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David Deutsch against AV

David Deutsch, quantum theorist, libertarian and a man with a brain exceptionally huge even for a libertarian, has posted a video on youTube of himself discoursing against AV (thanks to Sarah Fitz-Claridge for passing news of it on to me).

It is a beautifully clear 15 minutes of listening. He argues that AV, by making proportions of MPs more closely reflect the proportions of electors supporting the parties, doesn’t succeed in its purported aim of making the electoral system fairer. Rather, by making coalitions almost inevitable, it gives king-making power to the third party. Not only does that have nothing to do with numerical ‘fairness’, it makes it virtually impossible for electors to influence the third party and hence for it to learn from experience – Popperphiles will love his introduction of the great Karl into the argument near the end. First-past-the-post is less bad in this respect. The implication is that any proportional-representation system will have the same weakness.

I always participate in elections. I almost invariably spoil the ballot paper with a libertarian slogan. I try unsuccessfully to make my kinfolk and friends understand that this symbolic act is no more ineffective than the votes that they cast and is just as morally responsible. One of the rare votes I did cast was for a UKIP local councillor. I could actually detect a difference between UKIP and the other parties, and I approved of it.

Now I think David Deutsch might have persuaded me to cast a vote again – against AV.

42 comments to David Deutsch against AV

  • Stephen Willmer

    All non-first-past-the-post systems suffer from the same three basic faults.

    1. If fairness is a process which implies people are treated equally, rather than an outcome creating “equality”, then NFPTP systems give different weight to votes for different parties, e.g. minority Green votes holding the balance of power and ending up with disproportionately powerful representation in government.

    2. They’ve invariably been introduced only in those polities suffering from what pol. scientists call “cleavages” (missus) i.e. existential divides within that polity … ethnic, religious, whatever, which if not managed electorally are perceived as likely to end in violence. And this ties in to point 1.: NFPTP systems are explicitly designed not to treat people equally (whatever their advocates claim), lest the shoutier members of the citizenry cut up rough. NFPTP systems are therefore patronising elite management of the plebs intended to predetermine elections, incidentally reinforcing the permanent governing class (think: all those revolving door Italian cabinets from 1948 to about 94).

    3. Somebody or other’s Impossibility Theorem: there is no NFPTP formula capable of accurately apportioning seats to votes.

    All of which said, I recently heard it said that AV would drive a knife through the heart of the Tory Party and must admit, I’m sorely tempted. I mean, what’s the answer? vote for the system (FPTP) which is best in principle, or kill the Tories?

  • Hunter

    Stupid American question. Why do you need a majority parliamentary coalition to “create” a government? Can’t you just seat the parliament and either have them elect a prime minister by simple majority or have the prime minister elected by the public at large American style.

  • In anything in the universe should convince people that proportional representation and anything that smacks of it is a disaster its the Israeli political system.

    I can just imagine a British version of the Shas party run by people from you-know-where.

    Or just for fun, an Anglican Agudat Israel.

  • Stephen Willmer

    Hunter, re. your first question, yes, but having parliament elect a prime minister by simple majority would entail MPs getting behind him. A coalition by any other name. Indeed, a coalition is merely those MPs elevated to ministerial rank who are drawn from that larger group of MPs who back one individual as PM.

    In theory, with the current way of working, a Tory or Lib Dem MP could decline to follow his party leader’s lead by backing, as in the current instance, Cameron as PM. But he would find the “whip” (i.e. the party’s support and endorsement) withdrawn from him, making his subsequent re-election well-nigh impossible.

    So, yes, what you ask is what happens, albeit the process is more formalised.

    As regards your second question, that would require a change in the law. A Prime Minister is in fact little more than an historical accident (although I think subsequently recognised in statute): he is the leader of the the largest group of MPs. In theory his sole power, as they used to say of pontiffs, is to bind and loose (hire and fire).

    None of which is to say that the law cannot be changed. Parliament is as sovereign as it wishes to be (which is not much, nowadays) and can if it wishes legislate to ban smoking on the streets of Paris. But what you suggest would bring with it complex consequences over and above merely instituting direct election of the PM. For instance, how would a directly elected PM pass a law? At present law is passed only by parliament voting for it, or at least voting for the EU to pass it. A directly-elected PM, without more, would be like one of those trophy presidents in places like Eire and Germany. In effect, to enact what you suggest, would be to turn him into a proper president like BHO, a man with executive powers, even if those powers are constrained by the legislature.

