Of late polls on AV have shown somewhat contrasting figures. Most companies have been measuring voting intention on AV by just asking the bare question that will be on the ballot paper. This has tended to show a lead for the YES campaign. Meanwhile YouGov have a tracker question on how people would vote which they’ve been asking since last Summer, which includes brief explanations of what FPTP and AV are, until very recently when opinion started to shift towards YES this was showing a lead for the NO campaign.

The last Populus poll for the Times did both – splitting the sample and giving half of them just the bare referendum question and half of them a brief description of what the options were – describing AV as a system where “voters number the candidates they like in order of preference, and the candidate who gets more than half the support of the voters in the constituency is elected”.

They found pretty much the same pattern as the other polls – with the bare question, 41% supported YES, 29% supported NO and 30% said don’t know. When given an explanation of the systems the figures were 29% YES, 43% NO and (pesumably) 28% don’t know.

People do appear to like the idea of a change of electoral system, but are more doubtful when told about what AV actually is. In one sense this is probably better news for the No campaign than the Yes campaign as people are likely to find out more about the options on offer as the referendum campaign continues. However, whether it comes across as a good or bad change to them will be largely down to how well or badly the two campaigns sell it. It also suggests that people’s views are very open to change, and in that sense things could easily go either way.

(On other Populus news, Andrew Cooper has now been confirmed as David Cameron’s new director of Strategy, so Populus’s political polling will now be in the hands of Rick Nye)

UPDATE: Just to confirm, this wasn’t part of the normal monthly Populus poll for the Times, it was a seperate online poll.


136 Responses to “Different Populus questions show YES and NO ahead”

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  1. A nice try, but it raises as many questions as it answers. I think there are many who would argue that the description of AV is faulty (or at least incomplete), and that a different description would have given a different answer.

    What it does appear to show is that more information has an effect. And, therefore, that there is all to play for in the coming campaign.

    For myself, I would advise Hague and Cameron to desist from infantile distortions in their arguments. Yesterday, both of them repeatedly claimed that AV meant that some voters had their votes counted more than once, plainly a gross calumny. Even taking things from the perspective of Hague/Cameron, *every* vote is counted more than once, it just happens that most votes will be repeatedly counted the same way, according to the wishes of those casting them.

  2. Sorry to be ignorant.
    With AV, is it possible to vote for just one candidate, ie can you express a first choice and stop there without giving a second or third etc choice?

  3. Anthony,

    YG had a 27 page poll on AV a while back [head’s telling me Sept]. It showed also, that upon explanation of the system support for AV dipped. This would appear to back up Populus’s. I wonder, if ability to accurately measure liklelihood to vote will be the key to getting it right on which way the result will go in May.

    Might it be that those who change their mind might be less likely to vote if they have not gone ot the bother of understanding the system?

    Might it be that opinion who remain firm are the core of what we might expect to vote?

    Given that the majority of the UK public will most likely not vote, is there any fine tuning of the polls to weed them out?

  4. Anthony,

    Surely the differing results shown by the two methodologies should, in theory, start to converge?

    If not, perhaps YouGov should jettison its lead-in explanation of the proposed new voting system – because it is clearly at odds with public perception of what AV entails. (After all, the YouGov description is not going to be printed on the ballot sheet, is it?).

    True, people’s reaction to the explanation may tell us something about the way public opinion will change on AV during the course of the campaign – but surely that can be adequately measured by a simple trend line recording the electorate’s response to the basic question which will be printed on the ballot paper..?

    Personally, I think there is such lack of clarity in the public mind about AV that I doubt we will really know where public opinion is on this one until pretty late in the day.

    Ultimately, though, any survey that starts with an artificial prompt about the nature of AV is, almost by definition, bound to throw up a skewed result.

  5. Poll released of the voting intentions of under 35yr old voters in the Irish Republic [Red C]

    25% Labour
    25% Fine Gael
    11% Sinn Féin
    11% Fianna Fáil
    28% Others

  6. @ Robin

    For myself, I would advise Hague and Cameron to desist from infantile distortions in their arguments. Yesterday, both of them repeatedly claimed that AV meant that some voters had their votes counted more than once, plainly a gross calumny
    __________________________________________

    I have to disagree. Calumny or not, it appears to be what happens so IMO it is a very effective counter to the yes campaign. This is particulalry true since the it will be the fringe candidates who drop out first so Camerons asertion that BNP and Monster Raving Loonies will have their vote counted more than once is very effective as it goes against a perception of fairness.

  7. I was strongly pro voting reform, but I am against change to AV. I believe AV is not the system we should be having a referendum on.

    It can be no surprise that when it is explained, people change their minds to a NO.

