Archive for April, 2011

AV vs FPTP — the short(er) version

April 30, 2011

I am sufficiently out of touch (or perhaps simply part of the wrong generation) that when I saw that somebody on Twitter had described my previous post as “a prime candidate for tl;dr” I didn’t know what it meant. In case you didn’t either, it stands for “too long; didn’t read”. I realize that it was a bit long for a blog post: my defence is that (i) I thought that it would be mainly read by mathematicians, who are more patient than your average reader (if you want to know why, try reading a university-level mathematics textbook), (ii) I found that I had a lot to say and wanted to justify it carefully, and (iii) I tried to make it easy to skim-read by dividing it into sections and having slogans that summed up my points.

But the post has been read far more widely than I expected, which makes me think, with referendum day approaching rapidly, that I might be able to reach more people if I wrote a shorter version — I fully understand that not everyone has the time or inclination to read a 10,000-word essay. Of course, I have to compromise on the justifications, but they are there in the long version (which I would prefer you to read if you have the time and inclination). Another advantage of writing a second version is that it enables me to take account of some good points raised in the responses to the first. (If I don’t take account of yours, it doesn’t mean I didn’t think it was good.) One general criticism made by a couple of people was that I didn’t spend any time debunking bad arguments made by the YES2AV campaign (though that was before I wrote the supplementary post). I’ll try to put that right here, though it seems to me that the bad YES2AV arguments tend to be weak and unconvincing, whereas the worst of the NO2AV arguments are actually wrong.

A quick remark before I get going. I read an interesting article in the Guardian about the opinion polls, which are still suggesting an easy victory for NO2AV: they show a split of roughly 60 to 40 amongst people who say they are certain to vote. However, the article also said that the percentage who say they are certain to vote is much higher than most people believe will actually turn up to vote. This gives me a small straw-clutching hope. It seems to me that people who say they want to vote no to punish Nick Clegg can take that sort of view only if (i) they would have voted no anyway or (ii) they don’t actually care one way or the other about voting reform. It seems possible that people of the second kind will be less inclined to feel that it is important to vote. I don’t offer this as a completely convincing argument — perhaps there are lots of people who think that AV is a small improvement but in the end won’t make much difference, and perhaps they too will decide that it’s not the end of the world if they don’t vote. But leaving that aside, a low turnout is predicted, so your vote has more of a chance of making a difference than it might have. If you’re reading this, please, whatever your views, do go and vote. (That sounds admirably balanced, but it isn’t really: I think most people who read this post are sympathetic to AV, so if my plea makes any difference then it ought to favour the YES side.) One final thought about this is that even if NO wins as expected, the smaller the margin of victory, the more chance of getting the politicians to reconsider voting reform at some future date.

AV vs FPTP — a supplementary post

April 29, 2011

In this post (the first past the previous one) I want to consider some further arguments, most of which have arisen from the interesting comments I have received. You’ll have to be pretty interested in voting theory to have waded through my earlier post and still want more, but NO2AVers who are looking for ammunition may find some here (as long as they are selective about which arguments they go for).

I have also written a shorter post on AV versus FPTP. I plan to post it at the weekend (when people are less distracted by the Royal Wedding, though perhaps the audience for that is rather different from the audience for this). (more…)

Is AV better than FPTP?

April 20, 2011

On May 5th the UK will vote in a referendum for only the second time ever. (The first time was in 1975, when we voted on whether to remain in the EU, or the Common Market as it was then called.) Now we have a chance to decide whether to retain our current voting system, misleadingly known as First Past The Post, or whether to switch to the Alternative Vote. Let me come clean straight away. Although in this post I shall try to write dispassionately about these two voting systems, my actual attitude is anything but dispassionate: I have yearned for a better voting system ever since I have had any political awareness at all, and am steeling myself for what is probably going to be a huge disappointment when the country votes for the status quo. And I am writing this post in the genuine hope of making a difference. Since it is extremely hard to change anybody’s mind in politics, I think the best I can hope for is to persuade somebody to vote yes (the question will be phrased in such a way that “yes” means you want AV and “no” means you want FPTP) who might otherwise not have bothered to vote at all. This is a mathematics blog, so I will give this post a mildly mathematical slant, but all I really mean by this is that I know when I write that a typical reader of this post will be mathematically literate, which may make the post different in tone from how it would be if I were writing for a more general readership.