    Not impossible, as I say, just complex and difficult.

  • Hunter

    Stephen thank you for your response.

    I thought that the current system required a 50% + 1 to form a government.
    I was asking if in a 100 seat house could you have 45 members from the largest party pick the PM and ignore the other 55 members. Or am I missing something entirely?

  • Gary

    FPTP allows corrupt politicians to sit in safe seats and screw over the voters. Its a stupid system for designed for stupid people.

    I favour AV as it weakens all political parties, thus strengthening the hand of the electorate, giving the voter more weapons with which to punish politicians.

    The more political parties, the better, as it makes it harder for lobbyists to control politics (at present they only really have to buy 2 parties). Ideally, lobbyists should all be shot, but making life difficult for them is the next best thing.

    Anything that hurts politicians and lobbyists is good for the people.

    Politicians of all parties need to be put firmly in their place as servants of the people:
    1. MPs should be paid no more than the minimum wage. The Prime Minister should be paid no more than 20k a year.
    2. MPs should have to clean toilets once a week as public service (this should also apply to the PM)
    3. MPs must give 50% of any money they receive from private interests to the taxpayer (thus to some extent shielding the taxpayer from pork and corporate welfare). That way their whoring themselves works for us.
    4. Jobs politicians get after serving in government should be considered as having been gained at the taxpayer’s expense. Blair, for example, should have to pay 50% of his fee for sitting on JPMorgan’s board doing no work, to the taxpayer.

  • I thought the PM was the King or Queen’s advocate in parliament? Theoretically formulating a government is something the Crown Royal does but will usually be based on the democratic result and formulating the strongest possible majority; to do otherwise would lead to nigh on all legislation being derailed and a vote of no confidence.

    AV is simply a means of bringing the lefts idea of “equality” to voting reform; “equality of outcome” rather than “equality of opportunity” which has been the guiding principle of our British democracy for centuries.

    But, AV does offer a rather unique opportunity; you convince enough people to choose only one preference, particularly for parties unlikely to win, and the resultant lost votes could void the result.

    It should become clear from exit polls how the result can be rejigged and an expression of “NOTA” is an actuality; something FPTP doesnt offer.

  • M. Thompson

    Okay, I’m pretty much agreeing with keeping the FPTP system.

    Yes, it does tend towards a two party system, but it means that I know the son of a gun whose district I live in, so I, as a citizen, can tell a single idiot why I want him to be unemployed.

    The problem with AV is you get strong party hacks. If your position on the list to be elected is partially dependent on how much the party bosses like you, loose canons are right out. Also, there’s not ability to cross the aisle. Office holders are essentially bound to the party, not their constituents. No more Enoch Powells leaving the Tory Party over various issues, and no more Joe Libermans who get de-selected because they don’t please on wing of a party.

  • Non FPTP systems (especially proportional representation which some of the people seem to be discussing and which is different from AV) suffer from several problems, at least one of which doesn’t solve Gary’s objections:

    1. In a country like the UK with three established parties, the system gives disproportionate power to the third party. If memory serves, the FDP in (West) Germany was the kingmaker for decades from the time they got Willy Brandt into power.

    2. In some countries (current-day Germany and Sweden come to mind, as does Australia) you wind up with two discrete coalitions anyhow, so it’s not much different from a two-party system.

    3. In countries like Switzerland, there’s a large “grand coalition” which is basically the same parties constantly in power; I believe the current three parties in the coalition have all been in office since 1959. This makes it tough for outside parties to get into power, as the bien pensant establishment simply says they’re the tolerant ones and that the new party are evil

    4. Some PR systems wind up like Israel or Italy before the last decade or so, and both of those have already been mentioned here.

    5. Corrupt politicians, rather than gerrymandering safe seats, keep themselves in office by staying at the top of the party list under PR. Under AV, there are still individual districts.

