How powerful is your vote?

Stephen Whitehead of the new economics foundation reports on the new website that will help you measure just how powerful your individual vote is.

Ballot box

Stephen Whitehead is a researcher in the new economics foundation’s Valuing What Matters team

Today, nef launches the Voter Power Index, a study of how British elections would change under the alternative vote (AV). We have looked at how AV would play out in each seat, but our verdict is somewhat less than clear. True, there will be real benefits to AV – 44 more marginal seats, the power of the average vote up by a quarter – but it falls far short of the electoral reform Britain needs.

Our results show that under the current system, voter power is a postcode lottery. Voters living in the most powerful constituencies have 21 times the power of those in the least.

This is because first past the post’s small, single MP constituencies create ‘lumps’ of electoral power which are hugely inefficient at translating votes into representation. Votes are wasted in their millions, piling up in huge majorities in the safest seats or squandered on losing candidates.

We all know this system means that while all votes are equal, some votes are more equal than others. While the safest seats are neglected at election time, attention is concentrated on the most marginal where swaying just a handful of voters can be enough to change the result.

Parties spend twice as much on campaigning in the most marginal seats and voters turn out there in larger numbers. AV, whatever its merits, will keep this distorting single-member constituency system and the inequality in the system will be only marginally reduced.

Of course, the national picture is only half the story. The Voter Power Index was created as a tool to help voters understand what AV would mean for them, and that means in their local constituency as well as nationally. That’s why the report is accompanied by a website (originally devised by Martin Petts) which lets people find out how a switch to AV would affect the power of their vote.

What we mean by power is simple – the ability to affect the outcome of the election. So in Hampstead and Kilburn, where 21 people could have changed the outcome, voters have a great deal of power. Meanwhile in Liverpool Walton, where it would have taken 10,000 voters to change their minds to change the outcome, voters have almost no power at all.

Voters will have to decide for themselves whether this increase in voter power is sufficient for them to vote yes on May 5th. Clearly the index does not tell us everything we need to know to choose between two electoral systems. 

But it does make a telling case that whatever the outcome of the referendum, on May 6th Britain will have an electoral system where some votes count more than others.

33 Responses to “How powerful is your vote?”

  1. Will Straw

    AV creates 44 more marginal seats & gives voters more power than FPTP writes @SteveIsTall //bit.ly/hVfNI2

  2. nef

    RT @wdjstraw: AV creates 44 more marginal seats & gives voters more power than FPTP writes @SteveIsTall //bit.ly/hVfNI2

  3. Danny Hackett

    RT @wdjstraw: AV creates 44 more marginal seats & gives voters more power than FPTP writes @SteveIsTall //bit.ly/hVfNI2

  4. altepper

    RT @wdjstraw: AV creates 44 more marginal seats & gives voters more power than FPTP writes @SteveIsTall //bit.ly/hVfNI2

  5. Social Liberal Stand

    RT @wdjstraw: AV creates 44 more marginal seats & gives voters more power than FPTP writes @SteveIsTall //bit.ly/hVfNI2

  6. Alastair Murray

    RT @wdjstraw: AV creates 44 more marginal seats & gives voters more power than FPTP writes @SteveIsTall //bit.ly/hVfNI2

  7. Samantha Kennedy

    RT @wdjstraw: AV creates 44 more marginal seats & gives voters more power than FPTP writes @SteveIsTall //bit.ly/hVfNI2

  8. mayadesouza

    RT @wdjstraw: AV creates 44 more marginal seats & gives voters more power than FPTP writes @SteveIsTall //bit.ly/hVfNI2

  9. paul daniels

    RT @wdjstraw: AV creates 44 more marginal seats & gives voters more power than FPTP writes @SteveIsTall //bit.ly/hVfNI2

  10. Bethan Foweraker

    RT @wdjstraw: AV creates 44 more marginal seats & gives voters more power than FPTP writes @SteveIsTall //bit.ly/hVfNI2

  11. Adam Hibbert

    Helpful post on LeftFootForward embodies the fallacies around #Yes2AV – //tinyurl.com/3cfybdb: voters as political consumers? #No2AV

  12. Gavin Crosby

    RT @wdjstraw: AV creates 44 more marginal seats & gives voters more power than FPTP writes @SteveIsTall //bit.ly/hVfNI2

  13. Steve Dunthorne

    RT @wdjstraw: AV creates 44 more marginal seats & gives voters more power than FPTP writes @SteveIsTall //bit.ly/hVfNI2

  14. Nadia Ksaiba

    RT @wdjstraw: AV creates 44 more marginal seats & gives voters more power than FPTP writes @SteveIsTall //bit.ly/hVfNI2

  15. Knut Cayce

    RT @leftfootfwd: How powerful is your vote? //bit.ly/hVfNI2 by @TheNewEconomics's @SteveIsTall

  16. Gareth Jones

    //tinyurl.com/3cfybdb How powerful is your vote?

  17. Top Politics Tweets

    RT @wdjstraw: AV creates 44 more marginal seats & gives voters more power than FPTP writes @SteveIsTall //bit.ly/hVfNI2

  18. Mark Stevo

    “So in Hampstead and Kilburn, where 21 people could have changed the outcome, voters have a great deal of power.”

    I’m pretty sure that’s 20 more votes than are available to the average voter.

  19. Stace

    RT @wdjstraw: AV creates 44 more marginal seats & gives voters more power than FPTP writes @SteveIsTall //bit.ly/hVfNI2

  20. marcwebber

    RT @wdjstraw: AV creates 44 more marginal seats & gives voters more power than FPTP writes @SteveIsTall //bit.ly/hVfNI2

  21. David A Springate

    RT @wdjstraw: AV creates 44 more marginal seats & gives voters more power than FPTP writes @SteveIsTall //bit.ly/hVfNI2

  22. JP Spencer

    RT @wdjstraw: AV creates 44 more marginal seats & gives voters more power than FPTP writes @SteveIsTall //bit.ly/hVfNI2

  23. Ben

    RT @wdjstraw: AV creates 44 more marginal seats & gives voters more power than FPTP writes @SteveIsTall //bit.ly/hVfNI2

  24. Aaron Hill

    RT @wdjstraw: AV creates 44 more marginal seats & gives voters more power than FPTP writes @SteveIsTall //bit.ly/hVfNI2

  25. Gareth C

    RT @wdjstraw: AV creates 44 more marginal seats & gives voters more power than FPTP writes @SteveIsTall //bit.ly/hVfNI2

  26. Ben Cadwallader

    RT @wdjstraw: AV creates 44 more marginal seats & gives voters more power than FPTP writes @SteveIsTall //bit.ly/hVfNI2

  27. Stephen Whitehead

    RT @leftfootfwd: How powerful is your vote? //bit.ly/hVfNI2 by @TheNewEconomics's @SteveIsTall

  28. Richard Wood

    RT @wdjstraw: AV creates 44 more marginal seats & gives voters more power than FPTP writes @SteveIsTall //bit.ly/hVfNI2

  29. FairVote

    UK IRV: Impact of yes on alternative vote referendum is increase in Voter Power Index:. See voterpower.org.uk & //tinyurl.com/3cfybdb

  30. Simon Landau

    I find websites like these an exercise in obfuscation. In my consituency of Sheffield Central the majority was 165 in May 2010. This is described as ‘fairly safe’ (sic)- this is presumably because historically it has been safe but then ignores that the seat is changing rapidly. In addition the differential between FPTP and AV is quite small. Until the assumptions behind the calculations are made explicit in the website itself (using simple propositions), I will treat it (as most of NEF output) as graphically interesting but no more.

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