Last week the government published the wording that will be used in the AV referendum: “Do you want the United Kingdom to adopt the ‘alternative vote’ system instead of the current ‘first past the post’ system for electing Members of Parliament to the House of Commons?”

In the fullness of time, the polling questions we ask on how people will vote in the referendum will naturally switch over to match the actual question that will be used, but in the meantime I thought it might be interesting to see if the actual wording made any difference in this case, so on the YouGov poll for Sunday we put the question we have used in the past to one half of the sample, and a question including the actual referendum wording to the other half.

The result – almost identical results:

The standard question was AV 41%, FPTP 35%, Wouldn’t vote 5%, Don’t know 20%.
The question with the referendum wording was AV 40%, FPTP 35%, Wouldn’t vote 6%, Don’t know 19%.

UPDATE: I am about to go out to a meeting so this is very quick, but there is a new ComRes poll for Newsnight here. 86% of Tories say they would still have voted Conservative if they’d known they would go into coalition with the Lib Dems, but only 58% of Liberal Democrats would have voted Lib Dem if they’d know.

There were also Ipsos MORI and ICM surveys in the field over the weekend, so we may or may not see them tonight. I’ll update later if they appear.

45 Responses to “The AV referendum question”

  1. I note this returns us to a clear lead for a YES vote, so the “Opposition to AV Growing” result a week ago looks like sample error.

  2. We all go on about how much the difference in the wording of questions can make. It seems a pity that when this is tested scientifically there seems to be no difference. ;) Actually it’s more a reflection that YouGov was getting the question pretty much right in the first place.

    As far as AV goes, I suspect that we won’t really know how it will go till much nearer the time. In particular how the Labour vote splits will be important. A united campaign from the Labour leadership might shift the current equal-ish split decisively and give AV a decisive win. Interesting too that about a third of Tories are supporters despite little leadership support.

    Incidently, one thing I have noticed in this months YouGov figures that seems a little odd. The pre-weighted figures for “Others” is often three or four times the weighted figure used. Looking further back before July, the Others usually seem over-represented in the sample, but at nothing like this extent. Presumably supporters of minor parties are more passionate in their adherence and so more likely to reply to surveys (also the Scots always reply more), but the difference in the last month seems both very large and pretty consistent.

    By the way this isn’t the same query that I raised over the (unlikely) possibility of BNF panel infiltration of the 18-24 group. The figures here are much larger.

  3. Both poll questions included the same lengthy explanatory preamble tho, so I’m not surprised the answers are the same.

    What I would like to start seeing is questioning if people without an explanation, and just the bare ballot question. And a question asking if people understand the term “alternative vote”. Which would give a better gauge of how many people are engaged, and thus likely to vote, on the referendum.

  4. Good afternoon.

    If A.V were used in G.E’lections , could a voter still only make one choice if that was their wish?

    Thank you,

  5. Interesting to see the YG figures on voting intention for Scotland where LD vote seems to be forming up nicely at 15% pretty much where they were pre election and a long way up on the 8% YG gave them a few weeks ago.

  6. Very satisfactory for AV supporters as, there is no real public debate and as with everything else we are in political limbo.

    How opponents are going to answer the question ‘why are you against candidates having to get the support of more than half the voters’ will be a challenge for them, will it not? At the moment there is no such challenge being debated.

  7. “On the scale of the planned cuts, more than half of all people (57%) agreed that the coalition’s proposed departmental cuts of at least 25% were too severe.”

    “The Newsnight poll also found that more than a half of all those asked (56%) agreed that the scale of cuts was likely to threaten economic recovery. This compared with 38% who disagreed.”

  8. Re my post above – how interesting that those who thought the cuts were just fine and wouldn’t damage recovery equate almost exactly to the Tory share in recent polls.

  9. Perusal of the Guardian website would seem to say that ICM is
    Con 38
    Lab 34
    LD 19

  10. Sue re 43% -there is no logic at all in that comment and you know the tables won’t come out with that.

    I found the YouGov tables, which show more Tories thought the Iraq war was illegal 52% than Labour supporters 35%, is to me, amazing.
    Also, considering the shift of Lib Dems to Lab, the 39% of present Lab supporters thinks it was actually legal is surprising.


