Monday, 21 March 2011

AV criticisms - a response

A couple of arguments I have heard against the Alternative Vote system (AV) this week that I want to respond to.

Firstly - you wouldn't want to go to the Olympics and see the following 100m result:

Usain Bolt: 9.69seconds
Tyson Gay: 9.72seconds
Asafa Powell: 9.76seconds

Only for Asafa to be awarded the gold, Usain the bronze and the silver to go to someone who finished in 10.1seconds.  No of course you wouldn't - and you also wouldn't want the gold medal to go to someone who was leading after 60m!  In an AV election the finishing line is once you have secured the support of 50% of your constituency, the person first past this line is the winner and awarded the gold and certainly not someone who was quickest in round 1 or first out of the blocks!

Secondly a point which I do actually agree with as a negative possibilities regarding AV, that is not everyone's preferences take equal weight.  Take the following simple example:

Three parties, two extreme parties and one in the middle that has slightly more in common with one side than the other.
Round 1: Left 40%, Centre: 25%, Right 35%
Centre is eliminated and their second preferences are distributed to Right giving the final result:
Left: 40%, Right: 60%.  Right is elected.

However, the Left supporters hate the Right, so their second preferences would have been to the Centre, the same feeling is the case for the supporters of the Right.  In actual fact this leads to the following preferences:

Right vs Left - 60:40 - Right is preferred to Left
Centre vs Left - 60:40 - Centre is preferred to Left
Centre vs Right - 65:35 - Centre is preferred to Right.

Therefore despite the fact the Centre candidate is preferred by more people to the Right candidate, because they are eliminated earlier the Right candidate is still elected.  

The key thing I see about this argument however is that it is an argument against AV - not a reason why First Past The Post should still remain, after all it still produced a situation that more people were happy about.  Fewer people were totally enthusiastic about the result (as they would have been under FPTP) but also fewer people were angry about the result as they see the new result as in a straight choice between new and old this is preferable.  

It could be argued that the run off system (and not taking count of full preferences) is a way of weighting in favour of the first preference votes, however irrespective of this I think that the No2AV camp should focus more on why they believe FPTP is better (which neither of the above points demonstrate), rather than what is wrong with AV.  I am yet to hear one argument from them that illustrates how FPTP is better.

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