Monday, February 21, 2011

Attack the Tories, get voting reform

Some thoughts on the voting reform referendum.

The No campaign’s claim about the £250 million cost might not be accurate, but is a pretty effective campaigning message. I really don’t understand the Yes campaigners crowing about how it is a ‘gaffe’ or sign of how the No campaign is in trouble. It’s going to be mentioned in every single article on the subject in right wing newspapers from now til polling day.

The reason that the cost is a more effective message than those coming from the Yes campaign about “make your MP work harder” is that it recognises that most of the people who will be voting in the referendum won’t think that voting reform is a big priority. For what it’s worth, I think the claim that AV will make MPs work harder is just as inaccurate as the claim about cost[1].

It’s relatively easy to predict turnout levels in the referendum. It will be around 50% in Scotland, 40% in the northern cities, Wales and the Home Counties and other places with local council elections, and about 10% or less in London and other places where there aren’t any other elections. Most people filling in the ballot paper won’t have gone specifically to vote on the issue, but to vote to choose their MSP, AM or local councillor, and then will fill in Yes or No in the referendum as an after thought.

What both campaigns need to focus on is thinking about how to appeal more effectively to these crucial swing voters. Compared to the UK population as a whole, the people that will decide the referendum will tend to be older than the national average, more likely to live in a town in northern England or Scotland, less interested in the details of different voting systems, and more likely to support Labour or other left of centre parties. The Yes campaign needs to win amongst groups such as Labour-voting pensioners in Glasgow or Manchester.

The good news for the Yes campaign is that Matthew Elliott of the Taxpayer’s Alliance and his Tory chums are not exactly people who are well placed to appeal to the majority of these undecided voters. But the Yes campaign risks losing their advantage by sticking to a not very compelling general anti-politician message and paying too much attention to people who have already made up their minds with detailed arguments about technicalities. Worse still and actively counter-productive are smug articles like this one from Andrew Rawnsley which classily calls low income voters “the Thicko Vote”.

The absolutely crucial task for the Yes campaign is to make sure that every single one of the people who goes to vote for centre left parties and against the Tory government in the local elections gets the message that the way to protest against this government is to vote Yes in the referendum. This message might annoy a few committed Liberal Democrats, but the Yes campaign has already got their votes anyway. What it needs a clear and simple message about how voting reform will damage the government, and it needs to make sure that majority of anti-Tory voters have heard this message by the time they go to vote. What it doesn’t need is wealthy journalist “supporters” insulting undecided voters.

[1] What AV will do is incentivise parties to target supporters of other parties who always vote to get second preferences, rather than focusing on ensuring that all of their own supporters turn out to vote.

1 Comments:

At 9:41 am , Anonymous Anonymous said...

I'm voting Yes to AV. Having grown up in Hazel Grove where Labour was always in third place I found it amusing to have the Lib Dems canvasing me to vote for Andrew Stunnell so as not to split the anti-Tory vote (with the memory of the 1992 near-miss in mind). Since Stunnell became an MP in 1997 I find it hard to disagree with the way he has voted, but as one of the four Lib Dems who negotiated the coalition agreement it is hard to dissassociate him from the current government. Without AV a lot of disaffected public service workers will be less inclined to vote Lib Dem, but would think twice about a protest vote for Labour as it might let in the Tories. With AV I would predict a lot more Labour first preferences, which would then align behind the Lib Dems. On the down-side fourth place UKIP votes may well line up behind the Tories, but the combined centre-left vote is usually higher.

 

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