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Elections & Voting Explained

Case Study – Alternative Vote Referendum 2011

The AV or Alternative Vote Referendum was part of the deal agreed to when the Conservative Party and Liberal Democrats formed a coalition government in 2010. Electoral Reform has long been a key platform for the Liberal Democrats.

AV vs First-Past-the-Post

At present for General Elections there is a system of first-past-the-post or in other words whoever gets the most votes wins even if it just one more than the person who comes second.

The AV system meant that voters would be asked to rank candidates in order of preference, nominating as many preferences as they like. This would then begin a more complex delving into the results:

  • They would start by looking at first preference votes and if anyone got more than 50% then they would be the winner
  • If this didn’t happen, the candidate with the fewest votes would be eliminated and their second choices allocated to the remaining candidates in a second round of counting. If after doing this one candidate had more than 50% of the votes they would be the winner.
  • If this didn’t happen again, the remaining candidate with the fewest votes would be eliminated and their second preferences (or third preferences if they were the second choice of someone who voted for the first candidate to be eliminated) reallocated.
  • This process would continue until one candidate had 50% or more of the vote or there were just no more votes to be distributed.

The Campaigns

Those asking people to support AV said that too many votes were being wasted under the current system, They believed that elections were being decided by a small number of voters in a handful of seats where no single party had a large majority. They also argued that it put people off voting, was undemocratic to have MPs elected with less than 50% of the support of their constituents and would make MPs in ‘safe seats’ work harder.

Those asking people to remain with first-past-the-post said the current system generally leads to stable government and has historically reflected the will of the public, in that unpopular governments have been voted out. They also said it was straightforward and easy to understand.

The vote took place on 5th May 2011.

The Result

Officials say 19.1m people voted in the second UK-wide referendum in history - a higher than expected turnout of 41%.

The official result of the AV referendum was declared early on Saturday morning.

According to the Electoral Commission, 6,152,607 voted Yes to the Alternative Vote, while 13,013,123 voted No.

The final result put the Yes vote at 32.1% and the No vote at 67.9%.

Out of 440 voting areas across the country, the Yes votes supporting change made up the majority in only 10 areas: Cambridge, Camden, Edinburgh Central, Glasgow Kelvin, Hackney, Haringey, Islington, Lambeth, Oxford, Southwark.

The North East were most opposed to change - with 71.95% voting No.

London, Northern Ireland and Scotland were most sympathetic to the Yes campaign - with 60% of voters in the London borough of Hackney voting Yes.

Reaction to the Result

The Leader of the Liberal Democrats, Nick Clegg said: "I wish I could say this was a photo finish but it isn't, the result is very clear. I'm a passionate supporter of political reform but when the answer is as clear as this, you have got to accept it."

"This is a bitter blow for all those people, like me, who believe in the need for political reform."

Labour leader Ed Miliband said he was "disappointed" but the people had "spoken clearly and it's a verdict I accept".

Prime Minister, David Cameron said the referendum had delivered a "resounding answer that settles the question" over electoral change and people now wanted the government to get on with governing in the national interest. 

The director of the No campaign, Matthew Elliott, said he had been "astonished" at the scale of the No victory.

 

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