Why AV is bad (for the BNP)

I don't think that the benefit to one party or another is a valid reason to pick a voting system - but one of the features of AV is that it tends to select the least objectionable candidate. Here's a simplified example.

Let's imagine we have four candidates contesting a seat - let's say they represent the Evil Party, the Moderately Bad Party, the Sorta OK Party and the Best of a Bad Bunch Party. Voters for the three non-evil parties would all prefer any non-evil candidate to the Evil one.

Because there's little to choose between the three non-evil parties, the Evil Party has run a strong campaign and expects about 40% of the vote. The others have been sniping at each other and each will get about 20%.

Under FPTP, that's bad news - the Evil Party walks away with a big majority and the other three wring their hands about how terrible the rise of extremism is.

Under AV, though, it's a different outcome. Nobody has 50% of the votes, so there's an instant runoff.

The fourth-place party - the Sorta OKs, let's say - has their votes redistributed to other non-evil parties (remember: the non-evil voters don't want the Evil to get in and would rather elect anyone else). Now the Evils still have 40% and the two remaining parties 30% each. (Exact numbers don't matter - it could be 40-40-20 and the same logic would hold).

Now the Moderately Bad party is in last place - and all of their votes are redistributed to BoaBB, who now have 60% - and their candidate is elected.

Here's why I think this is a good thing: it eliminates the need for tactical voting. You could vote for any of the three non-evil parties and be sure that your vote wouldn't hurt the chances of keeping the Evils out.

Any questions?


Colin is a Weymouth maths tutor, author of several Maths For Dummies books and A-level maths guides. He started Flying Colours Maths in 2008. He lives with an espresso pot and nothing to prove.


11 comments on “Why AV is bad (for the BNP)

  • splittter

    Interestingly this is exactly why I don’t much like AV, that it seems designed to choose people’s least hated candidate rather than one they want … and think that feature of the 2nd, 3rd etc. choices will lead to a much greater degree of tactical voting 🙂

    • Colin

      Whether the ‘finding the most acceptable candidate’ is a feature or a bug is something I know we disagree on, but yes, that’s what AV does.

      I don’t buy the increase in tactical voting idea at all, though – and I suspect I’ve misunderstood your point. In the last election, I (foolishly) chose to back a candidate I didn’t much like but who had a slim chance of unseating the evil MP; under AV, I could have happily voted for my favourite candidate knowing that once he was eliminated early on, my vote would still count against my nemesis.

    • Mark Scott

      The rules of AV allow voters to honestly rank the available candidates according to their preferences. Doing what the system is designed to let you do isn’t “tactical voting.”

      Tactical voting is what you’re forced into under FPTP when you have only one vote but there are many candidates, and you believe that the candidate you most favour cannot win, so you insincerely cast your vote for a different candidate, who you believe is able to defeat the candidate you truly dislike. What a dysfunctional system!

      • Colin

        Thanks for the comment, Mark!

  • Colin Reynolds

    I think that your post explains it very well. Some of the others I’ve seen go into way too much depth, causing me to scratch my head a lot to make sense.

    @splittter: Seems to me that one’s ‘least hated candidate’ is only chosen if one’s favourite candidate hasn’t already one. Am I missing something?

    Concerning tactical voting: this is more of an issue with FPTP than with AV. Although it’s still theoretically possible, from what I’ve read about it it would be much less likely. At the end of the day, if I’m voting using AV, I’ll be voting for who I want to win with my primary vote; voting for someone I don’t want to win purely on the hope of keeping someone else out seems to me to be entirely undemocratic.

  • Tim Almond

    I suspect that Brighton Pavillion constituency suffered your example. While many people are inclined towards being environmentally friendly, they view the Greens as a bit extreme. They won’t vote for them, and would run a mile from them. Around 69% of people didn’t vote Green, but because their votes were mostly split across 3 large blocks (29%, 24% and 14%), the Greens won with a ridiculous 31% of the vote.

    And splitter… it’s not about “least hated”, it’s about candidates that you don’t mind. Most people can probably find 2 in an election. In real life, your wife can ask if you want anything from the shops and you can say “some Pepsi, and if they don’t have that Coke”. You might have preferred Pepsi, but you’ll also be reasonably happy with Coke. You don’t add “or ginger beer” if you would rather go without than have ginger beer.

    • Colin

      Good example, Tim. I was also reminded of Tatton in 1997, where the Lib Dems and Labour withdrew to allow Martin Bell a clear run at Neil Hamilton. Under AV, they wouldn’t have needed to.

  • splittter

    Should have added that I’ll definitely be voting yes, and that I think it’s better than FPtP … almost left a follow up comment saying so. I don’t even dislike tactical voting.

    Why do I think it’ll increase tactical voting? Well I guess by tactical voting I mean voting for someone you don’t actually want to win, but would prefer to someone you really don’t like. That’s pretty much the only thing you can express by 2nd etc. preferences, and now it will be a feature of every single vote cast.

    I agree, however, that is what the system is designed to do, so perhaps it shouldn’t be termed tactical voting. Besides, as I said, I don’t really have a problem with tactical voting per se, it’s just voting really … just was minded to comment given the thrust of Colin’s post as it seemed I’d seen the implications of AV in a different light.

    As for the least bad person being a better outcome, then yes, it is … just I’d prefer a system where everyone’s positive preference was directly reflected in the actual balance of political power. And whilst I welcome the reform the hippy-ish side of me worries about the negative message a system so clearly designed to arrive at the Best of a Bad Bunch Party sends.

    • Colin

      You don’t need to convince me that AV isn’t the best choice of all systems 🙂 It’s just better than what we have at the moment and the only option we have next month.

  • Jonathan Phillips

    Thanks, Colin – excellent post! See http://bit.ly/fgHxR0 for something similar – no “Evil Party”, just Ricky Rat of the R Party.

    Brighton Pavilion: if it’s really the case that most people would run a mile from the Greens and that AV would have prevented Ms Lucas’s election, so be it. AV would also have prevented the election of the first Alliance Party MP in NI. I’m delighted both of them got in, but I can’t support FPTP just because it occasionally throws up MPs I like, any more than I’d oppose AV just because it might have prevented their election.

    How do people think AV would affect the chances of Independents getting and staying in?

    • Colin

      Thanks, Jonathan,

      I completely agree – I’m actually rather fond of Caroline Lucas, but her election certainly exploited a flaw of FPTP.

      I think sensible independent and possibly even single-issue campaigners may have an improved chance of being elected – from ‘very slim’ to ‘slim’ – if their cause is widely shared; voters don’t need to weigh the candidate’s chances before choosing who to vote for, so I’d expect them to get many more first-choice votes; also, I’d expect them to pick up many second-choice votes from main parties should they reach the later stages.

      Obviously it depends heavily on people’s preferences… which is as it should be 🙂

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