EXAMINING THE ALTERNATIVE VOTE THROUGH THE MEDIUM OF FOOTBALL

Pay attention dear reader, politics time.

In the UK, a national referendum is upon us. We, the Great British public, have a very simple choice to make.  It doesn’t get much easier than this in politics: yes or no.

It’s all about the way we vote our government in, and in truth is a little more complicated than I may have made out. Currently we use the First Past the Post system, hereafter referred to as FPTP. It’s an incredibly simple method: the candidate with the most votes wins. Fair? Not really, say advocates of the Alternative Vote, or AV.

AV is designed to give a more accurate representation of the will of the people. By giving the electorate the opportunity to rank candidates, those who formerly ‘wasted’ their vote on marginal parties can now still have a say in who gets in power. Think of it like asking a friend to fetch you a Boost from the tuck shop, but because you remembered they were sold out last time, you’ve put in place a contingency plan: you’ve instructed him to pick up a Penguin if the Boosts are all gone.

Let’s look at a slightly more relevant, political example. A left-wing voter likes the Green party, but as she doesn’t live in Brighton there’s not much chance of them gaining a seat where she’s voting, so she’s always voted tactically and stuck her cross next to her Labour candidate to keep the Tories out. Similarly, a UKIP fan realises his party doesn’t stand a chance, so votes Conservative: a watered down version of his first choice, some may say. Under AV their tactical vote can be used merely as an insurance policy, not as a necessity. 

Criticisms of AV are widespread, but the main argument is this: because AV gives smaller parties more chance of power, there will be more coalitions, and thus weaker governments. Whether this is true is debatable and depends on other factors like constituency boundaries.

I’ll now allow myself to be drawn off on a tangent, which is, in truth, the point of the article. Let’s relate AV to football, for this is a football site after all.

Let’s imagine there’s an end of season trophy awarded to England’s Most Popular Club, or MPC. The winners of this would go on to represent our nation in an international tournament, a World Club Championship. It’ll be big; I definitely can’t see it becoming a Mickey Mouse tournament. 

The MPC title would be awarded to Manchester United every year without fail, of course. They regularly pack Old Trafford with 75,000 fans and dwarf the other clubs in terms of nationwide (and worldwide) support. The joke about United fans never having seen their club play is actually a very real phenomenon – but only because they have so many fans spread across the globe.

With FPTP United would win any popularity contest they entered. However, because of their success The Red Devils are also hated by yet more football followers. Call it jealousy, rivalry, a desire to end to Sir Alex Ferguson’s monopoly on the Premier League trophy - call it what you want. People hate United.

Suddenly Fergie’s chances of winning another gong don’t look so good. For want of cold hard facts (I hesitate to use the word statistics here, as it’s rarely synonymous), we’ll have to substitute in rough calculations based on attendance figures collected from The Premier League’s website. This method is massively flawed because of variables like stadium size and economic factors, but it will do for this hypothetical scenario.

TEAM

AVERAGE ATTENDANCE (1,000s)

PERCENTAGE OF FANS

Manchester United

75

10.67%

Arsenal

60

8.53%

Newcastle United

48

6.83%

Manchester City

46

6.54%

Liverpool

43

6.12%

Chelsea

41

5.83%

Sunderland

40

5.69%

Aston Villa

37

5.26%

Everton

36

5.12%

Tottenham Hotspur

36

5.12%

West Ham United

33

4.69%

Wolverhampton Wanderers

27

3.84%

Stoke City

27

3.84%

Birmingham

25

3.56%

Fulham

25

3.56%

West Bromwich Albion

25

3.56%

Blackburn Rovers

25

3.56%

Bolton Wanderers

22

3.13%

Wigan Athletic

16

2.28%

Blackpool

16

2.28%

 

 

 

TOTALS

703

100.00%

Just over one in ten active Premier League spectators support United. If this award was determined by FPTP, United would win by an average of 15,000 fans a week, or 2.44%. Not a landslide, but convincing nonetheless.

As mentioned above though, being the successful team they are, they’re the side everyone wants to beat.  They’re nobody’s second team. I’m a United fan myself, and I have a soft spot for a variety of teams: Fulham and Everton because of their hard-working, honest style, and because I guided the latter to glory on Football Manager; Arsenal (what?!) for their dedication to playing football that is easy on the eye; Barcelona for doing so even more impressively while also fielding a defence.