    Gary’s problem with lobbyists is really a problem with the fact that Big Government has the power to *uck up people’s lives. (I’ll let you put the letter of your choice in place of that asterisk.) The logical result is that people will go to great lengths to ensure that Big Government is *ucking up somebody else’s life. The solution isn’t to give Big Government more power to *uck up people’s lives.

    To be honest, there are good points about AV: first, you still have individual representatives, so there’s somebody who is technically supposed to be representing you; also, it’s easier to cast a protest vote if you want to vote against a particular individual.

  • Kim du Toit

    Fascinating discussion, I’m sure. What’s “AV”?

  • Kim, AV (“Alternative Vote”) is what Americans call “Instant Runoff Voting” (IRV). Rank your preferences in order, 1,2,3,4,5. Least preferred candidates are eliminated in sequence and their ballots transferred to the next candidate on those ballots. I have an advocacy piece for it here:


    Regarding David Deutsch:

    1. The reason why the subject of “what voting system is best” has come up is because the dominant political parties are doing a poor job of reflecting the views of centrist voters.

    2. Deutsch’s argument confuses Proportional Representation (PR), which requires multi-member legislative districts, with AV, which is effectively a runoff system for a single-member district. This point is further confused by the fact that Australia uses AV in their lower house, but a form of PR in their upper house called “Single Transferable Vote” (STV), which uses very similar ballots. Election systems with single-member districts are necessarily “winner take all” systems.

    3. The incentives for a minor party under a single-member district election system with runoffs are completely different from the incentives under PR. Under PR, you win by appealing to fringe voters. Under FPTP, you get two serious parties and some minor fringe parties which depend essentially on protest votes. Under AV, minor parties are rewarded for appealing to centrists.

    4. Deutsch has a point in that the way Parliament is organized is perverse. The process of “forming a government” makes the Prime Minister (the “agenda setter”) potentially beholden to small voting blocks. Block voting by parties is a problem. Also, British political parties are “disciplined” in the sense that they are controlled by small elites and almost always vote in blocks. The use of primary elections in the US tends to make US parties more “amorphous.”

    5. Israel and Italy use PR. Deutsch’s mention of Israel as a negative example of AV illustrates the PR vs. single-seat confusion. Papua New Guinea used to use AV, but switched to FPTP because it was simpler, and when they did, the level of violence in their elections went up.

    6. Deutsch assumes that a third party in the legislature will be a fringe party, but that the big two will be centrist. But he also assumes that the big two will refuse to cooperate with one another. There is no reason for a third party under AV to be flakier than the first two, and there is no reason why the first two can’t cooperate if they have more in common with each other than they do with the third.

    7. Deutsch is correct that under AV, he wouldn’t be able to vote against coalition members outside of his district without voting against the entire coalition. But this is just as true under FPTP. As a Texan, I don’t get to vote against Barney Frank (Massachusetts) or Nancy Pelosi (California).

    8. Regarding criteria for choosing a voting system: Deutsch seems never to have heard of the Condorcet criterion: if one candidate is preferred by a majority in one-on-one comparisons over any of the others, he should be elected. Otherwise, I think the best voting system is one that tracks the wishes of centrist voters. Deutsch is correct that AV can produce perverse outcomes under some circumstances, but Arrow’s Impossibility theorem guarantees that this is true of ALL election systems. FPTP produces perverse outcomes whenever voters choose “the lesser of two evils” when there is a compromise candidate that would be preferred by a majority over either of the other two.

  • Laird

    “Alternative Voting” (a/k/a “Instant Run-off”). You rank the candidates in order of your preference. If no one gets a majority of the votes in the first round, the candidate with the lowest vote total is eliminated and all his votes are distributed to the second-place choices of those who voted for him, and so on until someone has achieved a majority.

    And I’m still not convinced that it’s not an improvement over the entrenched two-party system we’re stuck with in the US. At least it gives third parties a fighting chance (it eliminates the “wasted vote” argument, and the resulting “lesser evil” selection process). And if minor parties get somewhat disproportionate power, why is that a bad thing? The ruling duopoly now has all the power; in my mind that’s a worse problem.

