Myth Busting: The winner should win (take 2: The Tug-of-War)

Julian Ware-Lane in his blog reflecting on the Conservatives reaction to losing control makes the point:

The Conservatives, it could be argued, won in the Borough [with 30.29%]. I think a more accurate telling of the story is to state that with 69.71% voting for other parties it was quite a rejection.

To be fair to them this would be consistent with their approach to AV. Remember their comparison to a horse race and the slogan “the winner should win“. It is written into their political DNA which means that a lot of the behaviour that he complains about is actually instinctive rather than rational.

The problem with their analogy is that they rig the race. They don’t accept that the winning post should be fixed at gaining 50%+ support. So they say that once everyone is “finished” you move the winning post back down the course to find the nag that managed to get furthest along the course and you then declare that nag the winner. It is a lousy way to determine governments (and not a very good way to determine winners of horse races).

First Past The Post Elections as a Horse Race

First Past The Post Elections as a Horse Race

A better analogy for electing representatives might be a free-for-all tug-of-war. Initially the die-hard supporters of the two established foes (usually Labour and the Conservatives) take an end each. As they start pulling they scream out promises and threats to bystanders to try to persuade

  • their stay-at-home supporters to pick up their end of the rope and pull
  • supporters of minority parties to lend their weight (if only to stop the other side winning)
  • the apathetic to look at how things are going and if they don’t like what they see to also lend their weight.

As all of this happens you may find a few people changing ends, but the result is determined by who has the greatest weight of support and can pull themselves over the line at the close of polls.

Electoral Tug-of-War

Electoral Tug-of-War as an AV analogy

The winner (at ward or constituency level) is then fairly clear. Perhaps we should have called AV electoral tug-of-war?


AV is one-dimensional with a single rope, STV is multi-dimensional with one rope per candidate! Perhaps that pushes the analogy too far! (To be thought about further)

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  • By STV as a tug-of-war | Enfranchise me! on 31 July 2014 at 4:24 pm

    […] a previous post having another go at the horse race analogy used by supporters of FPTP (First Past The Post) […]

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