    If AV were to be introduced, I would still only place one vote against the party I prefered. I would not wish to add any ranking against the other parties. How can I be expected to place a ranking order against say four parties manifestos ? Surely you only vote for the party candidate that best represents your values ?

  8. @R Huckle

    “If AV were to be introduced, I would still only place one vote against the party I prefered.”

    That would be your choice, and if your party of choice was a front runner it would probably make no difference.

    But what if you wanted to vote Green or UKIP but feared it would be a wasted vote? Minor parties find it almost impossible to make an impact in general elections without first building up a substantial local government base. People won’t vote for them, not because they don’t have support, but because they don’t appear to be able to win.

    AV allows voters to express their genuine preference, while not penalising them for choosing a minor party. It removes that enormous distorting effect of the FPTP system.

  9. That is a truly interesting finding….

    Did I read somewhere that the ‘No’ campaign thought Nick Clegg could be used in an advertising camapign against AV….I can see it might be temtping but I also think for lots of reasons it would be a mistake…

    But Mr Clegg’s dismissal of it as a nasty little compromise….might arguable stand as a good argument

  10. @ Robin

    AV allows voters to express their genuine preference, while not penalising them for choosing a minor party. It removes that enormous distorting effect of the FPTP system.

    __________________________________________

    But Robin, habing expressed their preference once why on earth should they have the right to express their preference again?

    You are in effect penalsing the voters for major parties.
    IMO

  11. @John Fletcher

    “But Robin, habing expressed their preference once why on earth should they have the right to express their preference again?”

    Because their preference has been ignored by the electoral system. If a party gets 10% of the vote in every single seat in the country, should the opinions of those voters not be reflected anywhere? why should they be penalised for expressing an opinion that happens to be in the minority? Or to put it another way, why should the opinions of only a minority of voters be listened to in most constituencies?

    And at the moment, minority opinions aren’t given a voice at all. The only way that the full spread of opinion can be reflected in the voting system is if there is no penalty for expressing that opinion.

    Anyone know what UKIP’s stance on AV is?

  12. Voters for the maor parties ought not to compkain too much about AV. After all, both the Labour and Tory leaders were elected by AV.

  13. @ Robin

    And at the moment, minority opinions aren’t given a voice at all
    ________________________________________

    What you mean like Caroline Lucas, or Martin Bell when he stood.

    Of course minority opinions have a voice but by defenition they are a minority so their voice will not be as loud as the majority.

    With AV you don’t get the most popular or best candidate winning, you get the least unpopular and least worse candidate winning.

    Do we really want a parliament of the second or third best?

  14. @ROBIN

    AV would not make any difference to most smaller parties. The only ones who would benefit would be Welsh and Scots nationalists, but because of the consituency changes, they will have less seats anyway. I think that is correct, unless someone can provide stats to the contrary.

  15. ROBIN
    AV allows voters to express their genuine preference, while not penalising them for choosing a minor party. It removes that enormous distorting effect of the FPTP system.

    Spot on and quite so. R HUCKLE would most certainly be allowed to “only place one vote against the party I prefered” if that is his or her wish.

    However, the only even vaguely convincing argument I am aware of for AV rather than party lists or mult-member STV is the supposedly representative nature of the UK interpretation of democracy which results in each shire choosing its knight and each borough its burgess to represent them in the palace of Westminster.

    If that, along with the fiction that parties have no formal standing in Westminster’s polity, is to remain then in each constituency the idea is for the proles to pick the best person for the job, which is precisely what AV delivers. It also avoids entirely the need for tactical voting.

    Do you also disapprove of the French version of AV with a run-off election between the top two if nobody gets 50%? A bowdlerised version of that is used for English mayoral elections, but I have yet to hear anyone complain that either was less fair than the 1872 plurality system currently used for Westminster.

  16. @JF

    Lucas/Bell – One-off results do not validate an entire system. And the Greens are far from a minority party in Brighton, they hold 25% of council seats.

    “With AV you don’t get the most popular or best candidate winning, you get the least unpopular and least worse candidate winning.”

    This is nonsense, there is no evidence at all that this is the case. Candidates need a certain level of vote in the first place to avoid being eliminated. In the end, in the large majority of seats it comes down to a straight race between the top 2 candidates. How is that unfair on anyone?

    “Do we really want a parliament of the second or third best?”

    No. That’s why we need electoral change.

  17. @John Fletcher, @Robin

    What AV does, as I understand it, is drastically reduce the spoiler effect. Under FPTP, voters for minor parties and their most closely aligned major party *penalise one another* by splitting the vote between their candidates. AV, in general, removes that penalty.