    Less amazing, but hugely disappointing, is that 37% of women voters say they ‘don’t know’, thus underwriting the ‘little woman’ image.

  11. I know Woolly, the black and white was just interesting to me.

    I too am HUGELY disappointed with women in many of their responses in the polling lately.

    This disconnect between women and politics MUST be addressed and I will be working tirelessly to urge my party to act with real commitment on this.

  12. Here is what the Newsnight website is saying:

    “Four in 10 people who say they voted Lib Dem would not have done had they known the party would enter a coalition with the Tories, a poll suggests.” = so the 13/14% YG longstanding figures are correct.

    “Asked whether the Lib Dems had strengthened or weakened the party’s identity since entering the coalition, 60% of all those polled agreed the party had weakened its identity and that they no longer knew what it stood for, while 34% believed it had strengthened it.”

    “Among Lib Dem voters, 53% believed their party’s identity had been weakened, while 45% believed it had been strengthened” = so they really are two parties then.

    Yet: we are in the middle of the honeymoon period and all cuts/ sackings/ reduced quality of services etc etc are only abstract words at the moment….

  13. = and here is what ConHome is blogging about the chances of the coalition AV bill being overturned in terms of having the referendum on a separate day to the other elections:

    ” Benedict Brogan has just blogged the details of Bernard Jenkin’s Early Day Motion calling for the vote on AV to be decoupled from next year’s Scottish and Welsh etc elections. Despite efforts of the Government Whips, 44 have signed at the time of blogging. It’s an interesting list:

    1. David Amess
    2. Richard Bacon
    3. Brian Binley
    4. Peter Bone
    5. Andrew Bridgen
    6. Douglass Carswell
    7. James Clappison
    8. Geoffrey Clifton-Brown
    9. Therese Coffey
    10. Tracey Crouch
    11. Glyn Davies
    12. David Davis
    13. Nadine Dorries
    14. Michael Fallon
    15. Mark Field
    16. James Gray
    17. Adam Holloway
    18. Bernard Jenkin
    19. Dan Kawczynski
    20. Greg Knight
    21. Eleanor Laing
    22. Edward Leigh
    23. Julian Lewis
    24. Peter Lilley
    25. Ian Liddell-Grainger
    26. Jack Lopresti
    27. Stephen McPartland
    28. Mark Menzies
    29. Patrick Mercer
    30. Simon Mosely
    31. David Nuttall
    32. Richard Ottaway
    33. Andrew Percy
    34. Mark Reckless
    35. John Redwood
    36. Jacob Rees Mogg
    37. Sir Malcolm Rifkind
    38. Laurence Robertson
    39. Andrew Rossindell
    40. Richard Shephard
    41. Bob Stewart
    42. Graham Stuart
    43. Robin Walker
    44. John Whittingdale

    Given that Labour and nationalist MPs are also ready to oppose the Cabinet’s preferred date there is a real possibility of defeat for the Coalition when the Bill is presented to the Commons in September. “

  14. Newsnight special on the coalition tonight – I can hardly wait!!

    Rob – I take it that list should be considered the blueprint for future trouble?

  15. No more UK Film Council then.

  16. ICM/Guardian Poll – CON 296 (-11) LAB 287 (+29) LD 40 (-17) NAT 9 (-) GRN 1 (-)”

  17. I can’t see how abolishing the UK Film Council can be spun as positive. Or increasing the scope of who needs to get a licence fee, while reducing how much of it goes to the BBC… But I suspect that the people who don’t like this are already in the polling as opposed to the Conservatives, so I’m not expecting to see much polling swing.

  18. Jay – I read a quite astounding article last year. The Cons had been wooing prominent artists with whizzy dinners and leading lights such as Tracey Emin were won over!!!!!!

    The Cammy must really be a good PR man.

