An overlooked negative consequence of AV?

I should open by saying I’m in the Yes camp when it comes to AV because I don’t think FPTP has delivered particularly well over the last few decades. It certainly hasn’t helped with marginalised groups in parliament.

However, one “bonus” of AV is that a potential MP needs to maintain at least some level of support amongst 50% of their constituents. It occurs to me that if a candidate is a member of a minority group (I myself am Trans and a bi-curious lesbian for example, I would imagine the situation could be as bad or worse in certain areas for anyone who looks a bit foreign) then they instantly lose some proportion of support.

I suspect this does not matter so much with FPTP because first choice votes are less likely to be affected. Someone whose first preference vote is the BNP who would otherwise vote Tory might not list a second choice just because the Conservatives put up a candidate who is only second/third generation British.

I would imagine the situation improves dramatically with STV however – with bigger constituencies, there will be more members of a given group and thus it’s easier for a candidate supported by a marginalised group to get the necessary votes to gain a seat.

I doubt we’ll see this mentioned by the No camp because they mostly seem to be old-school and unlikely to be “in” with equality, but I’d appreciate knowing what others think about this. Is consideration of second and third choice votes likely to affect how panels choose candidates in 2015, 2020 and beyond?


  1. I’m not sure there’s much of a difference between FPTP and AV when it comes to such prejudice.

    Let’s say a particular voter with racist views would vote BNP 1st and Tory 2nd, but if the Tory Candidate happens to be black they’d just vote BNP 1st and leave the rest of an AV ballot blank.

    That same voter under FPTP would vote BNP and they would have exactly the same influence on the election.

    Or if the Tory candidate met the racist voter’s ethnic requirements, it would be an AV ballot of BNP 1st Tory 2nd, or an FPTP Ballot of either a BNP vote (no influence on the result) or a tactical Tory vote (same outcome as with AV).

    I fail to see how this is a negative side-effect of AV. It’s simply an objectionable aspect of some people’s views and I don’t believe the voting system used has any bearing on it.

    The key thing to remember is regardless of the voting system, voters have preferences. FPTP forces voters to declare just one preference, but it isn’t necessarily the 1st choice that they declare. The often choose to go with any choice as far down as their 2nd least favourite, whichever might be most capable of keeping out the disliked candidate. Such a choice is just as susceptible to prejudiced views as an AV vote where all preferences are included.

    Possibly even more so with FPTP, because you only get to make one choice and if you do have a prejudice against a candidate you’d be less likely to choose them on their own, than as one of a range of preferences.

    In any case, for every vote a candidate doesn’t get from AV because of prejudice, there are many many more votes that the same candidate (or any other candidate for that matter) wouldn’t get because of tactical voting in FPTP.

  2. I don’t want to seem harsh, but I don’t see the electoral system as a good way of enforcing equality.

    An electoral system certainly shouldn’t reinforce prejudice, but neutrality is the best you can expect.

    If people do object to a candidate for *any* reason it would be wrong to foist them with an MP they don’t want.

    However, I would suggest that FPTP candidate selection does allow prejudice to creep in – hence the ‘enthusiasm’ for quotas (such as all women short lists) as a way of bypassing the prejudice of selection panels!

    Personally I would refuse to be part of a panel (not that any one would ask me) if the list was limited in this way – I would take it as an accusation of prejudice!

    However under AV, because it negates ‘vote splitting’ (by consolidating votes as candidates are knocked out) – a party could run multiple candidates and let the *voters* decide whether they had a preference for the male/female/gay/straight etc candidate – the least popular would be knocked out and votes transferred to the more popular.

    Personally I think people from minorities may work harder because they have something to prove. If all else is equal, and as long as they aren’t obsessed with their minority status (minority specific issues are not top of my list of priorities) I wouldn’t hold it against them. Others may well feel the same.

  3. AV makes it easier for independent or minor parties challenges in seats that are usually ‘safe’ for a major party. This can be issue when traditionally dominant party nominates controversial candidate from unpopular group. Example Simon Hughes 1982 defeat of Peter Tatchell, Hughes had to persuade Tory voters to vote for him on the argument that only he could defeat Labor. This was difficult and only achieved in last days of his campaign. Under AV so long as Hughes had finished ahead of the Tory he could have relied on Tory preferences to elect him even if Tatchell was well ahead on first count. AV works against potentially unpopular candidates.

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