9 friends are off to the cinema. (Adam, Brian, Colin, David, Ethel, Freda, Geraldine, Hilda, Isobel) and they can’t decide which of the 4 movies to see. They have a choice of Horror, Comedy, a 3d Cartoon or Romance.

Adam, Brian, Isobel and Colin all want to see the horror, David and Ethel want to see the comedy, Freda, and Geraldine want to see the Romance, Hilda wants to see the cartoon. They all want to go and see a movie together though (even though it’s a multiplex). Adam, Brian, Isobel and Colin say that their votes are the most so everyone should see the horror. But the others argue that that would mean that 5 of them would watch a movie they don’t want to see! It’s obvious that Hilda is on her own, so they ask her what would her 2nd choice movie be. Hilda picks the comedy. The others are annoyed now – there is still a split, although romance is now the clear runner up. So they ask Freda and Geraldine too for a 2nd choice. Freda picks comedy too, and Geraldine ums and ahs but finally plumps for the horror.

There are now over 50% of the friends wanting to see the horror. They go and see it. Geraldine and Freda agree it was rubbish, next time Geraldine will vote for comedy. If things are the same next time, her vote will swing it for the comedy.

We use the alternative vote all the time, we usually don’t even notice.

They argued about the popcorn too – but luckily there was only a choice of salty or sweet, and in a choice of two, the majority vote works fine, and even though Adam didn’t want popcorn, it turned out that most people wanted sweet……


  1. Good post. I usually use a restaurant/ menu analogy :)

  2. Dave Nicholls5/5/11

    Like most of the analogies this one doesn't really highlight the issues I have with AV because the situation doesn't really match the one you get when voting:

    Under AV:
    1) The commitment I have to make to a party/candidate is reduced

    Under FPTP I vote for a single candidate and if enough people want that specific candidate then they get the most votes and are elected. I have to look carefully at the package of policies and commit absolutely to whichever I believe is the 'best' (whatever that means to the person voting)

    With AV I can play with my vote. I can happily vote for the monster loonies with another party as second preference because I can be fairly confident that the loonies won't get 50% so my vote will switch over.

    Why would I do that? Well I might want to simply make a point, effectively a protest vote where I don't actually lose anything. Unfortunately if enough people do this it could change the results in unexpected ways; for example the order in which candidates drop out might change the next preferences and the final result.

    Another reason might be that I really want to vote for a fringe party (say the BNP) but in FPTP it would often be a waste of a vote. Under AV I can safely vote the way I want, again without losing out because of my extra preferences. My feeling is that this will actually change voting patterns in some constituencies.

    2) The 'must have the support of 50%' claim is misleading

    What it actually means is that the candidate must have some support from at least 50%. Some people will have supported them fully and put them first. Others may have put them third or fourth to try to avoid a particular candidate being elected. Under AV a vote counts fully wherever it falls in the preference list.

    Essentially the default position for a lot of people may well be first preference is who I want, the rest of my preferences are designed to avoid the person I want least.

    While the claim that AV gives people multiple votes is ludicrous, it does allow an extra power above and beyond a single vote to people who choose to play with the preferences.

    Overall I think this could be fixed by losing the 50% requirement and progressively reducing the 'value' of a vote for subsequent preferences.

    Effectively this allows the strength of feeling for each candidate to be represented in the results as well as the simple preference order.

    For absolute clarity. I am not a member of any political party. I am 'policy political' rather than 'party political', I review all parties every time I vote. I haven't yet voted today, and I am still not clear on what I'll do in the AV vote.

    I would vote for full PR in a second. My concern is that a compromise like AV will fail in unexpected ways and damage the possibility of getting full PR later.

    I have also become a bit exercised by the number of 'simple' analogies that hide important detail.

  3. @Dave Nicholls thanks for the comment - and I totally agree, this was mainly aimed at people that just 'don't get how it works'

    I have no idea if AV will change things or not - we can't know because as you say, we don't know what people will do - will they 'play' with their vote, vote tactically, ignore the option of 2nd and 3rd choices? etc.

    Personally i think that the vote will go against AV today anyway - so we will probably never know how it would have affected things.

  4. Dave Nicholls5/5/11


    I looked at the Australian situation. AV is used in some elections and has been cited as both a good and bad example of AV depending on what you read. Two things that I hadn't seen widely reported jumped out at me:

    1) Australia is basically a two party system

    There are lots of parties, but several of them form a permanent coalition and act together.

    For me this undermines Australia as an example of AV because in a two party system AV is irrelevant.

    In recent times a third party has gained ground, but it's only in the 2010 election that they made a big impact so I think it's too early to know what the end result will be.

    2) It is common practice for parties to get together and negotiate preferences between them

    Basically parties agree to try to share the preference positions to help each other. They then produce 'how to vote' cards that are handed to voters as the go into the polling booths. Voters are obviously free tho vote how they like, but it appears many (I read 55%) simply vote in line with the card.

    This seems to make a mockery of the 'no-tactical voting' claim for AV.

    It has to be pointed out that Australia has some other rules. Voting is mandatory (which I think it a good thing) also you must express a preference for each candidate, if you miss any you ballot is considered to be spoiled.

  5. Voting should never be mandatory unless there's a none of the above square. You can't require ppl to choose. And I think turnout figures falling show how disenchanted the electorate is with the current corrupt and detached system. We have one government, effectively, who I suspect are actually the civil servants who advise those we elect to represent us.

    There is a system where you rank candidates with numbers of votes - Borda count which then weights the votes according to their positions in the rankings. It seems better to me, but a change from FPTP is what we absolutely need, and patronising by the politicians over all of this has wound me up horrendously.


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