Thursday, August 19, 2010

AV and tactical voting

I think Tom Harris misses the point here – or, at least, he misses the point I’d make. Possibly he very squarely addresses a point other people have made.

He claims to “explode another myth” about the Alternative Vote:

It will mean that every vote counts, say its “supporters”; no more tactical voting for candidates you don’t actually support.
Ah, bless.
In fact, AV will institutionalise tactical voting and make sure that many, many more voters than before will use their votes tactically.

But the truth is that it does both.

You use your first choice for whichever candidate you most like, without fear that you’re wasting the vote on a no-hoper. Because if they are a no-hoper, then you can use your lower choices to pick between the likelier candidates as you prefer. Under first-past-the-post, the first choice is all you get – so there is a conflict between between showing your support for your favourite and trying to get the best plausible option elected.

AV removes the need for tactical voting in first choices by institutionalising it in the lower choices.

What’s more, the type of tactics involved changes. Tom says that “Voting tactically with your second or third preference vote is no different from placing a cross against the name of the person you dislike the least under the current system.” But this isn’t true.

Tactical voting under FPTP requires you to know/estimate/guess which candidates have a genuine chance of winning and which don’t. This is often difficult, particularly with lots of horrendous ‘Only Party X can beat Party Y in Wibblesford North!’ leaflets, complete with dodgy bar charts, flying around.

Under AV, all you have to do is decide which candidates you prefer to which others. You need spend no time poring over opinion polls and past results.

And those bar charts will become obsolete.


tim f said...

I hate to say this but I'm at least partially in agreement with Tom Harris.

AV doesn't only encourage you to put candidates in order of preference, it encourage you to try and "send a message" through the electoral system to the eventual victor. (No wonder Lib Dems like it!)

For example, in the current leadership election I am considering preffing Diane Abbott ahead of Ed Miliband, even though I don't want Diane Abbott to win. This is purely on the grounds that I want EM to win after votes discernably from the left have been transferred over to him, to put pressure on him from the left should he win.*

I have made a judgement based on opinion polls, gut instinct, etc that Diane Abbott can't win, so this seems a safe thing to do.

How many Labour voters might vote Green as a first preference for similar reasons? Or Tory voters first pref UKIP? Whatever else can be said about AV it certainly isn't true that it removes tactical voting from first preferences. (Unless you draw a distinction between tactical voting and signifying voting, but I would argue the latter is if anything worse than the former.)

* in the interests of full disclosure, I'm currently intending voting in order 1-4 EB, DA, EM, AB

Dale Sheldon-Hess said...

"AV removes the need for tactical voting in first choices by institutionalising it in the lower choices."

This is wrong, and I will prove it with a very simple example.

45%: A > B > C
10%: B > A > C
10%: B > C > A
35%: C > B > A

Under AV, A wins.

But, if 10% change their votes from C > B > A to B > C > A, they would find that, rather than their least-favorite candidate, A, winning, that their second-favorite, B wins.

So there is still "a conflict between between showing your support for your favourite and trying to get the best plausible option elected," at least if there are three strong options.

AV only "works" if voters really have only two choices.

Tom Freeman said...

Thanks to you both – not often that I’ve been shot down online so quickly, so lucidly and so politely! Clearly I have to scratch my head a bit more on this one…

Dale Sheldon-Hess said...

My pleasure :)

The reform option that would really get me excited is approval voting.

You can read more about it on my blog, The Least of All Evils, at or from the Center for Range Voting, at

AV (better known as IRV here in the US) is getting a lot of press these days, so must of what I (and CRV) do seems to be poking holes in IRV.