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Does the AV referendum question wording favour YES?

January 12th, 2011
Latest AV referendum polls Date YES % NO % Question wording
YouGov 10/01/11 32 41 See wording below
Angus Reid 07/01/11 37 20 Actual phrasing that’s on the ballot paper
ICM 19/12/10 44 38 Actual phrasing that’s on the ballot paper

Why’s YouGov the pollster that’s out of line again?

There’s a new Angus Reid poll out on the AV referendum and its findings are in sharp contrast to YouGov. The Canadian pollster has, like ICM, used the precise wording that will be on the ballot paper to find out people’s intention.

Both are showing the YES campaign ahead by quite a margin. YouGov, on the other hand, has its own lengthy question which starts by mentioning the Conservative-Lib Dem coalition and seeks to explain what AV actually is. This is repeatedly coming out with a totally different polling outcome.

Could it be, I wonder, that the actual referendum question wording will favour those who are looking for change? My view is that it will. The structure of the phrasing, I suggest, helps YES rather than NO.

These are the polling questions from the three firms.

YouGov’s question “The Conservative-Liberal Democrat government are committed to holding a referendum on changing the electoral system from first-past-thepost (FPTP) to the Alternative Vote (AV) At the moment, under first-past-the-post (FPTP), voters select ONE candidate, and the candidate with the most votes wins. It has been suggested that this system should be replaced by the Alternative Vote (AV). Voters would RANK a number of candidates from a list. If a candidates wins more than half of the ‘1st’ votes, a winner is declared. If not, the least popular candidates are eliminated from the contest, and their supporters’ subsequent preferences counted and shared accordingly between the remaining candidates. This process continues until an outright winner is declared. If a referendum were held tomorrow on whether to stick with first-past-the-post or switch to the Alternative Vote for electing MPs, how would you vote?”

Angus Reid’s question. “As you may know, a referendum will take place in the United Kingdom on May 5th 2010. The referendum question reads as follows: At present, the UK uses the first past the post system to to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the Alternative Vote System be used instead?

ICM’s question At present, the UK uses the first past the post system to to elect MPs to the House of Commons. Should the Alternative Vote System be used instead?”

Mike Smithson