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. But of course as you say, more Lib Dem voters now poll the Tories as their second choice because perhaps the more progressive ones have already abandoned them as their main party. So of course Labour could well be starting with a much better share of the vote to start with so it may not disproportionately hurt Labour. I don’t see the Lib Dems gaining much from AV apart from the opportunity to form more coalitions.

  2. @AlW,

    Very true IMO. However, it does suggest that AV will not necessarily benefit Labour. For it to benefit Labour, surely the Lib vote would usually have to be higher (i.e. 20% +), and therefore have a stronger left-wing element in it. If the Lib vote is squeezed (i.e. below 20%), then it may suggest, like now, that the bias is likely to be slightly more centre-right (by proportion of Lib voters).

  3. Ha! Anthony, you actually made me laugh with your analysis, thanks. I don’t get one bit though. If suddenly only half the Labour supporters that originally would have backed Libs as their second choice will now, why doesn’t that hurt the Libs more?

  4. AV does not automatically favour red, in that sense the post has some merits. It tends to reinforce the safe seat phenomenon. In fact its impact would be so negligble I doubt there is much use in over scrutinising. It would vary from area to area… blue transfers to yellows might help them break through in tyneside….

  5. Sue,

    Presumably because the Tory vote is currently so high. As its so high, and they have become pals with the Libs, more blues will have Libs as their second choice. Thus, the Libs will gain more second choices than previously (because of the higher blue vote and increasing support from blues due to the coalition formed).

    This is just based on my logical reasoning (and may therefore be wrong).

  6. AV doesn’t come with a guaranteed benefit for any party. It might raise the Lib Dems’ first-round votes — because voters will no longer avoid Lib Dem votes on the grounds that “they can’t win”; but that by no means implies an increase in the number of seats they win; it could just mean going from 3rd place to 2nd place.

    AV also doesn’t end tactical voting. In fact, it encourages tactical voting, of a different sort: for instance, Party A may have been winning a seat with 40-45% for several years running; Party B, who may never have gotten more than 35% of the vote, could now win if they get Parties C, D, and E to encourage their voters to put B in as their second choice, not because they like B particularly, but simply to throw A out: a kind of pre-election exercise in local coalition-building, based on shared dislikes.

  7. In short, it all depends on how the Lib, Lab and Cons 1st choice votes are all holding up. A lower Lib vote, would suggest that more of their 2nd votes are likely to go to the Tories (i.e. a higher proportion of centre-right Lib votes). A higher Lib vote suggests that there is more likely to be a higher proportion of centre-left voters amongst, and therefore Lab would get more 2nd choice votes from the Libs.

    In other words, under AV it gets kind of complex, and could benefit (or penalise) either the Blues or Reds, it seems. It all depends on the Lib/Other share of the vote.

  8. The problem at the moment, is that many left-leaning Libs have defected to Labour. Under AV, this would mean fewer 2nd choice votes for Labour, and proportionally more for the Tories. That’s why the AV calculations have changed since the GE and it’s better for the Tories now.

  9. Brief question that really belongs to the last thread. I believe that when constituencies are equalised this will be on the basis of registered voters rather than population. I also believe that multiple-home owners are legally entitled to register (but not vote) at each residence. Does this not mean that multiple-home owners will be at least double counted in the boundary revision process. Surely this must distort the process significantly. If I am correct would it not be fairer for multiple-home owners to have opt for a main residence for voting purposes.

  10. Well then, I say FPTP with all it’s drama, unfairness and brutality or full blown PR

    What’s the point?

  11. The whole point of AV was to hurt Labour – the Dems have long had the goal of taking over from Labour as the second UK party.

    The whole point of the Tory boundary review is to hurt Labour.

    I have never thought anything else. That’s why I’ll be guided by the Labour Party decision on AV. If they leave it open & don’t make a recommendation, then I’ll ask Mark what he thinks is best. 8-)

  12. “The whole point of AV was to hurt Labour – the Dems have long had the goal of taking over from Labour as the second UK party.

    The whole point of the Tory boundary review is to hurt Labour.”

    Agree with both – especially the latter. It’s what I’ve always thought.

  13. This is why I laugh inside every single time I see a labour politician lashing out at the Lib Dems as tory stooges, especially when I then see the same Lab politicians supporting AV.

    Don’t these idiots realise that pushing Libs and Cons together, or just away from Labour, is the worst thing they could possibly do, especially if they could get AV. At best its going to make the Lib Dems tend towards the Conservatives in any future coalitions, and at worst its going to cost them huge numbers of 2nd preferences under AV, thus pretty much ensuring con dominance in future AV elections.

    They may as well just wave the middle ground bye bye and get walking towards the political wilderness, because that’s where they’re heading.

  14. Even now, with the marriage between Tory and Liberals not even 2 months old, Liberals favour Tories by only 5%. So, I am pretty sure , come election time, more Liberals will choose Labour as their second choice.

