When I was at University the Students Union used AV, and one year a man stood for the post of Womens' Officer under the name of "Captain Kirk". Against him were two more conventional candidates standing on the Conservative and Labour platforms.
When the votes were counted Captain Kirk got 49% of the first preference votes, with the Conservative getting 26% and Labour 25%. Under FPTP Kirk would have won, but now the Labour candidate was eliminated and it turned out that all of the people who voted for her first had voted for the other woman as second preference. So now the Conservative candidate had 26%+25%=51% of the vote, and Kirk was defeated.
I'm well aware of the Arrow Impossibility Theorem, which shows that given an election with three or more candidates and three or more voters it is impossible to have a voting system that always delivers the right result, but it seems to me that this is rather like the fact that any programming language is logically equivalent to a Turing Machine; its true, but it doesn't mean that all (voting systems | programming languages) are equally good. FPTP seems particularly prone to perverse outcomes, such as the election of a male Womens' Officer when the majority of the electorate wants a female. Pretty much every election in the UK is a 2-horse-1-pony race, with the Liberal Democrats as the pony, and every election pundits discuss the impact of "tactical voting" as people who would like to elect the Lib Dems instead vote Labour for fear of otherwise "letting the Conservatives in". Under AV they can simply vote Lib Dem first and Labour second.
The anti-AV campaign's arguments seem to come down to:
- It will create more hung parliaments. Possibly. I don't see this as a bad thing. The current coalition seems to be doing OK, and a coalition means that more of the electorate's views get represented in government. Having a government elected by 40% of the people get 100% of the power seems to me rather undemocratic.
- It will empower the National Front. For those who don't know, the National Front (NF) is an extreme right wing racist party, which occasionally does well in poor inner-city areas where the "immigrants are taking your jobs and houses" line gets a sympathetic hearing. But equally, if most people object to the NF on principle then AV makes it much easier to vote against them; just put the NF at the bottom of your list. That ensures that no matter how other people vote, your vote will count against the NF.
- The most popular person doesn't always win. Well yes, if you define "most popular" as "winner under FPTP" then this is true; if AV didn't give a different result sometimes then there wouldn't be any difference. The point about AV is that the candidates with the broadest support tend to win much more often, whereas FPTP is prone to producing winners who most of the electorate actively dislike.