    It’s not so much “giving minor party voters a second bite of the cherry” – it is, rather, giving a result that is closer to what the result would be if irrelevant and unpopular candidates that can screw up popular candidates’ chances were removed from the picture.

  18. @ Robin

    Do we really want a parliament of the second or third best?”

    No. That’s why we need electoral change.

    _________________________________________

    If as you say the large majority of seats comes down to the top 2 candidates (just like now) why on earth should the quality of the MP’s increase under AV?

  19. @Bob Milton

    “With AV, is it possible to vote for just one candidate, ie can you express a first choice and stop there without giving a second or third etc choice?”

    Yes.

    You can vote for as many or as few candidates as you like. One, if that’s all you want. Or none, or more.

  20. they are all minority opinions

    just some are more minority than others

  21. @JF

    “If as you say the large majority of seats comes down to the top 2 candidates (just like now) why on earth should the quality of the MP’s increase under AV?”

    Because popular but maverick MPs will be less muzzled by party whips. If deselected (or if their constituency is reorganised out of existence) they will be able to stand as independents and have a realistic chance of winning – their supporters won’t be discouraged from voting from them out of fear of wasting their vote.

    Similarly, there will be greater scope for useless MPs to be successfully challenged by independents. MPs will no longer be able to rest on their laurels as soon as they get a safe seat.

  22. @Bob Milton

    Yes that can be done, but I would advise against it unless you really don’t like anyone else.

    Basically, low popularity candidates will be eliminated early on, polling papers that have only such candidates are then completely ignored (they become “exhausted”). Basically you are setting yourself up for your opinion to be completely ignored, just as if in FPTP, you’d voted for someone with say 10% of the total vote, and thus unlikely to win.
    At least with AV, you could have some say in who governs even if your favourite candidate does not win.

    In broad terms, apart from safe seats, the candidate elected is the least unpopular rather than the most popular. They’re not necessarily the same candidate.

  23. @ John Fletcher

    But Robin, habing expressed their preference once why on earth should they have the right to express their preference again?
    —————————————————-
    This is the point that, IMO, could win it for the “No” campaign.

    It does make AV sound unfair.

    And seeing politicians pander to minority political groups with special interests, in the hope of getting second preferences, could result in people becoming more disaffected with politicians.
    8-)

  24. @ Keith HP

    Per my comment to JF above, do we really want the ‘least unpopular’ candidate? Perhaps we do; but I am not so sure.
    8-)

  25. R Huckle

    “AV would not make any difference to most smaller parties. The only ones who would benefit would be Welsh and Scots nationalists”

    The only problem with that argument is that in Scotland, the SNP isn’t one of the “smaller parties”. In Scottish elections it is one of the “big 2”. In UK elections in Scotland, it ranks alongside Con & LD. (2010 vote share Lab 42% : SNP 20% : LD 19% : Con 17%).

    Depending on which Scottish constituency you look at, AV will benefit each of the parties in some, but not others.

    For example, in Dumfriesshire, Clydesdale & Tweeddale, Labour already squeeze much of the SNP vote, under AV most of the remaining 11% would probably give a preference to Labour. It wouldn’t take that high a proportion of LDs to state a preference for Lab over Con for Scotland to return to being a Tory free zone.

  26. @Amber

    This is the point that, IMO, could win it for the “No” campaign.
    —————————–
    Only if if the counterarguments aren’t made properly. It can be rephrased as follows:

    “Why should a voter have to choose between expressing their opinion and trying to influence the result of the election?”

    or

    “Why should a vote for a minority party be a wasted vote”

    or

    “Why should only votes for large parties matter?”

  27. Voters for the maor parties ought not to compkain too much about AV. After all, both the Labour and Tory leaders were elected by AV.
    —————————————
    IMO, Labour’s electoral college approach is more relevant to who is elected leader than any similarity there is to AV.
    8-)

  28. JOHN FLETCHER
    What you mean like Caroline Lucas, or Martin Bell when he stood.
    …..
    With AV you don’t get the most popular or best candidate winning, you get the least unpopular and least worse candidate winning.

    You picked two very contrasting examples there, but it’s interesting to consider what might have happened…

    When Martin Bell fought the 1997 GE in Tatton against the [politically] dead Neil Hamilton, three Independent Conservatives and four others, he got just over 60% of the Xes [1st preferences] and would have been elected in the first round under AV.

    Had real electoral reform (back to the STV imposed on the whole island of Ireland and used for the university seats until they were abolished) been persevered with, then in a multi-member North or mid-Cheshire constituency with Hamilton running as one of the Conservative candidates, then Bell’s task would have been harder, but his real priority of getting rid of Hamilton would have been accomplished by the electorate.