  19. With cross party agreement Scotland recently decided to decouple local and SP elections. Party considerations aside, the SP and possibly Scottish MP’s of all four parties will make a fuss about the date though the payroll vote opposition will not be public.

  20. @ Rob Sheffield – “34. Mark Reckless”

    Don’t count it. ;) :) :)

  21. @Woolly Minded Liberalvoters – “…37% of women voters say they ‘don’t know’, thus underwriting the ‘little woman’ image.”

    No evidence, but how about the 37% of male voters who repeat what they read in the paper, thus underlining the proverbial ‘say nothing and let people think you’re stupid, rather than open your mouth and prove them right’.

  22. @ Woolly Minded Liberal… don’t know how the extraneous “voters” got into that post… it wasn’t meant. :)

  23. Rob,

    Interesting mix of signatories there. Full spectrum from loyalists to serial rebels, grandees to newbies, wets to dry as dust.

    That is significant because it suggests that an amendment to the Bill decoupling the dates could well be carried. As it is an EDM, it will be interesting to see which non-Tory MPs sign up. If the EDM hits 3 figures, then I usspect that any amendment proposing decoupling will be accepted by the govt. whips and not be put to a vote. Of course that does not mean that the bill will fall or the AV referendum be ditched. Merely that it won’t happen on 5th may 2011.

    Would that be a bad thing ? Hardly. It might nbe mildly embarassing for Clegg, but it shows that there is sufficient interest to have a proper non-partisan debate on the matter. In fact, in my view it was a bit risky for Clegg to have proposed 5 May anyway since it could backfire badly against AV. Far better to have a separate debate where the Yes / No camapigns can be genuinely disassociated from parties.

  24. ICM/Guardian Poll –

    but using the GE 2010 most accurate predictor at Electoral Calculus websites gives the following seat projections

    CON 292 (-15)
    LAB 291 (+33)
    LD 40 (-17)
    OTH 9 (=)
    GRN 0 (-1)

  25. @Paul HJ

    The reason for the Labour commitment to vote against the bill is the boundary gerry, er, redrawing and the 10% reduction in seats

    For the simple reason that Labours vote is very efficiently concentrated in its winnable seats so enlargement of boundaries is possibly going to cost them seats: though not as many as the Tories on here dream about.

    I am not sure how the loss of this bill- for anti AV reasons on the Tory rebel side and anti the boundary and seat reductions on the labour side- can play well either for Clegg or for Cameron.

    I am not sure whether the coalition can decouple the boundary/ seat elements from the electoral system proposals without causing significant trouble within the perspective party memberships.

    I do think however that a separate AV referendum (held on its own on a special date)- if it happens- will be more likely victorious.

    Because that campaign would be fought with the full support of the post new labour leadership- a factor that will swing it: posing some questions for the Lib Dems :-)

  26. Sue Marsh posted
    ‘and leading lights such as Tracey Emin were won over!!!!!! The Cammy must really be a good PR man.’

    Well, Tracey, after you became a multi-millionaire, what caused you suddenly to support the Tories?

  27. While I am posting this, we are watching NN with the dreadful studio audience format. The previous anecdotal Michael Crick cameos were more informative and as I posted sometime ago which caused Trevor to bang his head against the wall in his Den, that Wark woman should be treated as a parrot and someone put a producerorial towel over her head.

  28. Rob S
    The separate referendum date supporters have the problem that they have to justify the extra expense when insulting the electorate by saying they are incapable of deciding about which local councillor they wish to elect at the same time.

    Doesn’t sound very good poilitics to me.

  29. Rob,

    Whether Lab votes for or against the bill overall may not matter that much.

    The argument over the date for the referendum is not the same as the argument over whether there should be a referendum – itself quite distinct from the argument as to how one should vote in such a referendum were it to be held – on 5 May or some other date.

    If there is a motion proposing that the referendum be held on a separate date away from any other elections, that makes it a distinct constitutional issue not driven by party policy (or self interest). Why would Lab (or any other party) vote against such a motion ?

    I can well see such an amendment to the Bill being passed (as may other amendments, such as requiring a minimum turnout, or allowing AV to be implemented immediately even if Boundary commission has not reported, or even reducing the number of seats below 600 ).

