Public ‘don’t care’ about AV referendum

By Alex Stevenson

Public opinion about the electoral reform referendum is unpredictable because most people are not interested in the issue, a leading elections academic has said.

Michael Pinto-Duschinsky, a senior research fellow at Brunel University and director of the International Foundation for Electoral Systems, said he believed it was a “scandal” that the poll on the alternative vote was taking place at all.

Taking part in a podcast discussion for, he claimed referenda should only take place where this is “deep-seated demand for constitutional change”.

“You should only have a referendum on a matter that is considered deeply and widely by the population as being an issue of prime importance,” Dr Pinto-Duschinsky said.

“There is no evidence that the referendum came from that. Indeed, one of the reasons why public opinion is so volatile, can be led one way or the other by some information or the way the referendum question is put, is because opinion is very shallow on the issue. The public doesn’t really care very much about it.” monthly podcast: Electoral reform

Dr Pinto-Duschinsky, who has argued in favour of a ‘no’ vote on May 5th, pointed out that there had been very little discussion about electoral reform issues during last year’s general election campaign.

He blamed the misreported claims that Labour were offering AV without a referendum for the Tories’ offer to the Liberal Democrats of a referendum.

“Without that miscommunication we wouldn’t have been having that referendum at all,” he added. “In my opinion I think it’s pretty much a scandal that we’re having one.”

Rudolph Fara, director of Voting Power and Procedures at the London School of Economics, said he believed it was a “scandal that it’s taken so long” for a referendum to be set up.

“This ties into the notion that two-party politics is finished, and first-past-the-post is finished with it,” he commented.

But Dr Pinto-Duschinsky said his analysis suggested 60% of elections would result in hung parliaments, weakening the strength of governments in Britain.

“I think it’s very likely that you’ll have the Liberal Democrats as the main gainers and therefore the kingmakers,” he added.

“Therefore as a second stage of reform they will say they’ll go into coalition with whichever of the main parties offers them a referendum on PR.

“I think a yes vote in this referendum will put us on the road to PR.”

Mr Fara replied: “I think the alternative vote as it’s been run in Australia since 1918 shows the fact they’re happy with it. They have been able to live with that.”