    However, some Labour voters by not choosing the Liberals as their second choice may hand over some seats to the Tories.

    Unless the election is very close, it will not make a big difference. In landslide years, it will actually accentuate the trend and give even more lop sided results.

    At least it will end the tactical voting farce. People like me can honestly vote Labour as my first choice !

  15. @ Anthony

    It would be interesting to know how many existing seats could be straight wins. I’d say, ignoring boundary changes for now, that any MP who got over 40% in the 2010 would have a good chance of getting 50% in 2015 if they work hard.

    Is this information easy to get? If yes, maybe you could put up a list of 40%+ seat winners on the site.

  16. All based on assumptions… Perhaps we should all hold judgement till we have some reliable polling that includes second preference questions?

  17. Al W: Counting the new figures by AV (over the English seats only), I get a net gain for the Lib Dems of 18 seats (-14 Lab, -4 Con). If I then apply the national swing there’s been from the Lib Dems deserting post-election, though (+4 Con, +4 Lab, -6 LD) as UNS and recount using the new transfer values I get the Lib Dems losing 23 seats split roughly between Labour and Conservatives (AV saves them 10 seats compared with UNS)

    My count algorithm and assumptions seem slightly different to the YouGov ones, but they’re not too dissimilar.

    AV could certainly help the Conservatives – especially if the coalition is popular and the LibCon transfers get tighter – but the effects are going to be fairly small in most seats.

  18. @ Stephen W

    At best its going to make the Lib Dems tend towards the Conservatives in any future coalitions, and at worst its going to cost them huge numbers of 2nd preferences under AV, thus pretty much ensuring con dominance in future AV elections.
    Labour have currently ‘nicked’ about 7% of the Dem’s 2010 supporters.

    And yet of the remainder: Lib Dems now break in favour of the Conservatives rather than Labour, though not by very much (38% to 33%).

    This is within months of Labour losing the election & before a new leader has been chosen; Labour hasn’t even made a directed, friendly pitch to Dem voters yet.

    Labour doesn’t have to be nice to Dem MPs – they’ll have lots of opportunities to be nice to [ex-] Dem voters! That’s who matters – the voters. 8-)

  19. Anthony

    If AV and equal constituencies are tied into the same bill, does it follow that if the AV referendum is lost, then so will equal boundaries?

  20. @ David,

    No – the boundary changes will happen whichever way the AV referendum goes. 8-)

  21. I cannot predict if AV will hurt Labour, but IMO the referendum hurts common sense. It is rather unusual (it might even be unique) for a coalition government to propose a referendum in which its constitutive parties have a different stance. Governments have often lost referenda, but all their members usually (always? – if someone remembers a case where government partners had a different position in a referendum provoked by THEMSELVES and not by popular petition etc, I would like to learn it) agree on the same answer, yes or no. In addition, I can not think of any country (If I am wrong, please correct me) where 65% of the MPs cannot provoke an election. As the ancient Greeks said, “The older I grow, the more I learn”.

  22. @Amber Star

    Thank you for that clarification. I asked the question, because Jack Straw in the House, today, suggested otherwise.

  23. David & Amber – In Nick Clegg’s initial statement it was implied that they were to be linked, so I’m not surprised Jack Straw got that impression.

    However, it would appear that the original implication was not intentional, since Nick Clegg answered an intervention later on by saying that the referendum was only on the AV, and would not effect the boundary changes.

    Roger – my guess is also that they’ll have to split some wards, but we’ll see.

  24. In the United States, not even 100% of the legislators can “provoke” an election. Elections come every two years, mechanically, regardless of whether the legislature approves or not. The timetable can neither be advanced nor delayed, regardless of emergency or other excuse. The Americans held two national elections during their participation in the Second World War, while Churchill found it reasonable to put off the national election that should have taken place in 1940 for five more years.

  25. Most of these posts (following on the theme of AW’s reasonably enough) only deal with ‘who benefits’.

    Surely the LD pitch, thoughtfully expressed by NC tonight, is about what is right? Cannot what’s right (or in this case ‘better’) win sometimes?

    Could not this apolitical stance actually win over voters of all persuasions once campaigning begins?

    Must we, as I wrote yesterday, only achieve anything by taking to the streets or worse?

  26. Virgilio

    Oddly enough the answer to both your question is “the UK”. It’s not quite the same but the only previous UK-wide referendum was on whether to stay in the EEC in 1975. All political parties split – there were even anti-EEC Liberals and pro-EEC Communists. None of the major parties had a particular official line, though most of the leadership of all three campaigned for “Yes”.

