Thursday, 5 May 2011

A Lib Dem making sense?

Perhaps I'm just sleep deprived, but the analysis of AV over at Gowers's Weblog seems broadly to make sense.

The author is a Lib Dem supporter, and he does spout his share of nonsense. For example:
Once again, I mean clever from the political point of view: it sounds persuasive despite being wrong. In fact, it is better still, since it suggests a general technique that all politicians can use. If your party stands for X and Y is an adverse consequence of X, defend X on the grounds that not-Y is a consequence of X. For example, if, as all economists will tell you, spending cuts lead to increased unemployment, go out and say that you are making spending cuts in order to create jobs in the future.
All economists? And what of the unseen private sector jobs, which never existed because the wealth that could have funded them was confiscated to pay for public sector jobs? Some public sector workers, of course, destroy further jobs by producing burdensome regulation. Others support a welfare system that traps people in idleness and poverty. It's entirely plausible that public spending cuts now, especially if targeted, will lead to a healthier economy and more jobs in the future. But in any case, should employment really be the primary goal of economic policy? In the long run, technological progress is surely more important.

But I digress.

On the topic of AV, the author does seem to have exposed some No2AV propaganda that "sounds persuasive despite being wrong". In particular,

3. Under AV, some people get more votes than others.

The beauty of this objection (from the point of view of its political effectiveness, by which I mean its ability to persuade people who don’t feel like thinking critically) is that it cleverly confuses a true statement with a false statement. It would be ludicrously unfair if some people were given more ballot papers to fill in than others. But that, it hardly needs pointing out, is not what happens. What does happen is that some people’s second (or lower) preferences are taken into account and other people’s are not.

This is presented as an unfair advantage to those whose lower preferences are taken into account.
Consider first what it means if you get five bites of the cherry. It means that your first-choice party is eliminated, and your second-choice party, and your third-choice party, and your fourth-choice party. Compare that with the poor old voter who gets just one bite of the cherry. Their party is either the party that wins or the party that comes second.

A quick slogan:


The idea that it is unfair for some people to have their vote counted more often than others is — in so far as it means anything at all — just plain wrong. The NO2AV campaigners are saying that supporters of unpopular parties get more votes. What they actually get is more opportunities to change their vote. Since each change is from a higher preference to a lower preference, changing one’s vote is not something one wants to do.
He goes on to make a salient comparison with Multiple Round voting systems. If there's a flaw in his logic here, I can't see it.

His reasoning on AV isn't completely sound (he downplays the risk of hung parliaments and coalitions, for example), and he's certainly not unbiased (who is?), but the entire article is worth reading.

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