  • Stephen Willmer

    “I thought the PM was the King or Queen’s advocate in parliament? Theoretically formulating a government is something the Crown Royal does but will usually be based on the democratic result and formulating the strongest possible majority”

    Not so, Thom. The cabinet is certainly the Queen’s government (not Cameron’s, no matter what he or lazy journos say; it is merely his “ministry”… and they are not his ministers, either) and the prime minister is invited by her to form a government as he is the bloke with the largest following of MPs. But although it is the Queen’s government it would be wrong to see the PM as her advocate. Indeed as far as I am aware the Queen has no advocate in parliament. She can only enter parliament at its invitation and in recent years she has become more of an advocate for her government via the debauching of the Queen’s speech into ruling party advertising than the other way around. It is true that ministers occasionally make announcements to the House at the request of the palace – births, marriages, deaths, that sort of thing, but if you think about it, what need does a supposedly apolitical monarch have of an advocate?

  • And if minor parties get somewhat disproportionate power, why is that a bad thing? The ruling duopoly now has all the power; in my mind that’s a worse problem.

    You are welcome to visit Laird, now that the weather is still mild:-) Seriously, imagine a party consisting of a coalition of Progressives and Muslims, demanding an equal legal standing for Sharia. Now imagine that this admittedly minor party is getting somewhat disproportionate power in Congress (or whatever it may may be called under whatever new system). Mind you, I’m not having an issue with the general consideration of any alternative system, only with that particular bit of yours that I quoted. Oh, and what Taylor said. I am well aware of all the downsides of the US system, but I am yet to be shown a less-bad alternative.

  • FPTP allows corrupt politicians to sit in safe seats and screw over the voters. Its a stupid system for designed for stupid people.

    Pah. So by that logic PR systems are models of incorruptible politics, eh? Give some examples of this please. Alternatives to FPTP just produce different corrupt politicians, not less of them.

    Voting systems matter vastly less than constitutional limits on what those politicians voted in by any means can actually do.

  • M Thompson, and others, AV is not proportional, there are no party lists.

    I am surprised at the ignorance on show here, I would expect better from Samizdatistas.

    What AV accomplishes is to allow you to vote AGAINST your most loathed candidate, not just FOR your preferred candidate.

    It is a system which allows you to vote UKIP without allowing Labour in through the back door – and that is no bad thing.

    I grew up with it,(Link) I lived with it here in Oz all my life and I see no reason to believe that it perpetuates permanent lefty rule or is any way unfairer. It has the strengths of FPTP and fewer of the weaknesses.

    Kim, a description here(Link):

  • Jim

    I don’t think the UK electorate will stand for too many coalitions. Look at whats happening to the LDs. They are getting crucified because they have ‘sacrificed their principles to get into power’ ie primarily they were against raising student fees but joined a coalition thats doing just that.

    That can only happen more and more if coalitions are what we can expect after AV. If people think that its not worth voting for any party because whatever manifesto they stand on is going to be ripped up minutes after the election’s finished, they they will stop voting entirely. You could get local election levels of participation, 20-30% of the electorate. Is that really what we want?

  • RAB

    I will be voting no to AV.

    As I have said in the other place, I have never yet voted for a politician who was elected, and I always vote.

    Last election, I thought I would either have to spoil my ballot paper, or not vote at all. Then a UKIP candidate turned up at the last minute and me and 400 others voted for him. Wasted vote eh? Well it doesn’t bother me. I always vote my conscience and could not conscionably vote for the other bastards.

    Alisa makes a very good point about a coalition of Progressives and Muslims, because this stupid Referendum on our voting system, is the price the Tories had to pay for this Coalition being in power, even though the boy Clegg called AV a crap little compromise before the the election, and was against it.

    Anyway, Talking of Bastards… Scroll down for the video.


  • I have never yet voted for a politician who was elected, and I always vote.

    You didn’t vote for Thatcher then, RAB? (ducking under the table…;-P)

  • RAB

    Ahem (the woman is too bloody sharp by half!).

    To be perfectly honest Alisa, up to 1997, I didn’t bother to vote in the General Election, only in the local Council ones, because Bristol West had been Tory for something like 136 years. It was one of the safest Tory seats in the country. Then it went to a Labour lookalike for Olive from On The Buses in the 1997 Labour landslide, and now it has a Lib/Dem nonentity called Harrison.