If instead of FPTP we use AV, my votes would be cast as follows: (1) Manchester United, (2) Everton (3) Fulham (4) Arsenal. Based on the above figures, teams will receive the same number of first votes (their fans will rank their team number one) – so after the initial round of voting, nothing will have changed. 

Because no team has 50% of the share yet, at least one more round must take place.

Each round the bottom four teams will be removed and their second votes added on to the remaining figures as proxy first votes. If 50% has still not been achieved by one team, another round ensues, and so on. For simplicity we’ll treat each team’s fans as a collective, who have one voice. For example, in round two all of Blackpool’s fans’ second choice votes are going to Arsenal, Wigan’s to Chelsea, Bolton’s to Liverpool and Blackburn’s to Tottenham. Let’s see what the table looks like now:

(Note: this is just hypothetical. I’m not suggesting all Blackburn fans are closet Spurs fans, and so on.)

TEAM

AVERAGE ATTENDANCE (1,000s)

PERCENTAGE OF FANS

Arsenal

76

10.81%

Manchester United

75

10.67%

Liverpool

65

9.25%

Tottenham Hotspur

61

8.68%

Chelsea

57

8.11%

Newcastle United

48

6.83%

Manchester City

46

6.54%

Sunderland

40

5.69%

Aston Villa

37

5.26%

Everton

36

5.12%

West Ham United

33

4.69%

Wolverhampton Wanderers

27

3.84%

Stoke City

27

3.84%

Birmingham

25

3.56%

Fulham

25

3.56%

West Bromwich Albion

25

3.56%

 

 

 

TOTALS

703

100.00%

United have already been toppled, due to the fact that apart from their own devotees, nobody can stand them. Let’s fast forward two more rounds, inputting the following ‘transfers’. 

West Brom > Arsenal,

Fulham > Man City,

Birmingham > Chelsea,

Stoke > Aston Villa,

Wolves > Arsenal,

West Ham > Newcastle,

Everton > Arsenal,

Aston Villa > Liverpool.

TEAM

AVERAGE ATTENDANCE (1,000s)

PERCENTAGE OF FANS

Arsenal

164

23.33%

Liverpool

129

18.35%

Chelsea

82

11.66%

Newcastle United

81

11.52%

Manchester United

75

10.67%

Manchester City

71

10.10%

Tottenham Hotspur

61

8.68%

Sunderland

40

5.69%

 

 

 

TOTALS

703

100.00%

Manchester United are now well off the pace, having picked up no secondary votes. Arsenal and Liverpool have profited from being a few teams’ fans’ second favourites. Round five sees the following votes transferred:

Sunderland > Arsenal

Tottenham > Liverpool

Man City > Arsenal

Man Utd > Arsenal

TEAM

AVERAGE ATTENDANCE (1,000s)

PERCENTAGE OF FANS

Arsenal

350

49.79%

Liverpool

190

27.03%

Chelsea

82

11.66%

Newcastle United

81

11.52%

 

 

 

TOTALS

703

100.00%

Obviously this is a very simplified version of a real AV system – for example, when Manchester City passed their votes on to Arsenal in this round, they’ve actually passed on Fulham’s second votes for Manchester City from an earlier round too. We’ll have to assume all teams’ third choice is their second choice’s second choice, or to put it more simply, that Fulham’s third choice was Arsenal.

I’ll leave it here. We can round Arsenal’s 49.79% up to 50 and declare them the winners. FPTP winners Manchester United? Fifth place. No seat.

What you’ve hopefully noticed is AV seems to be more about voting for who you hate less, than for who you like most. It should be called the ‘Lesser Of Two Evils’ system, or LOTE. In my Premier League example we see how Arsenal, who came second in FPTP, dominated AV because, while not having the most outright fans, they were a lot of peoples’ second favourites. 

These imaginary statistics would indicate that the most fans (10.7%) would be completely contented if Manchester United were selected for the imaginary tournament, yet this would also displease 90% of the population.  If Arsenal were selected, only 8.5% would be truly happy about the choice, but more importantly, around half of the population would at least accept the choice as a valid alternative to their preferred team.

Back in the real world, an even better system of separation would be used to determine which team would best represent the country: a league table.  Let’s have each team play each other team home and away, get it all sponsored by a multinational bank, and give it a fancy name.  I present: The Barclays Premier League.

If only politicians could play football.

You can read more from Jude at www.footballfarrago.com and on twitter at www.twitter.com/footballfarrago

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