The Alternative Vote (AV): moving from nominal to ordinal measurement

Tomorrow is a very important day for British citizens when we shall decide our next voting system – labelled as the Alternative Vote (AV). Presently, we use a simple voting system called ‘First past the post’ (FPTP). In this system, the candidate who has won the most amount of votes is the winner. So, lets say, there were 3 candidates and 1000 voters and candidate A got 401 votes, candidate B got 400 votes and candidate C got 199 votes. In the FPTP candidate A will be called the winner as he has got the most amount of votes, though in reality the difference between candidate A and B may not be significant in reality. This is a nominal measurement system wherein you get to make one choice as a voter. In research world, this is called the assignment property.


The alternative vote (AV)

The FPTP is the norm across most democratic countries. In Australia however, for nearly a century they have been using a different voting system which in the UK right now is being called the Alternative Vote. The system focuses on identifying a candidate who is the first to get more than 50% votes. In this altenative vote system, the voters don’t only put an X next to a specific candidate they like (or least dislike in most cases). Instead, the voters rank the candidate in terms of their order of preference. In research terms, this is called order property and the scalling is called ordinal scale. The order property is little better than assignment property in a way that the assignment (i.e. whoever is 1st preference) is already built inside but at the same time the order of preference (i.e. whoever is 1st, 2nd or 3rd and so on – who is most favourite and/or least favourite) is also known.Alternative vote


So, in case of ordinal measurement system in voting preferences we may have a different results than FPTP. Taking the example, mentioned earlier wherein candidate A got 401 votes, B got 400 votes and C got 199 votes, I shall now explain how the alternative vote system works. The candidate C will now be eliminated as s/he has got the least amount of votes. In the next step, their 2nd preference will be now be taken into account. Of those 199 votes, lets say 150 votes went to candidate B and 49 votes to candidate A. In that case, candidate B will have the maximum amount of votes (i.e. 400+150 = 550). Therefore, s/he shall be declared a winner.


BBC has done a wonderful video on this. It is embedded below.


This in itself is a little better but not a perfect system as in reality it may also happen that both candidate may get similar votes or again the different becomes non-significant. The major problem with both system is that they do not take statistical significance in account and therefore may not be representative system.  There are many other issues associated with both the systems however my focus has been to explain the issues relating to (a) nominal vs. ordinal measures (b) issue of statistical significance and representativeness where both of them fall short. If you wish read a bit more about these issues from research perspective, have a read through my book on marketing research.

We will get to know tomorrow if Alternative vote (AV) gets FPTP tomorrow.

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