The most effective message of the entire AV referendum campaign in my opinion was No2AV’s “Save one-person-one-vote” (and all its variants).
Effective because it is such an abiding principle of democracy. And effective because it implicitly and explicitly suggested that AV threatened that very principle.
But it actually went even further than that: whether the point was right or wrong or dubious, it was an arguable debating point and No2AV naturally argued it: one person visits the polling booth once, gets one ballot paper upon which they make one mark which gets counted once – simply “One person One Vote”.
The No2AV argument continued that AV doesn’t do that; it instead allows you to put multiple marks on the ballot paper (the preferences) yet you don’t necessarily know how many of your individual preferences will come into play during the count – it could be once but it might be twice or even five times. No2AV blogger DBirkin went further with this point and said: “[with AV] you do not know when you leave the booth who you have voted for”.
Yes2AV joined in the argument – “AV IS ALSO ONE-PERSON-ONE-VOTE! NO2AV are LIARS!” they cried – but they were soon dragged into discussion of transferring preferences, instant run-offs, why a second preference isn’t a second vote etc etc. The very essence of AV required a modicum of explanation and that alone was enough to turn off the average voter (who was already turned off by this referendum for which there was no popular demand/agitation) and sublimely confirmed to the same voter that AV was “complicated” – another relentless No2AV theme.
Yes2AV tried and tried to counter the No2AV message and eventually hit upon the beer vs coffee analogy (which even found its way into a TV broadcast presented by Dan Snow). However the analogy, which was a good attempt to be honest, was late in the campaign and also had its issues: it could confirm in some minds that the losers got two votes: their first losing vote and their second ‘over-ruling’ vote. On the other hand, the coffee drinkers appeared to get only their recycled first vote and looked on sheepishly at the eventual “political stitch-up” to go to the pub. In other words, the advert still didn’t kill off the “Save one-person-one-vote” slogan and could even have reinforced another No2AV message: that of coalitions with backdoor deals where losers get their way.
I might be giving the mostly-bored viewer of the Dan Snow film too much credit in picking up these sublime messages, but I don’t think I am. The only question remaining is whether the above issues with the beer vs coffee advert were either trumped or at least balanced by the underlying appeal by Dan Snow that this was just “common sense”. Perhaps we’ll never know.
Another attempted Yes2Av riposte to the No2Av messages, was to keep pointing out the Conservative leadership election that gave us David Cameron was actually run under AV – “if it’s good enough for them, it’s good enough for us”.
Except the system of electing the Tory leader was clearly NOT what was being proposed in the AV referendum. In the proposed AV system, there were no discrete rounds like the Tory leadership election where everyone knew the result of the round before moving on to the next round of voting. That simple difference meant as Francis Maude said: Tory MPs know exactly what is on offer in each round but with AV the voter has to kind of cast their mind forward to what might happen. Another consequence of that simple difference in Tory leadership elections is that a leading candidate in Round 1 can lose votes in Round 2 as voters re-assess the landscape (impossible under the proposed AV system). The difference can also prompt candidates to voluntarily remove themselves from the process at any stage. There is also a final vote of Tory members in a straight FPTP run-off – in other words a completely different set of electors in the final round to those in previous rounds.
Someone who understands voting systems could clearly say that Tory leadership elections had big similarities to ‘AV systems’ but it wasn’t the same as ‘AV’ i.e. what was being proposed in this referendum. And these small differences matter. As one voting system expert from Reading University said on Radio 4 when asked how many countries used FPTP/AV, there are almost as many voting systems as there are countries who have voting systems.
Yes2AV bloggers also suggested AV was just like the system used on ITV’s “The X Factor” and therefore “as we all understand that, we will easily cope with AV.” Except again, The X Factor does NOT use the same system as the proposed AV system: it presents a number of participants to be judged (candidates) each week and people vote. After a judged run-off between the lowest-scoring two participants, after which one is eliminated, the whole thing starts again the next week where everyone – judges and voters – re-assess the new line-up of candidates and their different qualities. It also gives the candidate a chance to show different angles to their talents (for ballads, big band songs, etc)
It would perhaps be fairer to say that the X Factor is like the Tory Leadership election while both are less like the proposed AV system. But most importantly, neither of these systems are what we are voting for on May 5th.
I have gone somewhat off track and into detail but this is precisely where Yes2AV also had to take us during the campaign.
In the end, voters were not interested. They had not asked for or been promised this referendum (unlike say a referendum on the EU) and barely had a passing interest in it. In such circumstances, any nice neat slogan that quickly hit the spot was taken on board by voters. And anything that even slightly smacked of being complicated was an instant turn-off.
Consequently the “one-person-one-vote” message from No2AV hit home and probably won the day.