition help Labour and hurt the Tories. If Lib Dem voters split in favour of the Tories, and Labour voters were less willing to transfer their support to the Lib Dems there would be a different result.

YouGov repeated the same experience at the end of June. Second preferences now break differently. Conservative voters are much the same, but Labour voters are now much less likely to transfer to the Lib Dems, from 62% at the election, now only 33% of Labour voters would give their second preference to the Lib Dems. Lib Dems now break in favour of the Conservatives rather than Labour, though not by very much (38% to 33%).

None of this should come as a surprise of course – Labour voters are obviously less likely to give second preferences to the Lib Dems if they see them as Conservative-allies, and those Lib Dem voters who preferred Labour over the Tories at the election may no longer have the Lib Dems as their first preference in the first place! The impact, however, is that vote transfers from AV would now help the Conservatives more than Labour. Peter’s calculation is that had these transfers applied in the general election (admittedly a rather false scenario!), the Conservatives would have lost only 2 seats, while Labour would have lost 13.

Precisely predicting how AV votes and transfers will translate into seats is a complicated matter (though one we’ll have to tackle should the AV referendum be successful), but the point is that the assumption it is damaging to the Conservatives is based on Labour and Lib Dem supporters disproportionately swapping their second preferences between one another. If that changes, as the polling suggests, and Conservative and Lib Dem supporters instead tend to second preference each other’s party, AV would end up disproportionately hurting Labour.

63 Responses to “Could AV end up hurting Labour?”

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  1. I think this poll is possibly fatally flawed because of failure to take into account the minority party vote preferences and the third/fourth and so on preferences. Assuming that was what was asked, rather than all that was published.

    I think the seat count calculations are going to be junk because of it, they’re *certain* to be wrong for three way marginals. A minority party with 4% of vote share in a seat can provide a seat winning swing of second preference votes.

    Perhaps the best way for polling firms to go now will be present a ‘virtual generic party ballot’, and ask for preferences.

  2. And yet another detailed critique of the polling up on my own blog, click on the link in my name for this.

    I don’t want Anthony to think I’m picking on YouGov incidentally, it’s just they’re the first firm to stick their heads over the parapet.

  3. Some people are saying that the switch in 2nd preferences may not hurt Labour because they are due to Lab leaning liberals already having jumped ship for Lab, and just the smaller remainder being more tory anyway.

    Not true.

    Libs are down but their share has gone reasonably evenly to Lab and Cons, who are 40, 35, 16 AND the remaining Libs are leaning much more heavily pro-tory than a few months ago.

    Also must remember that the right in this country is more fragmented currently than the left (outside big three). According to common wisdom UKIP, BNP, ED votes will split heavily tory, and that’s about 1.5 million at last election, whereas only sizeable left-wing minor vote is Green, 0.28 million at last count. Nationalists make no difference outside scotland (tories have no seats there anyway) and wales (going to matter a lot less after boundary reduction).

    Either way you cut it, under current figures, Labs are boned.

  4. “According to common wisdom”…

    Something belied by the recent election I fear. UKIP/BNP voters are not Conservative Voters with an unusual fetish. They’re ‘True Believers’, and assumption that they’ll give second preference votes to the Conservatives is a wonky assumption. UKIP/BNP voters now view the Conservatives as “just as bad as Labour” because they won’t pull out of Europe.

  5. @ Richard in Norway

    I’ve been expressing deep cynicism about these boundary changes since they were first mooted. The only good thing about today’s announcement was that the rumoured 3% variation limit on constituency registration was changed to 5%.

    If you look at current boundaries only 168 of the English seats fall in the new limits – 365 outside. And many of the 168 will be affected because of adjacent constituencies. For example three of the four Bristol seats are within the range, but all four would be affected if you started reallocating wards (and even then I’m not sure it’s possible).

    As I showed on the previous thread it’s mathematically impossible to get all seats near quota without splitting wards , which adds another level of complexity. And they’re hoping to complete this in two years (the last, much more limited one took four). Then the real costs and delays come in with appeals and legal challenges.

    The government is promising the Boundary Commissions all the resources they need. I can’t help wondering how many times the £12 million pounds they’re supposed to be “saving” all this will cost. QCs don’t come cheap as Lord Saville will tell you.

