Thursday, 29 September 2011

Piranha Maths

From  Stephen Colbert's Twitter stream: "100 people were bitten by piranhas last weekend in a lake in Brazil. Proving what I always suspected, piranhas love round numbers."  Well, made me chuckle.

Sunday, 8 May 2011

More educated people voted Yes in the AV referendum

Although I'm disappointed with the result of the referendum on the alternative vote system (AV), the outcome threw up some interesting results.  Of all the constituencies, only 10 voted in favour of reform.  Among these 10 are Oxford, Cambridge, Edinburgh Central and Glasgow Kelvin.  It struck me that the great university districts of the UK might voting for reform, while everyone else was not.  Even in those areas where it was a close call, it seems that major university districts are prevalent.  Some of the constituencies with high yes votes included Brighton Pavilion (49.8%), Manchester (44.5%), Cardiff Central (45.7%), Bristol (44.7%) and several others.  There's quite a spread of areas here, and there doesn't seem to be a specific north/south divide on the issue.  At the other end of the scale, some examples of low Yes votes include South Holland and The Deepings (21.4%), Broxbourne (20.46) and South Staffordshire (20.9%).  No great university presence in these regions.  

So, is it the case that those areas where people were better educated were more likely to vote yes to AV? Well, the geek that I am, I correlated the electoral results for each constituency (% of yes votes) against a number of different socio-economic indicators including general socio-economic status, economic activity, level of industry and lastly level of educational qualifications.  These data can be gotten from the parliament.uk site.  It turns out that level of education is the most closely correlated with the tendency to vote yes to AV (r = .52), while level of industry (r = .37) and socio-economic status (r = .12) showed weaker relationships.  Level of economic activity was not related at all.  

Now, these are pretty rough calculations as the two sets of data do not overlap completely in terms of constituency boundaries (and so there are a few approximations in the calculations), but there is enough power to highlight some indicative relationships. While it would be wrong to say that "smarter" people were more likely to vote yes, it does look like "more educated people" were more likely to vote yes.  

I've always thought that increasing educational attainment was a way of dealing with many of the issues that face society today, and here is another piece of evidence to support that!  


Tuesday, 19 April 2011

Why would you NOT vote yes to the alternative vote?

Picture yourself in a restaurant.  You decide to treat yourself and go for dessert, opting for your all-time favourite: the chocolate ice-cream. Or, if that's not available: the strawberry ice-cream, a close second favourite on your ice-cream wish list.  The one thing you don't want is the banana flavour ice-cream. You've never quite understood it, and it leaves a bad taste in your mouth.  To your dismay, the waiter says, "I'm sorry Sir, the chocolate ice-cream is all out, you'll have to have the banana ice-cream"…"but you have strawberry left?", you inquire.  "We do Sir, but I'm sorry Sir, your first choice isn't here so you're stuck with the banana.  That's the way the system works.  It's always been that way and we see no reason to change it now". 

We don't always get what we want in life, but if we can't get our first choice, then it's probably preferable to get our second choice rather than something we really, really do not want. 

This is basically what the alternative vote (AV) tries to do.  We all get a first choice vote (as we do under the current first-past-the-post system - FPTP), but we can also list our second, third, fourth choices…and so on.  

Now the question is, what sort of person would NOT want to have their second choice if they couldn't have their first?  It's slightly bewildering I think.  However, when you take a look at the list of politicians supporting the "No to AV" campaign, it's liberally peppered with old-school political dinosaurs from the left and the right (Margaret Beckett, Lord Falconer, Dr. John Reid, Ken Clarke, Baroness Warsi...and many more).  And let's not forget that the ruling government is split on this issue.  While the Lib Dems have long-campaigned for electoral reform, the tories are dead against it.  

The conservative party; long-time supporters of giving people "more choice" - "We think  people should have choice when it comes to their NHS treatment" or "we think people should be able to choose to which academy school they send their children", but for whatever reason, choice on the ballot paper is just plain wrong!  The Tories  have failed to articulate why choice is so good in some areas, but so bad in others.  Of course, it is a beautiful gift of the Tories (and right-wing politics in general) to simultaneously hold contradictory beliefs in mind.  And we'll have more on this in due course.  

But in the mean time, wouldn't rather have the strawberry ice-cream than the banana?  Who wouldn't?

Monday, 28 February 2011