  • David Deutsch, quantum theorist, libertarian and a man with a brain exceptionally huge even for a libertarian, has posted a video on youTube of himself discoursing against AV … He argues that AV, by making proportions of MPs more closely reflect the proportions of electors supporting the parties, doesn’t succeed in its purported aim of making the electoral system fairer. Rather, by making coalitions almost inevitable, it gives king-making power to the third party. … The implication is that any proportional-representation system will have the same weakness.

    He might have a huge brain, but if that is his position, he doesn’t understand the subject.

    AV isn’t a proportional system and AV doesn’t make coalitions almost inevitable. If anything, it does the opposite. Over the last fifty years, Australia, with AV, has had fewer coalitions than the UK with FPTP.

  • tomwright

    So far as the Instant Runoff AV system, I think it is too complicated. It would be endlessly confusing to huge numbers of voters.

    I prefer a simple proportional representation system, where each party gets seats in proportion to the total of all votes its candidates receive, rounding to the nearest seat. Assign the seats to candidates in order of vote total.

    So in a 100 seat legislature, with 3 parties running, as well as some independents, if party A gets 40.6% of the vote, they get 41 seats. Party B gets 27.2 % and 27 seats. Party C gets 22.7% and 23 seats. The remaining 9 seats are distributed to the top 9 independents in order of vote total. If there are seats left over, assigning them in sequence to each party until all are filled. So if there are only 4 independents, the remaining 5 seats are assigned one at a time in turn to leftover candidates of the other parties in sequence of party and then candidate total. So Party A gets 2 additional seats, party B gets 2, and party C gets 1.

    Simple math, and easier to administer. The more simple the more difficult to cheat and manipulate.

    But there is another additional thing that needs to be added. The “Check and Balance’ that is missing from the American system.

    First: All laws need to be approved in a general referendum before they can be enacted. So the legislature can propose, create and approve by vote any new laws, but they need popular approval first. This would probably stop many of the most egregious abuses of political favoritism such as special tax breaks and other budgetary favoritism, as well as eliminating the hideous complexity of much legislation.

    Second: Something I call the Citizens Veto. It is a limited form of Initiative and Referendum. Where any law can be repealed in a citizen initiated referendum. The law must be repealed in whole, and can not propose or enact any other legislation. No new laws can be proposed, nor can any existing laws be altered, other than complete repeal. The granularity at which a repeal occurs would be different depending on each legal system. How small a section of the law would be a necessary detail to be predetermined. Certainly larger than a single sentence out of a larger section.

    This avoids much of the problem of mob rule as in the infamous 2008 Proposition 8 in California USA. While a marriage equality law could also be repealed, which is likely for a time if it is enacted before a majority of people are comfortable with it, that is different than imposing an active restriction on people. Slowing down the enactment of laws is usually a good thing, as they tend to be enacted in haste and panic. Being able to repeal them, while possibly slowing progress of the sort that Prop 8 stopped, will usually be a good thing. Giving people time to reconsider what has been done, in the case of say, Drug Laws, Gun Control and the like, is I think, likely cause positive change, (in the direction of liberty), more quickly than is the case with our current situation, where we need to wait for politicians to make the changes. Politicians, as we all know, tend not to lead the winds of change, so much as they follow political hurricanes while pretending to lead them.

    The above is my imperfect attempt to match the good things of having a smaller deliberative body, that is not so large as to prevent any voices from being heard, with the good things of having a popular voice dampen the excesses of the oligarchy that seems to inevitably form in any scheme of representative government. And at the same time limit the problems of direct democracies that can lead to true mob rule.

    All together, I think of it as a political ratchet. It is a way of allowing movement in any direction, but making it more difficult to move in the direction of more laws and restrictions, and more easily allowing the reversal of a law or restriction.

  • Laird

    David Deutsch certainly looks like Central Casting’s idea of a theoretical physicist, doesn’t he?

