Why the AV referendum was doomed-explained by behavioural psychology

Here is a perceptive comment on why the AV referendum was doomed to fail using insights from Behavioural Psychology by research agency Monkey See:-

“the wording of the AV referendum question used would appeal to voters’ instincts to follow the status quo there can be little doubt. It kicks of with the unequivocal message, “At present, the UK uses the ‘first past the post system’ to elect MPs to the House of Commons.”

Research was conducted by Define Research & Insight for the Electoral Commission to check the clarity and neutrality of the referendum question. And bizarrely, given the findings from behavioural science outlined above, the wording of the question used was chosen precisely because it supported the status quo.

“The first sentence helped people to understand the status quo”, reported Define Research in a document prepared for the Electoral Commission.

It is also interesting to note that the question the Electoral Commission went with was not the first option it considered. The first option considered was worded:

“Do you want the United Kingdom to adopt the ‘alternative vote’ system instead of the current ‘first past the post’ system for electing Members of Parliament to the House of Common?”

Although this formulation also makes clear which voting system we have at the moment, it has nothing like as strong or prominent an emphasis on the all-important status quo.

For research aficionados, it’s also worth noting that Define asked respondents directly if they thought the original question was neutral. Their report says that most thought it was but a few picked holes – what you would expect as they were asked to do so.

The irony is that this direct questioning (often likely to mislead) almost certainly resulted in a less neutral question being used at the end of the day”

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