The latest opinion polls suggests that a referendum to change the way members of parliament are elected in the UK is likely to return a ‘no’ result, adding to the many woes of Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg.
The No campaign goes into the May 5 referendum on the voting system with a strong overall lead of 56 to 29 percent, according to a ComRes poll for The Independent.
In January, it was the ‘yes’ campaign that led by 36 to 30 percent, according to ComRes Chairman Andrew Hawkins. The people who initially answered ‘don’t know’ have moved towards ‘no’ because “there is still a huge amount of ignorance about the AV, huge gaps” he said, adding that the people do not see the referendum as a priority for the nation.
“In order to get a ‘yes’ vote you need to persuade the people on two things: does the current system need change? And if the AV is the right thing to adopt.” Hawkins said in a telephone interview.
The Alternative Vote (AV) electoral system gives voters a chance to rate candidates in order of preference. If no candidate reaches the threshold of 50 percent, the ballots of the candidate with fewest votes will be redistributed among the rest based on second choices until one contender passes the 50 percent mark. Under the UK’s current electoral system, the candidate with the most outright votes wins the seat.
The ‘yes to AV’ camp says AV is fairer and makes politicians work harder for their seats. The ‘no’ camp argues that AV is more complicated to run and its result will be a parliament of second choices.
There is need for change in the current voting system as the “electoral system produces very distorted outcomes,” says Jonathan Hopkin, senior lecturer in comparative politics at the London School of Economics. “The share of the votes that different parties get very often bears little resemblance to the share of the seats in the parliament.”
The current system makes it very difficult for smaller parties to win a seat, although they may get many votes. Liberal democrats have been historically more disadvantaged as a result. In the last election they had 23 percent of the vote, but they only got around 10 percent of the seats in parliament.
A ‘no’ vote makes Nick Clegg weaker because the referendum was one of the concessions that he argued for before joining the Conservative party in a coalition, and electoral reform will be remembered as what he didn’t achieve, says Hopkin, whose specialities include elections and British politics.
“It weakens Nick Clegg politically because it’s perceived that many who voted ‘no’ did so because they disliked Nick Clegg; he’s very unpopular at the moment,” he added.
“The Liberal democrats are in a very difficult position,” according to Hopkin. “On one hand, staying in government makes them unpopular within their supporters and activists, a lot of people are uncomfortable about being a part of a centre-right government.
“But the other problem they have is that if they withdraw support from the government, that would cause an election and because they’re unpopular at the moment the likely result would be that they would lose. They have no choice but to wait for better times.”
For the poll, ComRes telephoned a random sample of 1033 adults across the United Kingdom between April 28 and May 1. The poll also indicated that current Labour supporters, crucial for both camps, oppose AV by a margin of 60 to 40 per cent. Conservative supporters reject AV by an overwhelming 88 to 12 per cent, while Liberal Democrat supporters back AV by a majority of 72 to 28 per cent.
By Ali Sheikholeslami