New research: Plural British voters are “happy to express a range of preferences”

New research from ippr shows that "UK voters are happy to express a range of preferences when voting". It reflects a 50 year trend from tribalism to pluralism.

The AV referendum has seen a weekend of claim and counter claim from politicians. Meanwhile, the Institute for Public Policy Research have published new research which sheds more light than heat on the current debate.

The new report, ‘The right alternative? Assessing the case for the Alternative Vote‘ has the full findings of a YouGov poll of 2,000 voters. Key among the findings is that:

“UK voters are happy to express a range of preferences when voting – certainly up to and including a third choice. For the majority of voters, especially the growing number of non-tribal voters, their sense of allegiance to these top three parties does not vary substantially.

“Those with loose party affiliation – 40 per cent of the electorate – give their first two preferences almost equal weighting. With their looser sense of party affiliation, today’s voters are able to simultaneously support a handful of parties that in some way represent their values.”

This is a trend in British politics which makes uncomfortable reading for many of the tribal inhabitants of Westminster. In the 1960s, just under half the population had a ‘very strong attachment’ to a single political party but this has declined to below 20 per cent in the 2000s. Indeed, the YouGov poll found that just 18 per cent agreed with the following statement: “One political party comes close to reflecting my views and values; I am strongly opposed to all of the others.”

This finding is reflected in the behaviour of voters who are becoming increasingly fickle and indecisive. 31 per cent of those who voted in 2005 voted for a different party in 2010 while in 2010, 40 per cent of voters only made their mind up during the month before the election.

The ippr document rebuts one the key claims made by David Cameron by showing that “two-thirds of British voters say they think AV is ‘fairly’ or ‘very easy’ to understand.” In yesterday’s News of the World, David Cameron wrote:

AV is too complex. Today we stick a cross in the box and the candidate with the most votes wins. Simple.

“But under AV you can vote for many different people in different orders. Do we want a system only a few number crunchers in Westminster understand?”

The report also finds that AV will reduce the fear of wated votes and make elections more competitive by, ‘”[creating] more uncertainty, which is good for democracy”.

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