    The 2010 GE race in Brighton Pavilion was much tighter than in 1997 Tatton, but Caroline Lucas would have stood a very good chance of winning under AV. The Xes [1st preferences] were:
      31.3% Grn – Lucas
      28.9% Lab – Platts
      23.7% Con – Vere
      13.8% L-D – Millam
      2.3% Others – inc UKIP & Socialist Labour

    Where the second preferences would have gone under AV is conjectural, but what is mathematically certain is that the others plus the L-D would have been eliminated without any of the three front-runners gaining the magic 50%. I would grant that at that stage it could have been any one of the top three who were eliminated, but I would have been prepared to bet money that Lucas gained enough L-D 2nd preferences to make her one of the survivors.

    The final round would thus almost certainly have been a straight fight between Lucas and one of the reds or blues based on the second preferences of the blues or reds.

    Who do you think would have won? Would they have been the least unpopular or the least worse?

  29. @ Amberstar

    It does make AV sound unfair.
    ________________________________________

    The problem that the Yes campaign have is that of all of the replacements for FPTP, AV is the worst. Its not even the LD’s first choice. Whilst we keep single MP constituencies FPTP is as fair as anything else.

    I would not necessarily be against some form of electoral reform that meant the number of MP’s per party reflected the % of votes cast for each party in a GE, but I cannot see how this can be done under our present constituency system.

  30. @ Robin

    And at the moment, minority opinions aren’t given a voice at all.
    ——————————————————-
    Isn’t that what happens in democracies; majority opinion wins? It’s hard to see what is so great about ‘democracy’, if it has to be tweaked to make it fair.

    I am truly playing devil’s advocate here – I haven’t decided how I’ll vote in the referendum.
    8-)

  31. KEITH DEATH
    It’s not so much “giving minor party voters a second bite of the cherry” – it is, rather, giving a result that is closer to what the result would be if irrelevant and unpopular candidates that can screw up popular candidates’ chances were removed from the picture.

    Extremely well put.

  32. @ Barbazenzero

    Who do you think would have won? Would they have been the least unpopular or the least worse?

    _________________________________________

    Thank you for a very enlightening post.

    The conclusion you seen to draw form your analysis is that AV probably would not have made much difference.

    The problem is that the analysis is based on votes cast under FPTP.

    Had the votes been cast under AV then the breakdown of the first choices may have been very different, leading to a different final result.

    Would the result have been any better or fairer?

    I doubt it.

  33. Yes, I had huge initial scepticism in 2005/2006 about STV being introduced in Scotland and I now accpet that’s a good system at a local level.

    I’m not convinced STV is better than AMS on a national level however.

    But I suppose most people are likely accept AV in Britain once it gets accepted as it might still lead to close races between centre left and centre right like in the recent Australian election.

  34. Amber

    “Democracy” is a bit like apple-pie. Always sounds good, but some recipes and/or cooks can produce an inedible mess.

    Remember the infamous card votes at Labour Conferences?

  35. @ Old Nat

    In Scottish elections it [the SNP] is one of the “big 2″.
    —————————————————-
    Absolutely; & to be honest, in some ways the Scottish system makes me less likely to vote ‘yes’ to AV.

    I’m not sure that coalitions & minority governments have been for Scotland. I’d be interested to see what either SNP or Labour could achieve in Scotland, if they had a clear majority.

    But I’m very open to persuasion that FPTP would be worse than what we have now.
    8-)

  36. @ Robin

    I like debate so…

    “Why should a voter have to choose between expressing their opinion and trying to influence the result of the election?”

    ~ Because life is all about making choices.
    or

    “Why should a vote for a minority party be a wasted vote”

    ~ Because that’s how democracy works. You persuade people to agree with you, then you aren’t a minority anymore. ;-)

    or
    “Why should only votes for large parties matter?”

    ~ Because they started off as small parties (at least the Labour Party did) & persuaded people to support them. That’s how democracy ‘works’, no?
    8-)

  37. Amber

    “Because they started off as small parties (at least the Labour Party did) & persuaded people to support them.”

    Of course, the Tories managed to do something fairly unusual.

    They started off as a large party in Scotland, and have persuaded people to stop supporting them!

  38. @ Old Nat

    Remember the infamous card votes at Labour Conferences?
    —————————————
    LOL :-) But still… I give us points for trying.

  39. @ Old Nat

    Actually the SNP is a very good example of a small Party that quickly achieved big 2 status by persuading people to support them.