    But, while there may be amendments, I cannot see the bill itself being defeated, so there will be a referendum – probably in either March or June.

    At this stage I am uncertain as to the likely outcome, but I don’t think we can exclude AV being implemented at the next GE.

    Note, Boundaries and AV are effectively decoupled anyway since the boundary changes happen even if AV referendum result is “No”. What has yet to be decoupled is that AV can be implemented before new Boundaries have been established. Hence I believe that is an item which could well be amended as the bill progresses.

  30. Woolymindedliberal,

    If we take the third part of your name, I presume that you might be in favour of the referendum delivering a Yes vote. (please advise if I have presumed erroneously)

    Do you think that there is a greater chance of a Yes vote if the referendum is on the same day as the local elections ? If so, why ?

    Personally, I think that if the referendum is held on the same day as locals then any one (or more) of the following might happen:

    – Con and/or Lab Party machines campaign for a “No”
    – Local associations of each party take divergent positions (a mess)
    – Individual associations / candidates take up a firm position one way or another to bolster their local election campaign – which may differ according to the balance in that particular council
    – Associations agree to ignore the referendum question altogether and focus on local election campaigns (most likely)

    None of the above is conducive to a proper debate on the issues. If the referndum goes ahead on 5 May with LDs only party behind a yes vote, what are the chances of success ? What is the likely impact on LD councillors ?

    The best chance of securing a “Yes” vote is if the AV vote is held separately and is supported by at least two of the major parties – does not matter which ones.

    The best chance of getting Cons to support AV is to disassociate it from the local elections when Cons will be gunning for LD (and Lab) council seats.

    Apologies if this highlights the first parts of your nom de plume !

  31. Paul H-J
    None of the variables you pose wil make any difference whatsoever. The reason for your posing such is to muddy waters, as parliamentarians will be trying to do. It’s divide and rule time. All the contrary opinions expressed will just exasperate the electorate because they will only be coming from the vested interests and the pro AV vote will become a protest vote against them. There, is that sufficiently free of woolly-mindedness for you?

  32. @Paul HJ

    I understood that large parts of England do not have elections that day, which would tend to a lower turnout, whereas voters for the devolved assemblies already use new voting systems and are thus considered to be less resistant. Some MPs thought that Clegg was pulling a fast one by going for May 5th.

  33. @ Mark

    If A.V were used in G.E’lections , could a voter still only make one choice if that was their wish?
    Yes, absolutely. 8-)

  34. I don’t think the LDs have realised what they’re facing

    i) Larger seats which would swamp some of their existing seats, with even more red and blue,
    as it tends to average results the larger you make it.

    ii) AV being defeated,
    once the arguments are put against it –
    it’s very close on the figures already.

    iii) Slumped support – say 15 or 16%, maybe even

  35. WoollyMindedLiberal – You say (July 26th, 2010 at 6:55 pm) “How opponents are going to answer the question ‘why are you against candidates having to get the support of more than half the voters’ will be a challenge for them, will it not?”

    So presumably we would need 50%+1 voting YES in the referendum to change the voting system?

  36. I posted this on another thread but, in case anybody missed it, here it is again:

    I have taken a first pass at the effects of the boundary changes throughout all the UK & Ireland now.
    A lot of it is just number crunching, based on maths type assumptions rather than real local knowledge – but for what it’s worth my interim conclusion is:
    CON -11
    LAB -29
    DEM – 4
    NAT+ OTH -6
    The above is very much what people expect to happen. CON make out like bandits & LAB gets by far the worst of it.
    But when I take a look at the votes that will be pushed out from the lost constituencies, a different picture emerges:
    CON -15
    LAB -20
    DEM -9
    NAT+ OTH -6
    This is a first pass, & I’m hoping lots of people start looking into their own areas & feeding back their local knowledge – but until I have more time & info., I am concluding that the changes are traumatic for Labour initially but (with a little luck) the outcomes could be much more even-handed than expected. 8-)

  37. @Amber Star

    I did the same thing and my results were:
    Con – 16
    labour – 23
    lib dem – 7

    Again I dont know the constituencies and how the individual make up of voters in concentrated, I would suggest looking at local elctions but i dont have the time or inclination to look through 25,000 or so wards.

