Overwhelming support for electoral reform – in the UK

A ComRes poll for The Independent released today finds that almost 80% of voters in the United Kingdom support replacing First-Past-the-Post (FPTP) with a “system that reflects more accurately the proportion of votes cast for each party”. Only 18% disagreed.

As well, support for changing the electoral system was strong across party lines. Unsurprisingly, support was strongest among Liberal Democrat supporters, 88%, followed by 83% support among Labour voters. Electoral reform has long been a keystone of the Lib Dem platform, and Gordon Brown’s Labour government had started making some noises in favour of electoral reform last year.

What is most surprising – and very encouraging – is that 71% of Tory supporters also agreed that FPTP should be replaced. The Conservative Party itself is strongly opposed to changing the electoral reform, and the fact that the coalition agreement with the Lib Dems includes a referendum on the issue upset many in the party. However, this poll result indicates that the Party is out of step with a majority of its supporters on this issue, which may bode well for the referendum, when it is held (unfortunately, the referendum will be on adopting the Alternate Vote (AV), which is little better than FPTP).

The phrasing of one question asked confuses me somewhat: “The political horsetrading which followed the inconclusive General Election result showed that an outright win is much more desirable than a hung parliament .”

I am not certain how to interpret this question. I assume they’re asking if it would be better that a single party win an outright majority, thus avoiding the “political horsetrading” required to negotiate a coalition? It’s a very leading question, and the fact that 72% of respondents were in agreement with that statement rather contradicts their strong support for electoral reform. Adopting a voting system that would better reflect the proportion of votes cast for each party would decrease the chances of one party winning an outright majority, meaning “political horsetrading” would be a regular feature of politics in the UK.

The poll also asked if “Britain is better off with a coalition government that it would have been if either the Conservatives or Labour had won the election outright.

Results were split, with a slight majority, 45%, agreeing, and 43% disagreeing. Given that it hasn’t been even a month since the coalition was formed, it was perhaps a bit premature to ask this. Parliament re-opened only last week; the country hasn’t yet had much of a chance to assess the performance of the coalition government.

One question (again phrased in a very leading way, in my opinion), may be of some concern to the junior partner in the coalition, the Lib Dems. When asked if they agreed or disagreed that it was difficult to know what the Lib Dems stand for now that they have joined a coalition with the Conservatives, a majority (65%) agreed. Broken down by party affiliation, it isn’t surprising that a majority of both Conservative supporters (67%) and Labour supporters (78%) agree with this statement, however, I would question if they knew much about what the Lib Dems stood for before the coalition happened. What is maybe more surprising is that 50% of Lib Dem supporters also agree with the statement.

Lib Dem leader Nick Clegg was asked about this poll result in a radio interview with the BBC, and replied that over time, it would become clear to people how the Lib Dems had influenced the coalition government’s policies, auguing that people would see “a pattern of a government that is strengthened by having these different philosophies and different identities within it”.

What may complicate Clegg’s attempts to maintain an independent profile for his party is the fact, as Deputy Prime Minister, he will no longer be able to ask questions of the Prime Minister during Prime Minister’s Questions. Previously, the Lib Dem leader was allocated two questions during PMQs. It is not yet known how these will be divided up between the other parties. Of course, Lib Dem backbenchers will still be able to lob questions at the PM, but they won’t have the same profile that the party leader would enjoy, and they may be discouraged from asking questions that might appear overly critical of the coalition government and its policies.

It remains to be seen if Clegg’s optimism is justified, in light of the poll’s findings. He may want to focus for now on the apparent wide support for electoral reform, a policy for which everyone knows the Lib Dems stand.

Further reading:

Voters ‘not sure what Lib Dems stand for’
Voters support abandoning first-past-the-post, poll suggests

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