Voters like AV, but only once they’ve tried it

A new poll gives the Yes camp a 12-point lead.

With three weeks to go before the referendum, a poll out today shows the biggest lead for Yes2AV this year. The YouGov poll, commissioned by IPPR, shows a 12-point lead with 45 per cent saying they will vote Yes. But the result came after voters had the chance to take part in a mock election conducting under the Alternative Vote. It seems that voters like AV more once they've tried it.

Most polls on AV have shown that about a third of voters "don't know". But the poll conducted after getting people to give it a try had just 17 per cent undecided. Yet maybe the "don't know" camp in the forthcoming election would be better referred to as the "don't care" camp. This latest YouGov poll shows 59 per cent of people say that AV is either "fairly" or "very easy" to understand.

The findings from the mock AV ballot showed that the Liberal Democrats are likely to pick up most second preferences (23 per cent). More than a third of Conservatives (34 per cent) would pick the Liberal Democrats as their second preference, with a similar percentage of Liberal Democrats (37 per cent) reciprocating. Other parties, such as the Greens (17 per cent) and Ukip (13 per cent), would attract significant second-preference support as well.

Unlike Ukip and the Greens – whose second preferences will change the outcome in some seats – the BNP picks up only 3 per cent of second preferences. IPPR analysis reported by Channel 4's FactCheck shows that BNP voters cannot single-handedly change the result in any seat under AV. Indeed, the BNP's deputy chairman tells Channel 4: "We are never going to get our feet under the table under the AV system."

On Monday, IPPR will publish a report assessing the Alternative Vote system, authored by Guy Lodge and Glenn Gottfried, completing their analysis of what's on offer in the referendum. It follows their damning assessment of first-past-the-post, published at the turn of the year, showing that the last election was decided in just 111 constituencies by fewer than 460,000 voters, just or 1.6 per cent of the electorate.

Richard Darlington is head of news at IPPR.

Richard Darlington is Head of News at IPPR. Follow him on Twitter @RDarlo.

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Want to beat Theresa May? First, accept that she's popular

The difficult truth for the centre and left, and advocates of a new party, is that people don't "vote for the Tories reluctantly".

An election campaign that has been short on laughs has been livened up by a modest proposal by an immodest man: the barrister Jolyon Maugham, who used to write about tax for the New Statesman as well as advising Eds Miliband and Balls, has set out his (now mothballed) plans for a new party called Spring.

The original idea was a 28-day festival (each day would be celebrated with the national costumes, food and drink of one of the European Union’s member states) culiminating in the announcement of the candidacy of Spring’s first parliamentary candidate, one Jolyon Maugham, to stand against Theresa May in her constituency of Maidenhead. He has reluctantly abandoned the plan, because there isn’t the time between now and the election to turn it around.

There are many problems with the idea, but there is one paragraph in particular that leaps out:

“Like Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty, Labour’s left and moderates are bent on one another’s destruction. No one knows what the Lib Dems are for – other than the Lib Dems. And we vote for the Tories reluctantly, lacking an alternative.”

Even within this paragraph there are a number of problems. Say what you like about Sherlock Holmes and Moriarty but it seems hard to suggest that there is not a fairly large difference between the two – regardless of which one you think is which – that might perhaps be worth engaging with. There are fair criticisms of the Liberal Democrats’ uncertain start to this campaign but they have been pretty clear on their platform when they haven’t been playing defence on theological issues.

But the biggest problem is the last sentence: “We vote for the Tories reluctantly, lacking an alternative”. A couple of objections here: the first, I am not sure who the “we” are. Is it disgruntled former Labour members like Maugham who threw their toys out of the pram after Corbyn’s second successive leadership victory? If you are voting for the Tories reluctantly, I have invented a foolproof solution to “voting for the Tories reluctantly” that has worked in every election I’ve voted in so far: it’s to vote against the Tories.  (For what it’s worth, Maugham has said on Twitter that he will vote for the Liberal Democrats in his home constituency.)

I suspect, however, that the “we” Maugham is talking about are the voters. And actually, the difficult truth for the left and centre-left is that people are not voting for Theresa May “reluctantly”: they are doing it with great enthusiasm. They have bought the idea that she is a cautious operator and a safe pair of hands, however illusory that might be. They think that a big vote for the Tories increases the chance of a good Brexit deal, however unlikely that is.

There is not a large bloc of voters who are waiting for a barrister to turn up with a brass band playing Slovenian slow tunes in Maidenhead or anywhere in the country. At present, people are happy with Theresa May as Prime Minister. "Spring" is illustrative of a broader problem on much of the centre-left: they have a compelling diagnosis about what is wrong with Corbyn's leadership. They don't have a solution to any of Labour's problems that predate Corbyn, or have developed under him but not because of him, one of which is the emergence of a Tory leader who is popular and trusted. (David Cameron was trusted but unpopular, Boris Johnson is popular but distrusted.) 

Yes, Labour’s position would be a lot less perilous if they could either turn around Jeremy Corbyn’s popularity ratings or sub him out for a fresh, popular leader. That’s one essential ingredient of getting the Conservatives out of power. But the other, equally important element is understanding why Theresa May is popular – and how that popularity can be diminished and dissipated. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to British politics.

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