  38. David Milliband :) wins Midlands Bassetlaw (50.3%). 10,000 party members voted in a constituency primary:

    h ttp://

    Also, according to yesterday’s Mirror, he won the support of Gillian Duffy. :(

  39. Amber – I am in awe. I have no idea where you’d even begin. For instance, the two seats in my town are carved up to ensure Labour won’t win either. However, if the town part became one seat and the outlying areas were swallowed up into other seats, things would change dramatically.

    However, surely the BC have spent much time and energy making sure that this effect wouldn’t happen?

  40. Yougov just released:
    Con- 42
    lab- 35
    lib dem- 15

  41. @Phil’s Dad

    I assume you were trying to make a clever point there… But it’s a Yes/No question vote. The winning result is automatically the one which gets 50% +1 of those who voted on it.

    I assume you meant to say 50% of the electorate… But no other national vote requires that, or *can* outside of *full* compulsory voting systems, that require you to cast a valid ballot not just turn up at the booth. And I know of no such operating democracies that enforce laws mandating their electorate to cast valid ballots at each election. Nor should they survive legal challenge, since the right to abstain is pretty important.

  42. I would regard any imposition of a super-majority or a turnout requirement on the bill, as a wrecking amendment. The Liberal Democrats would *rather not have a referendum at all* if it’s one that stacks the odds against a YES vote.

    Disrupting something that’s part of the coalition agreement, is going to lead to the break up of the coalition. If the conservatives want to avoid early elections, they need to come down hard on their rebels.

  43. The 58% figure suggests that the support the Lib-Dems hve lost is mainly purely because they are in coalition with the Tories rather than what the coalition has done. It also suggests that that leaking of support has now levelled out and they are around 14-15%. So now it comes down to the actual actions of the government and how well they can present what they are achieving through this and what they are reluctantly having to go along with (pretty much as Tim Farron was arguing). So far, I would say they’ve done a pretty poor job of that, but actually over the next months the likes of Farron and Hughes could have a much more important role for the party than Clegg. Huhne could also be important as he seems to be the one in the cabinet who the Tories are most uncomfortable with.

    Personally, I’m of the view that if they can still manage to hold things together, frank debates within and between the parties in the coalition might be good for them and for democracy. IT would make a refreshing change from the rather dictatorial and control-freakish tendancies of the last 30 years.

  44. The Conservative MPs, headed by Bernard Jenkin. who argue that a 5th. May 2011 date for the Referendum is wrong have a valid point. It is wrong to hold the poll on a day when some regions are going to the polls for local or regional (including Scottish) elections but not others, particularly when there is differential experience of PR in different parts of the country.

    The likely arrangements for the AV referendum would not pass scrutiny for a social science survey or experiment.

  45. Billy Bob,

    “Some MPs thought that Clegg was pulling a fast one by going for May 5th.”

    Those MPs may have a point, but if so, Clegg was not being that clever. He needs the AV referendum to be a success – not just in terms of having Yes votes exceed No votes, but also in terms of having genuine democratic legitimacy – ie a solid plurality both of votes cast and in turnout.

    Whilst having referendum alongside other elections may increase turnout, is this certain ? Local elections typically have turnout in mid 30s. Admitteldy this is better than for Euros – but turnout for Holyrood and Senedd tends to be higher. Surely it is plausible to argue the reverse – that an AV referendum would generate its own interest which would push up turnout for local elections the same day ?

    If that were the case, then unless one could presume that the additional turnout from the referendum were more pre-disposed to support LDs in local elections, then LDs could suffer major losses as compared with their result in 2007 when turnout was much lower. This would be particularly true in northern / urban Lab / LD battlegrounds in which LDs did particularly well in 2007 thanks to appalling showing by Lab in last months of Blair’s premiership.