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Could AV end up destroying the Lib Dems?

July 5th, 2010
2010 seats with AV AV Actual
CONSERVATIVES 282 307
LABOUR 262 258
LIB DEMS 79 57
SNP/PC 8 9
OTH/NI 19 19

Would the new system favour the big two?

The table is one of a number of projections that have been made on what the outcome of the 2010 general election would have been if it had been held with the Alternative Vote electoral system.

The numbers, from Rawnsley’s piece in the Observer, are based on polling data to try to work out how the second/third/fourth/etc preferences would have worked out. It’s guess-work but it’s a starting point.

Seeing the big boost in Lib Dem seats is it any wonder then that Clegg’s party is most enthusiastic and their coalition partner, the Tories, the most sceptical?

But there are two things wrong with the projection. Voting on May 6th 2010 took place before the coalition and since then, judging by LD voter splits in leader approval ratings, the blues have become a lot more popular with the yellows.

It’s not hard now to envisage Lib Dem second preferences going six to four to the Tories.

Then there is tactical voting which AV renders unnecessary. For with first past the post many electors seek to use their vote not to support the party of their choice but to try to impede another party. With AV there would be no need to do that.

If on the first count in a seat no candidate has 50% of the vote plus one then the second preferences of the bottom candidate are re-allocated. This goes on until a “winner” has emerged.

But in order to benefit from alternative preferences a candidate has to be in the top two for the final count – and here, without the tactical element, the Lib Dems might have real problems

We’ve seen in the London Mayoral elections, where there’s a simplified alternative vote, how the big two squeeze out the yellows. Could what happens to Clegg’s party in the capital every four years apply at general elections?

Mike Smithson