Public want a greater choice in the AV referendum, says poll

Ryan Gallagher
8 October 2010

The referendum on electoral reform offers too limited a choice, and an independent body should be responsible for drafting the referendum question, the majority of respondents to a recent YouGov poll said they believed.

The poll, which surveyed 2000 people on a range of issues tied to the referendum, also discovered that 32% had never heard of AV, with a further 35% admitting they were not sure how the system worked.

It also found that there is an increasingly marginal divide between those in favour of the current First Past the Post (33%) system and those advocating reform (32%).  In July, according to a previous YouGov poll, AV support peaked at 45%, but has since steadily declined as support for FPTP has continued to slowly rise.

The outcome of the referendum therefore rests on the shoulders of the 35% currently undecided – or confused – as the May vote looms, with the prospect of an undoubtedly gruelling referendum campaign impending over the coming winter months.

Significantly, the poll also found that the vote on AV is about much more than a ‘yes’ or ‘no’.  Many in the ‘yes’ camp, for example, feel that ‘anything’ would be better than the current system, or that AV should be regarded only as a first step to Proportional Representation. While over 30% of the ‘no’ camp say they will vote no because they feel the AV system is defective or over-complex.  

Where a majority of repondents agreed, though, was on priorities.  When asked which constitutional issues they would most like a referendum on, 43% favoured a vote on EU membership, compared with only 33% who gave electoral reform precedence. 

Other key findings of the poll include:

  • The significance of party allegiance: 64% of Conservative supporters highlighted the need for a referendum on Europe, whereas 63% Lib Dem supporters prioritised voting reform.
  • 52% of respondents favoured including the question of equalisation of constituency sizes on the referendum. Like AV, the issue features on the Parliamentary Voting Systems and Constituencies Bill; however, as things stand the Government has referred the referendum to just one half of the Bill, a decision supported by 29% of respondents.
  • Only 48% of people who gave reasons for their intention to vote against AV said they were happy with the status quo.
  • 71% of respondents felt that the drafting should fall to either an independent commission or a citizens’ jury.
  • Respondents on both sides seem to think that AV will favour smaller parties, but they are divided on whether this is a good thing.
  • Respondents in both the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ camps say they want to reduce the likelihood of further coalitions or hung parliaments.
  • Respondents who expressed themselves to be ill-informed or confused all opted to vote ‘no’.

The Constitution Society, who commissioned the poll, said:  “The poll points to the need for both the ‘yes’ and ‘no’ campaigns to explain to the public the importance of the referendum question if we want to be confident that the outcome of the referendum will represent an informed decision.”

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