The battle between the Yes and No camps before next month's referendum on the voting system is still wide open, according to a poll for The Independent. The findings will come as a relief to supporters of a switch to the alternative vote (AV) after recent surveys gave the No camp a lead of more than 10 points.
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The poll, by research agency TNS, found that 34 per cent of people oppose AV and 32 per cent support it, with 21 per cent replying "don't know" and 13 per cent saying they would probably not vote in the 5 May referendum.
According to TNS, one in four people who voted Liberal Democrat at last year's general election oppose AV (26 per cent), while 74 per cent support it. In a mirror image, one in four people who backed the Conservatives last year favour AV (23 per cent), with 77 per cent opposing it. Labour voters are against a switch to AV by a margin of 53 to 47 per cent. The rival camps believe that this group could hold the key to the result. The pro-AV organisation will mount a major push to win over Labour supporters.
According to TNS, the turnout could be higher than expected. Two in three people (64 per cent) say they intend to vote, while only 17 per cent say they will not. The older people are, the more likely they are to turn out. Some 85 per cent of those 65 and over say they will vote, compared to only 44 per cent among 18 to 24 year-olds.
The age breakdown will give comfort to the No camp because older people are more hostile to changing the system. Some 59 per cent of those 65 and over say they will vote No and only 27 per cent Yes. Among the latter, the Yes camp has a more narrow lead of 34 to 24 per cent.
There is widespread agreement that politicians have not explained the issues at stake in the referendum. Only 22 per cent think they have done a good job, while 60 per cent disagree.
Despite that, more than half of the public (53 per cent) insist they do understand how AV would work while 35 per cent admit they do not. Labour supporters seem to know less about AV than those of other parties. Some 37 per cent of people who voted Labour last year admit they do not understand the proposed system, compared to 25 per cent of Liberal Democrat voters and 24 per cent of Tory supporters.
People are evenly divided on whether AV would be fairer than the current first-past-the-post system: 34 per cent believe it would be, while 35 per cent do not. Although academics say the introduction of AV would reduce the number of safe seats, the poll found that only 25 per cent of people say it would make them more likely to take part in general elections, while 46 per cent disagree.
However, AV seems to appeal to non-voters: 64 per cent of people who did not vote at last year's election are in favour.
TNS interviewed a representative sample of 1,318 adults aged 18+ online between 14 and 18 April.