    @ Eoin

    When you went to the Northern Isles, those weren’t hairy men. They were wearing sweaters. And don’t you dare call then Danish. They are of course Norwegian. ;)

  6. “Some people are saying that the switch in 2nd preferences may not hurt Labour because they are due to Lab leaning liberals already having jumped ship for Lab, and just the smaller remainder being more Tory anyway.”

    UKIP/ BNP/ ED et al will second pref each other NOT the ‘liberal conservatives’- emphasis on the ‘L’ word which they most certainly are not.

    Secondly- as pointed out: compared to the eve of GE poll the LD’s are down (depending on the polling company) between 11 and 13 percent. Labour are up six per cent and the Conservatives five percent. Those left in the LD shrinking corner are obviously less likely to be Labour leaning as most of those have jumped shipped- the ones with a passionate reaction to what the LD’s have done since the GE.

    Even so the figure is 38-33: HARDLY a 2much more heavily pro Tory” trend as you assert.

    Plus the pollsters got the LD vote share wildly wrong and who is not to say that they are not in fact down to single figures.

    The pincer of lost votes and swing/ floating voters to the Tories from their right flank and to Labour and Green on their left flank (and nationalists in Wales and Scotland) means only one party “is boned” in the next election (whenever that is). The Lib Dems. ;-)

  7. Roger,

    Norwegians 11 Century

    Danes 7 Century

    I am pretty sure they are the latter! Having taken a good look at my son (and his mothers) facial features I am even more convinced :)

  8. It seems to me difficult to predict what the effect of AV will be for the three main parties at a GE.

    Against a background of boundary changes and reduction in MPs, that looks likely to damage Lab the most, is there now a sound argument for Lab to press for PR?

  9. As a supporter of PR and wide-ranging political reform I’m desperately depressed by the AV referendum.

    AV is not proportional and offers little benefit to FPTP.

    Also the referendum may well end up being lost as Labour supporters are probably going to be so irritated with the Lib Dems in a years time that they will vote against it as a protest.

    A referendum loss will put back the argument for genuine electoral reform for a generation at least.

    Its very sad that parliament was prepared to be more radical at the beginning of the 20th Century than it is prepared to be at the beginning of the 21st Century (check your history books for 1917 and 1931).

    Lords reform remains my final hope for this coalition — but what happens to Lib Dems if that gets kicked into the long grass and reform isn’t achieved?

  10. @Rob.

    I too am skeptical about the extent that BNP, UKIP, ED will 2nd pref the conservatives, but even if its only a 3rd pref that will still help the Cons as UKIP/BNP/ED will almost always be eliminated. I am equally sceptical however about the assumption that Lib Dems would have cleanly gone Labour pre-coalition.

    Your argument also goes against the common argument, that I am equally sceptical about, that UKIP/BNP/ED are simply conservative voters who have gone astray over the EU.

    If Lib Dems have lost 6 to Lab and 5 to Cons, then presumably both left and right wings have jumped ship (from Lib Dems), so why should the remainder be any more naturally lab or con leaning.

    The switch is from 27-42 to 38-33, that’s a considerable swing in 2nd pref.

    I ought to lay my colours our clearly. I am a conservative, but I am quite happy to just regard the Coalition as one party for election purposes. Lib Dems will of course do badly, but that will be more than compensated by Conservative improvements. All in all, Coalition wins.

  11. Pete B,

    Your assumption that England is essentially a Lab / Con contest is flawed. Even in the Labour landslides of 1997 and 2001 there were approx 100 seats in England where Con or LD shared 1st and 2nd place, with Lab in third (often by some distance). There are three regions where this is particularly true – SW, SE and East.

    On the other hand, there were also about 50 seats (mostly in north) where Lab were first and LD second. That accounts for nearly a third of English seats which were not Lab / Con contests. (even before one excludes the further c175 seats where the winning margin was more than 20% so not really a “contest”).

    However, I do agree with your underlying assumption that for the vast majority of voters their second preference is irrelevant since unless their first choice came third or below, their vote is unlikely to be redistributed.

  12. The effects of AV could be even more eratic than FPTP.

    I’m hopeful it can be voted down anyway.

  13. I’ve been doing some AV type sums on my own constituency (Hall Green) in Birmingham and the next-door one – Edgbaston. The whole AV system seems to be wrought with problems – logistical and moral. The full thinking can be found on: I do say in this that I’m a Labour supporter, but the arguments are not about who gains or loses – but about fairness and what politicians should do when the ref. comes to Parliament.

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