As local elections draw closer to the May 5 voting date in Aberdeenshire, Scottish voters have embraced preferential voting, using the Single Transferable Vote (STV) according to a new analysis of voter behavior.
In a new report The Power of Preferences written for the Electoral Reform Society, Professor Sir John Curtice, professor of politics at the University of Strathclyde, found that since its introduction in 2007 voters have increasingly adapted to the preferred STV system.
The STV allows voters to rank candidates in order of preference and, in addition to local elections in Scotland, it is also used in local and Assembly elections in Northern Ireland, while local councils in Wales have given authority to switch to the system in the future if they wish.
In his analysis, Professor Curtice found that voters benefited more from the opportunity to express the multiple preferences offered by STV – ranking more candidates and giving additional votes beyond their main party choice than previously.
More and more voters are expressing multiple preferences.
In 2017, 85.8% of valid ballots had at least two preferences, which is similar to the figure of 86.3% in 2012, much higher than the 78% that did in 2007.
In 2017, 60.7% of valid ballots contained three or more preferences, compared to 55.8% in 2012 (and 54% in 2007).
Most voters express support for more than one party.
In 2017, about seven in ten Conservative (67%), Labor (70%) and SNP (71%) supporters gave preferences to other parties/independents when there were no more candidates from their party of first choice to rank.
The report also includes an in-depth analysis of the results of the last round of local elections in 2017, including-
On average across all Scottish local councils, the level of disproportionality in 2017 was 9.6, almost exactly the same as in 2012 (9.7). It is well below the average figure of 34.5 for the result in Scotland of the last three Westminster elections held under the first-past-the-post system.
The role of transfers –
Transfers played a bigger role than before in determining the eventual winner with only 38.5% of candidates elected on the basis of first preferences alone in 2017, five points less than the equivalent figure in 2012, and slightly below the 40% who were elected this way in 2017. 2007.
No less than 101 seats (or 8% of all seats) were won by candidates who were not initially in a position to win, well above the 68 seats in 2012 and 73 in 2007.
Independence shapes how voters rank candidates-
Almost half (46%) of SNP supporters gave their next preference, after all SNP candidates were dropped from the tally in favor of a party other than the Conservatives, Labor or Liberal Democrats. This is well above the 18% who did in 2012.
Only 24% of SNP supporters gave their next preference to one of the three main Unionist parties, well below the 38% who did so in 2012.
Labor voters in 2017 were much more likely than they had been in 2012 to give their next preference to a candidate from another Unionist party, either a Liberal Democrat (26%) or a Conservative (12%) – in both cases, it was about double what had been the case in 2012.
The ERS commissioned the report ahead of next month’s Scottish local elections, which will be the fourth time voters have gone to the polls using the Single Transferable Vote (STV).
Professor Sir John Curtice, Professor of Politics at the University of Strathclyde, said: “It is clear that voters are increasingly taking advantage of the opportunity offered by STV to express multiple preferences and, in doing so, support more than one party.
“The way they did it had two salient features in the last election in 2017.
“On the one hand, voters were more likely to express multiple preferences than before and, in doing so, to rank candidates from more than one party.
“Furthermore, weaker preferences influenced the seat outcome to a greater extent than before.
“On the other hand, voters were less likely than before to express preferences across the constitutional fault line that divides Scottish politics.
“Independence supporters were less likely to give a lower preference to a Unionist candidate, while Union supporters were less likely to give a lower preference to an independence candidate.
“Meanwhile, the pattern of voting behavior in last year’s Holyrood election suggests that this polarization of Yes and No supporters may well be even more pronounced in this year’s local vote.
“Therefore, the May outcome is unlikely to affect only the distribution of first preferences.
“It will also depend on how yes and no voters use the opportunity offered by the STV ballot to express more than one choice – and what parties will or will not do to encourage them to do so. “
Darren Hughes, chief executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said: ‘Scotland is a leader in the UK when it comes to fairer votes – using proportional systems to elect their Parliament as well as their local councils where the single transferable vote (STV) has been the norm since 2007.
“This report shows how Scottish voters are choosing to make the most of the power of preferences that STV offers when voting for their local councils.
“Using it not only to give a second, third or even fourth preference, but often using it to express support for more than one party.
“In Scotland we see an electorate who have embraced this new form of voting – ranking their preferences instead of being forced by a winner forces the whole system to bet on one option, which they often see as the least worst.
“With local authorities in Wales now also able to switch to STV, the results in Scotland provide a powerful example of the benefits of moving to a fairer system.
“Where local councils north of the border have led the way, it’s time for the rest of the UK to follow and embrace the power of preferences, making proportional representation the norm.”