    And in Scotland (and I think in Wales and Northern Ireland too), a vote of two thirds is required to dissolve the Parliament/Assembly and have fresh elections. That explains why Labour are not attacking this, but did denounce the 55%. They can’t complain much about something they did themselves. :)

  27. I’ve just thought of a better sales pitch (I think) for AV.

    Call it ‘Improved FPTP’.

    The strap line is ‘If they can’t get more than half of you to vote for them – they shouldn’t be there’.

    Yes camapaign offers for my assistance will be carefully considered.

  28. Chris Bryant, the Labour former minister, asked if the cut in the number of MPs would be followed by a cut in the number of ministers in the Commons. Clegg didn’t address the point in his reply. Christopher Chope, a Tory backbencher, tried again to get him to answer, but Clegg just made a broad point about MPs still being able to hold the executive to account.

    So – we may be having unelected ministers in the HoC. Cutting the number of MPs may not be quite the fair, democratic, cost saving exercise they’d have us believe. 8-)

  29. Howard,

    Would yellows accept an amendment from Caroline Lucas for STV?


    It is good to see you posting :)

  30. Howard – this isn’t really the venue for discussing whether policies are any good or not! It’s a place to discuss politics, not participate in it :)

  31. i agree with howard

  32. If the UK had a two-party system where the collective minor party vote was 10% or under, then the case against FPTP would be weak; winning candidates would have 45%+ of votes, and, if forced to choose, the likelihood that the preferences of those who had not voted for the major party candidates could (or should) influence the election is small, save in very marginal seats.

    But since the system is effectively three-party, and in some parts of the country four-party, the case against FPTP is much stronger. Presumably the role of an MP is to represent his or her constituency, both directly, and as a fraction of the larger Parliament whose purpose is to represent the people of the UK. The credibility of MPs, individually and collectively, in that role is suspect if they can never manage more than 40% of the vote, and if there’s a significant chance that even with passive, indifferent support, they could not get over 50% in their constituencies — i.e., if more than half their constituencies would prefer anybody but them.

    The problem with AV is that it’s still possible for up to half the country to be unrepresented in Parliament. But that’s still better than having 65% of the population unrepresented.

  33. eoin

    i can’t see how the libdems could reject such an amendment but the tories and most of labour would vote down the entire bill rather than take a chance on PR succeeding

  34. @Roger Mexico
    Thanks for the information. So, all weird things happen in the UK!
    In the US the timetable of the elections for Congress is of course mechanical, but there the regime is presidential, the government need not have (and in many cases does not have) a majority in the House or the Senate. In parliamentary democracies, parliamentary majority is directly linked to the formation or the survival of a government. The president, even where there is one, elected by the people (Finland, Portugal…) or by the parliament (Italy, Greece…) does not have more power than the Queen of England or the King of Spain, i.e. he or she cannot name a government that has not a parliamentary majority

  35. @ Richard in Norway & Éoin

    Wouldn’t the Tory MPs & anti-PR Labour MPs just vote down the tabled PR amendment? They wouldn’t have to vote down the entire bill, would they? 8-)

  36. i think these boundary changes will be almost as difficult to implement as the fantasy cuts that have been announced

  37. amber star

    of course they would only need to vote down the admendment, i was just trying to express the depth of feeling that the ruling elites have towards PR

  38. Amber,

    Yes you are correct I was up to a bit of divilment that is all… but it might interest the public that yellows turn down STV amendment in favour of AV….

    AV is failing at least if yellows backing an STV amendment they could retian their dignity…

    Turnout approx 35% I reckon which I think is about 13 million voters…. the LDs need 6-7million I reckon to back it…

  39. @Colin,

    You are probably out bugging, but just read your twisted sister post about runaway brides. Do follow the Sue Marsh link today to the New Statesman, though BBC Radio 4 (The Report) was equally revealing. More so in fact, as you actually hear Ed Balls say “No way, no chance, not in a million years.

    Laszlo made an interesting post about unmasking (in relation to provocation). Hoping you still find your coalition partner’s leader so appealing in years to come. Yours in jest :)

  40. Oops, re-reading my comment above, I meant to say “some more reliable polling” not imply YouGov is unreliable. Just that a single poll from a single company is rarely a good indicator.

  41. One of the main objections to referenda is the view that they tend to reflect the prevailing view of party support rather than the merits of the issue.

    Labour’s stance on this will be interesting, as I suspect by May 2011 the Tories could be deeply unpopular. If a yes vote is seen as pro Labour then I suspect that will be the final result. Of course it’s now complicated by the coalition, so it will be a fascinating event.

    That’s always assuming of course that we still have a coalition by then. The global economic picture is deteriorating faster than at the start of the recession. June saw the fastest contraction of the US workforce in modern times and a record collapse of house sales, while Chinese factory output came within a whisker of contraction after months of slowing growth. RBS is now warning of a European double dip, and the next couple of quarters in the UK could begin to look very serious indeed. Whether justified or not, Brown’s warnings on the Tory threat to the recovery could look very prescient by next May.