    The SNP would have nothing to fear – & probably something to gain – if Holyrood was FPTP.
    8-)

  40. What the polls seem to be revealing is that voters definitely want a change to the voting system. However, they really don’t like the preferences meaning that the votes get counted again and again, and shoved between one candidate and another. I suspect many thought that listing preferences meant you were allocating points to each person you gave a preference to. I had a conversation with a large group of rather non-political people at work who all wanted to vote yes, but when they asked me to explain AV, more than half didn’t like it, and changed to NO! One helpfully communtes from London, and pitched in with “Why on earth did the LDs suggest this muddle, it does roughly the same as how we vote for Mayor, but makes it ridiculously complicated? Good question, I hadn’t thought of that before. Perhaps the LD strategy of using AV as a preference voting “conditioning” for eventual STV has backfired, and will end up losing them a referendum to an electoral reform most folk seemed to originally want! OWN GOAL!?

  41. JOHN FLETCHER
    The conclusion you seen to draw form your analysis is that AV probably would not have made much difference.

    I certainly don’t think it will make a much difference in seats where a really popular local figure or a really unpopular incumbent MP is involved. To use your own terminology, I do think it would have been less unfair.

    Overall, the effect will be more to filter out the white noise of “irrelevant and unpopular candidates” as KEITH DEATH describes above. That will help to make the real choices clearer and fairer though it would be fairer still if there was a “none of the above” preference which, if it achieved 50%, would allow the constituency to choose to be unrepresented.

    There is, however, the key unfairness that only 215 of the 649 MPs elected in the part one of the 2010 GE had real majorities, with 433 of the others having only pluralities. The 649th was Dennis Skinner who had precisely 50% of the vote and under AV could conceivably have been eliminated on the toss of the returning officer’s coin if all the remaining votes were anti-Skinner.

    I certainly do not regard AV as the best way to elect a legislature, but at the very least starting a general election with two-thirds of the seats marginal would make it a little more interesting.

  42. Well I guess we’re all fighting the campaign on here already…me too guilty as charged…though I don’t doubt Anthony will have views upon our license.

    In the end the polls really tells us two things…there’s everything to fight for and it’ what the voters chose to believe…will ultimately determine the outcome…whether those bleiefs are false or true, right or wrong…

    The frustrations of public opinion are still better than the certainties of despotism.

  43. Amber

    “The SNP would have nothing to fear – & probably something to gain – if Holyrood was FPTP.”

    But I think we both know that that is precisely why we have an AMS system!!

  44. @Barbanzenero

    There’s also a key unfairness that the minority in the 200 odd seats where a majority candidate is elected still have no one to represent their views. That inequity isn’t addressed by AV. Instead AV makes voters in certain consituencies makes handful of voters even more powerful….

  45. OLDNAT:

    You illustrate the regional nature of the support of all parties in Scotland other than the Greens.

    SNP votes are growing where fish are landed. I have the data now to plot growth in SNP vote share by constituency against weight of fish landed.

    I hope you saw my late comment on the Scottish poll thread.

  46. @OldNat

    Is supporting STV now an official position of the SNP. I thought AMS was their preferred system before?

  47. A Brown

    STV has been the SNP’s preferred system for as long as I can remember. AMS was a system (at least partially) designed to ensure that the SNP would find it very difficult to get a majority in the Scottish Parliament.

  48. John Dick

    Thanks. I’ll head over to the Scottish thread (or more appropriately “I’ll awa tae the threid”) now.

  49. @ Old nat

    You wrote: “AMS was a system (at least partially) designed to ensure that the SNP would find it very difficult to get a majority in the Scottish Parliament.”

    I don’t think so. AMS was in use in several European nations well before “Winnie won Hamilton” and the SNP began to take off. Historically Labour has always preferred AMS if PR has to be considered at all. I well remember the late Prof John Mackintosh MP (Labour, Berwick & East Lothian) advocating this system in general in a lecture way back in 1970 (It was he who convinced me of its benefits) long before devolution was a “hot” topic.

    So, I don’t think is was either adopted or designed to “dish” the SNP.

  50. I think that asked up front, people will say they want Parliament to change. For many obvious reasons, Parliament and MPs are held in very low esteem.

    I think when AV is explained, people then realise that what is proposed does nothing to improve what they don’t like, so are less interested.

    For me, AV has the weaknesses of FPTP without the strengths of genuine PR.

    Why go to all that bother to move to a system that essentially takes the worst bits of FPTP, and then leaves the strengths of FPTP behind.

    Utterly pointless.

    Genuine PR looks really interesting, but it isn’t up for discussion.

    If DC had got a majority, AV would have been buried. I would support AV if it was opening a door to genuine PR later, but I am no way convinced of that.

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