LDV survey: 96% of Lib Dem members back AV – but majority with “no real enthusiasm”

by Stephen Tall on August 31, 2010

Lib Dem Voice has polled our members-only forum to discover what Lib Dem members think of a variety of key issues, and what you make of the Lib Dems’ and Government’s performance to date. Almost 600 party members have responded, and we’re currently publishing the full results of our survey.

Today we’re looking at the Alternative Vote, the measure of electoral reform the Conservatives conceded in their ‘final offer‘ to the Lib Dems to secure the Coalition agreement. A preferential system of voting (in which the public can, if they choose, rank the candidates in order), AV is not a proportional system, and so falls short of most Lib Dems’ wishes.

The Voice set out to find out just how short of members’ wishes the Alternative Vote comes. To test the views of our sample of party members, we asked:


Which of the following statements best represents your view of the UK adopting the ‘alternative vote’ system to replace the current ‘first past the post’ system for electing MPs to the House of Commons:

  • 44% – The alternative vote is a great improvement on first-past-the-post. I will enthusiastically support it in the referendum.
  • 52% – The alternative vote is a small improvement on first-past-the-post. I will back it but with no real enthusiasm.
  • 3% – The alternative vote is no improvement at all on first-past-the-post. I would vote only for a proportional electoral system to replace first-past-the-post.
  • 0% – I support first-past-the-post.
  • 0% – Don’t know / No opinion

In a sense the results are overwhelming: some 96% of Lib Dems according to this survey back scrapping the first-past-the-vote in favour of AV. Only 3% are so theological about proportional representation that they decline to back AV, and would prefer to see first-past-the-post remain until full reform can be implemented. For the record only one Lib Dem said they backed first-past-the-post.

However, what might concern some in the Lib Dem ranks of the ‘Yes to AV’ campaign is the breakdown of support, with a slim majority – 52% – saying they back AV with “no real enthusiasm”, so small an improvement do they consider it. If Lib Dem members are lukewarm, it prompts two questions. First, will they go out and campaign for it? And, secondly, how much harder might it be to convince the wider electorate that this is a reform worth casting their vote for?

Here’s a sample of your comments:

Encouraging fairer campaigning and preferential voting is always a good thing, PR or not. And it’s going to mess with the “Only X can win here” bar charts :)

My actual view is in between the first two alternatives! I do not see it as a real PR move but it IS vital as a first step in changing the system.

If AV passes, the door will be open to further electoral reform. If AV falls, electoral reform will be dead for a generation at best.

I think it is a SMALL improvement, but I will back it with GREAT enthusiasm. Anything which helps to show that the Electoral System can be changed must be supported.

AV is useless, but we have to go for it to establish that FPTP is not sacred.

Later in the survey we asked about Nick Clegg’s attitude to securing electoral reform in light of his comments in a BBC interview seemingly downplaying the importance of the Alternative Vote to his vision of Britain:

Do you agree – yes or no – with the following statement… Nick Clegg is sounding too lukewarm about the Alternative Vote. He needs to sell it more as a positive step in the right direction of proper electoral reform.

  • 57% – Yes
  • 15% – No
  • 28% – Uncertain

So a majority, 57%, of Lib Dem members in our sample think Nick needs to big-up his enthusiasm for the Alternative Vote… which is somewhat ironic given that a majority of Lib Dem members themselves appear to harbour reservations about AV. But then I guess that’s what leaders are for: to inspire us even when we’re not feeling completely inspired.

You can access all the results of past Lib Dem Voice surveys of party members here.