    He does an excellent job of laying out the issue, and makes a strong argument. However, he seems to assume that there will be only three (or maybe four) parties, so that any two can “gang up” on the other to form a majority. But my suspicion is that there will in fact be many minor parties, dividing among themselves the (probable) plurality of votes which don’t go to the two “majors”. In that case the coalition would not just be #3 and whichever of #1 or #2 it chooses to annoint, but rather an ever-evolving consortium of each of the majors with whatever minor parties it can cobble together. Yes, those minor parties will have some ability to make demands, but if they’re too far out of the mainstream for that major party it will simply find another partner which is a better fit.

    What’s missing in Deutsch’s argument is that (in the US, anyway) we’re voting for an individual, not a party. Yes, many of the reflexive Democrat or Republican voters simply pull the lever for whoever has the correct party designation, but not all, and not the independents, and certainly not the third party supporters. But the current duopoly essentially forces that result. If someone likes (say) the Libertarian candidate but fears that the vote will be close enough that a loss by the Republican will allow the evil Democrat to win, many people will vote Republican even if they don’t particularly like that candidate. An AV system would permit them to safely vote L, knowing that R is the backup.

    In my state, in the 2010 elections the nominees of five different minor parties received at least 1% of the vote, and in some races that candidate received in excess of 10% of the vote. I’m certain those numbers would have been much higher in an AV system, without the “wasted vote” fear. Furthermore, with an AV system I believe that we would see more participation by minor parties, and far fewer instances where the incumbent is running unopposed. And that would be a Very Good Thing.

    In response to tomwright’s post, the problem with a PR system as he outlines it is that it forces people to vote for a political party, rather than an individual candidate, so all the power goes to the party bosses who determine the order of selection. (If your party is entitled to 10 seats in the legislature but 15 people filed as candidates, which ones get in? The bosses decide.) That’s an awful system. And I also disagree with his idea on holding referenda on all laws; too cumbersome and it requires the electorate to become knowledgable about every issue, which just isn’t going to happen. That’s why we are a republic, not a democracy, and a good thing, too. But I do agree with the Citizens Veto idea, although it would be difficult to implement on a national scale. Which is why we simply need to restore the 10th Amendment, and the power of the states, which would serve largely the same purpose. But that’s a different discussion.

  • Richard Thomas

    I’ve yet to be dissuaded from approval voting. Everyone gets a yes/no vote on all the candidates and the one with the most yes vote wins. No funny maths, no “lesser of two evils” bullshit, no third-party spoilers, just a straight “Would I be happy with this person representing me or not?”.

    Sure, it brings issues of its own (as will any system of trying to coalesce the opinions of many to a few) but it seems to me that it eliminates most of the most egregious issues that the other systems bring about.

  • Richard Thomas

    Laird, if I understand Tomwright’s post, you are voting for both the candidate and the party. The number of seats get allocated by party and then filled from the pool of candidates according to vote ranking.

    It’s an idea with some merit but I have some questions about how you do the vote ranking. Is it by total number of votes (unfair to small constituencies) or by proportion of votes (arguably unfair to large constituencies). I have little doubt that more analysis would throw out other potential anomalies too.

  • michael

    I shall vote yes to AV for the simple reason that the Law of Unintended Circumstances will prevail. It will not work out as the political-media establishment think it will. It might worsen our situation, or it might improve it. With any luck it will throw a large spanner into the works.

  • Robert

    Tomwright, it has been proven their is no fair way of splitting up the seats proportionate to votes, short of having one seat for every voter – google apportionment paradoxes.

    The conditions you’d expect of any fair system are:
    a/ the number of seats for a party should be within one of the exact value, if seats didn’t have to be whole. I.e, if UKIP gets 17.53% of the vote in a 100 seat common, they should get 17 or 18 MPs.
    b/ getting more votes shouldn’t result in getting fewer seats
    c/ All else being equal, increasing the total number of seats shouldn’t reduce the total number a party gets, or vice versa. If UKIP get 18 seats in a 100 member house on 17.53%, they shouldn’t get 17 seats in a 101 member house on 17.53%.

    Which of these criteria are you prepared to jettison?

    The underlying problem is in how you do the rounding down. Rounding off to the nearest can mean the total number of seats doesn’t add up right.

