Indigestion and Electoral Reform

I have belly ache. Perhaps it was all that pizza. Perhaps I have just been fed a little too much misinformation by politicians in recent weeks.

In February I wrote Pizza and Electoral Reform – a blog post about the upcoming referendum to decide our voting system. In it I looked at an example of when First Past The Post (FPTP) and the Alternative Vote (AV) gave different outcomes to the same set of voters’ preferences. I concluded that AV was fairer than FPTP because it took a lot of useful information into account that FPTP ignored.

Some people who read it thought I hadn’t explained that point in enough detail. Reading it again, I think they were right. I was in a bit of a hurry when I wrote it. Sorry about that. I’m in a bit of a hurry writing this to be honest but I’ll try to be clear.

Let me give an example of why taking more information into account might be fairer than ignoring it.

You are getting married and deciding what meal to give your guests. The caterers give you the following options*:

  • Rump Steak
  • Fillet Steak
  • Chicken
  • Halibut

(*There is half a pepper stuffed with rice for the vegetarians but there is no voting option for them.)

Being the kind soul that you are you let people vote on their RSVPs for which meal they would most like to be served.

There is a bit of a quandary for the steak lovers here. By offering two different steak options, the caterers have unwittingly made both of them difficult to elect under a FPTP system.

Why? Well, supposing you have 50 guests coming to the wedding. 27 of them want steak, 18 of them want fish and 5 of them want chicken. If there were one steak option on the menu then both FPTP and AV would leave it the clear winner. There isn’t though – there are two. The FPTP votes come in like this:

  • Rump Steak – 12
  • Fillet Steak – 15
  • Chicken – 5
  • Halibut – 18

Under FPTP, halibut wins even though the majority wanted steak. Using AV, second choice votes would have ensured that steak won the day. It would have been a fairer outcome in my opinion and it would have happened simply because more information was taken into account.

I think FPTP has a massive weakness when the available options are not equally spread out. By that I mean – if there are two popular options that are similar, FPTP will penalise those choices by splitting the vote out between them.

Let’s look at another FPTP example that is relevant to politics. Supposing at the next election there are three major political parties. A large proportion of the electorate are pissed off with the main party because of say, high tuition fees.

Situation 1

The second biggest party puts down a policy to significantly reduce the fees and lots of people vote for that party and that party wins.

Situation 2

The second and third biggest parties both put down a policy to significantly reduce the fees and lots of people split their vote between those two parties and the existing government wins.

Which outcome better reflects the will of the people? We have been told by the No2AV campaign that FPTP is better at getting rid of unpopular governments. It isn’t though. When a government has unpopular policies, all of the alternative parties take the more popular view and split the vote, leaving us with exactly the result that we did not want.

When I wrote the Pizza and Electoral Reform post, I predicted a massive campaign of misinformation. That has certainly happened. Despite the well organised bullshit campaign though, I don’t think there is anything that I have found that suggests, when compared with FPTP, AV is less fair or too complicated for people to understand.

AV is not perfect but I think it’s better than what we have. Whichever way you vote for though – I urge you to ignore the “advice” of the politicians. It truly is a sorry state of affairs when not one politician has been bothered to try to explain the true benefits of the two options without resorting to misleading claims and scaremongering.

Perhaps the best piece of advice in all of this is to just ignore everything you’ve been told by a politician and just vote for the system you consider the fairer using your own judgment. That’s what I’m going to do.

I’m going to vote Yes to AV.



About RedEaredRabbit
My name is RedEaredRabbit, King of Kings. Look on my works ye Mighty and despair.

7 Responses to Indigestion and Electoral Reform

  1. Chris says:

    Good post. I’ve been coming around to AV in the last few days and will now vote Yes This helps make my mind up.

    At first I didn’t like the idea that I would have to give support to a party or parties that I don’t really support but might think are the least worst next option(s). But if you really don’t want to give a second or third preference you don’t have to and you can still vote for one party only if you want.

  2. Sorry but as long as a Labour vote in Guildford means the same as a Tory Vote in Glasgow Central, then I will vote No! Either we keep FPTP or we move to a proper system of PR. The vast majority of the World hates AV, I see no reason to go against that!

    • the_z_factor says:

      Hi John,

      Can you explain more? I’m not sure what you mean about a Labour vote in Guildford meaning the same as a Tory vote in Glasgow. Keen to hear your view.

  3. the_z_factor says:

    You’re right – there has been a vast amount of bullshit from BOTH sides. I’ve been massively disappointed with the tone and quality of the debate, and have struggled to find coherent arguments to help change the mind of people I know who are voting No, which has to be a massive fail in terms of the Yes campaign.

    This post is much more nuanced than the recent ‘beer vs coffee’ TV ad, hastily cobbled together after that simple graphic was retweeted by Stephen Fry – and, as such, is much better. That ad oversimplified things by having all the ‘anti-coffee’ choices as types of pub, ie. fairly similar. This analogy doesn’t make all the anti-halibut choices the same, and, further, it explains why the two steaks might be similar. Well done Rabbit.

  4. FliesOpen says:

    One thing I feel was missed from all this – the reason for change. Politicians who want to keep their jobs proposed a new system of keeping their jobs. It was fought over by people who would win or lose by the decision. I mistrusted the reason for change from the beginning. Call me cynical.

    AV may be “fairer” when choosing Steak or Pizza but it’s a false comparison. If i have to eat pasta rather than pizza for one meal I can handle it. If I’m choosing chaos for the country for five years… less so.

    PR is the real way forward – which you said in your Pizza post – but this was not the solution proposed. I don’t want to vote for a half way house.

    The sad thing about all of this is that change is now off the agenda for another generation.

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