Wednesday, May 12, 2010...8:30 am

Counting alternative votes before they’re cast

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It’s interesting to see this from the BBC, which has some handy interactive digital graphics on its web site to show how the different voting systems work, in the run-up to most likely adopting one.
What I want to know is how on earth they can apply the alternative vote system to the 2010 result, when as far as I know no opinion polling was carried out to find out who people would have voted for as their second choice.
There’s a pervasive “progressive” political view that any vote not for the Conservatives is a vote against the Conservatives. Hence the spate of commentary in recent days that suggested a Rainbow Coalition of all the not-Conservative parties in Parliament, bar those obviously not-progressive unionists in Northern Ireland, was the only way to really meet the UK electorate’s democratic needs.
But this of course requires one to know exactly how the minority party voter would have voted had there not been a minority party candidate to vote for. In effect, how they would have apportioned their votes under one of the alternative voting systems that we use in the European elections and are now being mooted for UK general elections.
I wonder if some lazy political assumptions have been made at the Corporation…


  • It goes further than that.
    Here in New Zealand we have a form of proportional representation called MMP. It’s similar to the German system.
    Voters have two votes, one for an electorate MP and one for a party list. The party list votes top-up the electorate votes so the party numbers in Parliament equal the percentages (give or take rounding errors) but you still get the local MP you want.
    As soon as MMP was introduced the parties fractured, with sub-groups splintering to form new parties. So in the UK eurosceptic tories might form a new party. This immediately changed voting patterns – particularly in electorates where the high-profile splitters sat.
    You simply could not extrapolate from the votes before MMP to those after MMP, the whole thing would be meaningless.

  • Hi Bill – that’s a very interesting point, and one that I should have thought through. Of course, as in any experiment, changing one element of the process will have unforeseen effects – or the Law of Unintended Consequences.

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