    Say, for example, part A gets 29.7%, party B gets 30.7%, and party C gets 39.6%, for a 100 seat House of commons. Rounding gives A 30 seats, B 31 seats, and C 40 seats, for a total of 101 – 1 MP too many, and there’s no fair way of eliminating the surplus.

    The whole notion of proportional representation is based on a misconception anyway. Representation proportional to vote doesn’t mean power proportional to vote.

    Suppose again there are 3 parties. Either one of them has a majority, and 100% of the power, or every pair of parties would have a majority, effectively giving them all equal weight, 33% of the power. There are no other options, no way of awarding effective power proportional to votes.

    PR is like so much other political idealism. It sounds nice, on the surface, but the hard maths says the dream won’t work as intended.

  • John B

    At this rather crucial point in history, AV would at least give people the chance to vote for, say, LPUK, or UKIP, and put, say, the Conservatives as their second choice, knowing that their if their first choice was just knocked out, at least their vote was not wasted?
    Therefore they would not have to vote for the lesser of two evils as “the only realistic alternative” as happens now.

    Thus some parties with some moral fibre (if such a thing exists) might just stand a chance of getting somewhere.

    It seems to me, on balance, better.

  • Proportional Representation really is a different kettle of fish from any of the single-member district systems. Buchanan and Tullock describe this in The Calculus of Consent in terms of “implicit vs. explicit bargaining.” With single-member districts, the compromises are implicit in the candidates’ platforms, and are selected by voters in the general election. With PR, the compromises are made explicitly within the legislature, after the election. PR is sensitive to anything squirrelly about the way the legislature works (e.g. block voting along party lines). In Weimar Germany, under PR, fringe parties would agree to sack the Chancellor, but be unable to agree on a replacement.

  • tomwright has a point about complexity. I wouldn’t want to be asked to rank more than about 5 candidates. So ballot access is more of an issue with AV than FPTP.

    Counting Cats: I read that PNG had switched to FPTP. Did they switch back? Yes, it’s a shame not to have Hannan on board.

  • cranston

    If AV (as described above) is a better indicator of voter preference then FPTP for the most preferred candidate, couldn’t it then fail to determine the least preferred candidate (in the same way that FPTP fails to determine the most preferred)? That is, if it is run in reverse (i.e.- eliminate the candidate with the highest votes and reapportion his 2nd,3rd,….place votes to determine the least preferred candidate) to determine the least preferred, couldn’t the result differ from simply eliminating the candidate with the least 1st place votes? And differ substantially? AV seems to determine the least preferred candidate by a last past the post decision which could be seen as not best indicating voter preferences. e.g.- 3 candidates receive 29, 31, and 40 percent of the vote; but the second choice of all those who voted for the 40%er is the guy who got 29%. He would not be the least preferred, yet AV would eliminate him immediately. Just asking.

  • Peter:

    In theory, you should be able to rank as many or as few of the candidates as you want. From what I read, however, in Australia you’re supposed to rank every last one, which I frankly consider horrid. I tend to like the idea of a “none of the rest” preference, and if that winds up winning, tough to all of the candidates who ran.

  • @cranston: Yes, AV could easily eliminate a good compromise candidate, who is everyone’s second choice, but nobody’s first choice. Condorcet is the ideal in this regard, but I despair of getting the average person to sit still long enough to explain how it works, or why.

    @Ted Schuerzinger: Yes, that’s my understanding regarding the Australian system. Also, everyone eligible is required by law to vote. So people worry about “the donkey vote,” where large numbers of voters mindlessly rank their candidate preferences in whatever order they appear on the ballot.

  • Slowly, the underlying issues do seem to be coming to the fore at Samizdata. Sadly, it is still most unlikely that is going to happen before 5th May for much of the electorate.

    Laird sees things much the same way as do I. Peter A. Taylor has a clear understanding; I agree largely with his analysis but do not agree with his initial premises on the desirability of proportional representation; I also think the additional complexity of the Condorcet methods over AV is not sufficiently beneficial.

    Rather than posting more on issues already covered, at least in part above, I’m doing to try introducing some new information. For my more expansive views, there are these two comments on Direct Democracy.

