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    Friday, 22 April 2011

    Bias in the news

    Apologies for yet more politics; normal-ish service will be resumed shortly, I hope.

    I've just put the following into the "BBC News website feedback" form, but I doubt it will have any impact. Quoting it here for the record...

    The BBC news website appears to be showing a systemic bias over the AV referendum. For the last few weeks, there has been regular coverage of the referendum and it seems that there has been the usual blind adherence to "balance" - every story about AV has included some of the (incorrect, unscientific, even hate-filled) propaganda from the "no to AV" campaign without critique or analysis. It's difficult to see any justification for this except deliberate editorial bias, but I don't imagine that there's much that can be done about that.

    However, right now on the BBC News front page at I can see that there is a link "Referendum views" that points to yet another opinion piece from a "No" campaigner (Frederick Forsyth). I only see a single view here, not the plural "views" suggested. I don't see any positive view for AV promoted from the front page at all, nor any link from this puff piece to the other articles that have been written in the recent past. Looking further, I can see that there *has*, in fact, been a positive piece on the News Front Page today (from Billy Bragg) but there are no visible links to it any more. Both articles were posted/updated at the same time this morning (22nd April, 08:34 BST) yet now only the negative one remains. Very shoddy, and not at all what I would expect from the BBC.

    23:24 :: # :: /misc/politics :: 11 comments


              Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Re: Bias in the news
              Anonymous wrote on Tue, 26 Apr 2011 08:44

              I think you're strongly underestimating the number of blindly partisan voters. That won't change overnight. Many voters will ignore the new system and vote as they always have, and many more will understand the new system but not bother to find out about candidates other than their preferred party's candidate.

              Apart from those, I think you've also underestimated the number of voters with a mindset of "I'd take the other major party before one of those crazy third parties".

              I do agree that the example looks contrived, but then I've never seen a voting system example that *doesn't* look contrived; humans are bad at random, and tend to construct nice neat examples. That said, I do think this scenario accurately reflects the failure mode of IRV. Even if many Lib Dem voters listed Green as a second choice, it would take almost all of the Lib Dem voters doing so to change the results in the example I gave. And also, the situation gets worse (and more chaotic) if you add an equivalent third party splitting up the Tory vote, or multiple parties doing so. Fundamentally you'll still get the spoiler effect any time the number of first-choice votes for a major party falls below the number of first-choice votes for a third party, with neither of them having a strict majority.

              Fundamentally, IRV seems quite prone to strategic voting, since only your first preference counts.

              Various articles I've seen about the use of IRV in Australia suggest that the voters there have already figured out that the spoiler effect still applies, and that third parties still find it quite challenging to get voters to rank them first due to a (correct) perception that IRV requires strategic voting.

              To quote (one of many articles making the same points about IRV): "Before a third party is competitive, the effect of IRV is equivalent to a plurality system in which all supporters of minor parties are somehow convinced to abandon their principles and vote for the "lesser of two evils." Yes, those voters get the satisfaction of knowing they voted for the party and the candidate they truly prefer, but their first choice is eventually eliminated and has no effect on who actually wins. After a third party is competitive, on the other hand, the effect if IRV is equivalent to a plurality system in which many voters are somehow convinced to forget about strategy and vote sincerely. As most intelligent voters know, that would wreak havoc with the stability of our political system."

              In any case, I don't mind if you disagree with my point that IRV seems like a net loss. It just bothers me to see IRV claimed as a win for third parties. I mostly just wanted to make the point that IRV still has several major flaws, and that better systems exist which don't have those flaws and take all preferences into account rather than just the first preference.

              I'll also reiterate one previous point: I've provided an example where IRV produces a self-evidently worse result than Condorcet. I've never seen an example of a set of voting results where IRV produces *better* results than Condorcet; at best, it sometimes gives the same answer. Given the known property of voting systems that no perfect system can exist (all systems must violate at least one of a set of desirable properties), obviously some such example must exist where Condorcet produces an arguably undesirable result, but I've never seen any such example (realistic or otherwise).


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