    Against this backdrop the AV vote is going to look like an extreme case of political anoraking, but working out which bit of the government the voters decide to kick is going to be pretty difficult.

  42. It’s useful to remember that voting systems do not exist separately from party systems. In particular, where two parties are in coalition, AV pushes them and their supporters towards a kind of automatic electoral pact (contrast a pure PR/party list system which takes no account of 2nd preferences).

    In a 3-party system this is bad news for the ‘odd party out’. In the recent past this has tended to be the Conservatives (AV would probably have made a significant difference in the 1980s when Labour and the Alliance split the anti-Thatcherite vote – this may be why many left of centre people support it) but this is not inevitable, as Anthony’s research indicates.

    In general, with three major parties, two of which are in coalition, AV doesn’t seem to be a stepping stone to greater fairness or proportionality. It is likely to make a coalition self-perpetuating.
    Which to me is a sound reason to oppose AV.

    Also, does anyone know how the current system got the name FPTP? Surely the current system is better described as FDTC (Furthest Down the Course) while FPTP (with the post being at the 50%) is an accurate description of the AV system.

  43. I think this AV business is more complicated than people are saying.

    For instance, let’s say you are a supporter of the incumbent in your seat. Surely it can only be to your detriment to express a second preference, because you can only hurt your own party’s chances by so doing, though it probably won’t make any difference.

    Also, second preference votes only matter if your first vote is for a party who came third or lower in the first count (because the final count will be between at least 2 parties and therefore their second preferences won’t come into play).

    Therefore the significant second choices (likely to affect the result) are largely those by UKIP, BNP, Green etc (and LibDem in some cases). In the majority of seats, Lab and Con second choices will be irrelevant.


  44. amber
    On Alexander, yes his majority is big but the history is of four party marginality if thats a word! I think the local people will enjoy pushing his nose in it with Lib votes going in several directions. The one possible fly in my ointment is will tories rally round him? I can’t see it
    John B Dick
    Just to answer there were 5 main issues discussed and on 4 Labour clearly to left of snp and 1 the contrary with my slanted opinion being that the snp position was masochistic!
    Enjoyed the thought of people on the street demanding electoral reform.
    Yes the LibDms demand equal constiituencies, except when they have small ones!
    By the way, for the Scottish Parliament the pr rules don’t apply in LIbDem Shetland and Orkney It is purely FPTP so LIb dems get an extra seat

  45. @Pete B

    No on both counts.

    Failing to give a second preference can never increase the chance of your preferred candidate winning, as your candidate will have been eliminated before your second choice is counted. (This is the “Stealing my second preference votes” fallacy that failed London Mayor candidate Brian Paddick came up with)

    Lab and Con voter second choices will be irrelevant when the seat is only realistically contested Lab/Con. But it will of course be relevant in any seat contestable by the Liberal Democrats or any other party.

  46. Jay Blanc

    I take your point about second preference only counting if your candidate has already being eliminated, though as I was talking about the incumbent only, I maintain that a second preference is unlikely to amke any difference, as it is not often that an incumbent finishes third or lower.

    Your second paragraph is a restatement of what i was trying to say. As the majority of seats (in England anyway) are contested between Con and Lab, their second preferences will be irrelevant in most cases, and therefore and analysis such as Anthony describes does not tell the whole story.

  47. @Pete B

    Indeed. The lack of the whole string of third and fourth preferences, and preferences from minority/nationalist party voters, all gives a misleading figure here.

    For instance, some of the Minority Party votes could transfer to LibDems, then transfer over to Labour too, but never transfer to Conservatives.

  48. “Lib Dems now break in favour of the Conservatives rather than Labour, though not by very much (38% to 33%). ”

    Not surprising given that the Lib Dems have seen a 11-13% drop in their eve of election poll numbers.

    In between those two polls some of the LD who always preferred the Tories as an alternatives have gone the whole hog and a sizeable amount of left leaning Lib Dems have gone elsewhere as well.

    It’s a pincer movement that explains the very poor poll ratings the Lib Dems have which will IMHO continue onwards to the GE- whenever that is.

  49. Jay – and similarly from the ‘right’. I can imagine a number of voters putting UKIP first, Tories 2nd, and then not bother with anything else – i.e. their votes will never reach Labour.

  50. Barney,

    Thank you for that. cannot say I am surprised….

    A fair change in constituency sizes was sure to hurt LDs… since the 1850s liberal MPs have been descending from virtually uninhabited mountain tops with only smoke signlas to communicate with their prebyterian bretheren….

    Scotland has the lowest fertility rate this side of mars…. last I looked Orkney and Shetlands was full of hairy men!

    If Glasgow, Newcastle or Edinburgh has to lose a seat then why not our Celtic cousins (or should I say Danish) in the ahem of nowhere…

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