    The opinion of the voters is a key issue in the analysis of desirability. This view of that opinion concerns the information content of completed ballot papers; ie what each voter thinks. In this, for simplicity, I have assumed 4 candidates. I have also assumed (because it matters when using the mathematical concept of entropy) that each voting pattern is equiprobable; however, that is an approximation.

    FPTP gives 5 different votes (one for each of the 4 candidates and a blank/spoiled ballot paper). The compulsory ‘vote for every candidate’ AV method (prevalent in Australian national lower house elections) gives 24 ways of voting. AV with the option to vote for any number of candidates (out of the 4 in this example) or leave the ballot paper blank/spoiled gives 65 ways of voting. With the RON option (as a separate choice from leaving some candidates without a ranking) allows for 106 ways of voting (in this particular example).

    Now adding in the assumption of equal prior probability of each complete voting choice, we have entropy for each type of ballot as follows. This is using bits/ballot paper, which many readers should be familiar with.

    FPTP 2.32 bits of information
    AV (‘Austalian’) 4.59 bits
    AV (without RON) 6.02 bits
    AV with RON 6.73 bits

    As can be seen, AV allows voters to provide more information than does FPTP, on what they desire. The ‘Australian’ method allows less information to be expressed than does the AV ‘UK’ method. The AV method with RON option allows voters to give even more of a view (and could also, IMHO usefully, be added to FPTP ballot papers too: as an official abstention which is allowed to win the election).

    I hope the above comment helps understand the additional aspect of measuring the information content of ‘what the voter wants’.

    Best regards

  • This marks the point of a longish comment by me, currently ‘in’ Smite Control.

    It contains information as well as opinion, so please do consider coming back here later.

    Best regards

  • Wow!

    Smite Control is clearly on the ball today.

    Thank you to Chris Cooper or whoever else helped it along.

    Best regards

  • Australia uses a variety of similar but not quite the same voting systems in different elections. Federal elections require you to number every candidate (compulsory preferential voting, in Australian parlance). Most states use optional preferential, in which you number as many votes as you like. It is this system (optional) that has been proposed here and is being voted on next month. In practice, optional preferential voting gives very similar results to FPTP, so this change is not likely to be a big deal.

    In my mind, AV of this form has two minor advantages over FPTP. The first is that a candidate who has fallen out with his party can stand against the official party candidate without immediately dividing the vote and letting the opposition win the seat. (most independent MPs in Australia did precisely this). Secondly, it eliminates the need for “tactical voting” : cases where people vote for (say) the Liberal Democrats when they would (say) rather vote Tory, because they do not believe the Tory has a chance in their constituency. Such a change in the voting system would allow us to discover just what the core support of the Liberal Democrats actually is. My hunch is that it is less than they think, and that AV would be quite damaging to them in the medium to long term. Australia has had its share of third parties, but they tend not to be long standing. I think AV in the UK is likely to strengthen the two party system rather than weaken it.

  • Bobby

    Actually, after seeing that video I’m much more inclined to vote for AV.
    This video explains the Australian system well:


  • @Nigel Sedgwick: Thank you for your kind words.

    Is Britain considering “a move to a directly elected executive prime minister?” I’m salivating at the thought of being able to vote against Harry Reid (and retrospectively, Nancy Pelosi).

    Wikipedia has a nice article on tactical voting in open primaries in the US. It mentions Operation Chaos and John McCain. I suspect I’ve been barking up the wrong tree in that the problems with our internal party elections are more important than the problems with our general elections.

  • Brian Scurfield

    David also has a new book just out, called The Beginning of Infinity, where, among a lot of other things, he discusses electoral systems.

  • Paul Marks

    Peter A. Taylor.

    Regardless of what happened in 2008 – “open primaries” sound nice but are just plain evil.

    I use the word “evil” deliberatly.

    It is imoral (wicked – evil) for people who do not support a political party to decide who its candidate is.

    A primary should be restricted to people who support that political party.

    And how can you tell who really supports the political party?

    One simple question is as follows…

    “Are they prepared to pay the membership fee”.

    If they are not prepared to do so – then their “support” is not very real.

    Almost needless to say – David Cameron loves “open primaries”.

    Labour party voters deciding who the Conservative party candidate is, seems to appeal to his Progressive mind.