Electoral reform for Love Island?

Doug Cowan, Head of Digital

Posted on the 29th June 2018

What’s not to like about Love Island? A group of good-looking singletons enter a villa in the hopes of finding love, and we the public, get to vote on what goes on.

Much like the ancient Athenian practice of Ostracism, voters have the power to expel islanders from the island. They can also vote to save couples from elimination, or put couples together to go on dates.

But alas, all is not well. Rather than a modern-day Athens with added swimwear, the democracy on Love Island has some striking flaws.

By keeping the timing and method of voting secret until the last minute, the producers are denying the islanders any time to campaign for popular support. A similar thing happened in Bulgaria’s first democratic election in 1990. The Communists called a surprise election in the hope that the opposition wouldn’t have time to organise, resulting in the Bulgarian Socialist Party (the re-badged communists) gaining a majority.

Set time spans between public votes would allow the islanders enough time to curry favour with the public.

As the elimination this week proves, the public are unable to govern how their votes actually matter on the show. Viewers were asked to vote for their favourite couple, supposedly saving them from being evicted off the Island.

Viewers essentially used the Single Non-Transferable Vote (SNTV) to save four couples. Used in Japan from 1948-1993, SNTV can give some un-predictable results. As SNTV gives voters only one vote, and the top four are saved, the most popular couple (obviously Dani and Jack) could easily have many times more votes than the fourth most popular couple. There therefore isn’t an incentive to appeal to a broad range of viewers as coming third is as good as coming first. As long as they have a reasonable core vote, they can stay in the villa without needing to appeal to new viewers.

However, once it was revealed which couples had received the least votes, it was the Islanders themselves who decided which individuals – not couples – would be flying back home.

Had the public known this they may very well have voted differently.

The inspiration for a more democratic Love Island lies just to the east in the Mediterranean. In Malta, they use the Single Transferable Vote to elect their parliament. Voters rank the candidates and they have to reach a set number of votes to be elected. if a candidate gets more votes than they need to be elected the ballot counts can move the surplus votes to their second favourite candidate, rather than letting them go to waste.

Islanders could use this system to nominate the shortlist. To decide who is going home, the viewers could use the Alternative Vote to ensure that the majority of the public want that couple go home.

Love Island might be reeling in the drama, but we think it’s time to add a bit more democracy to the nation’s favourite TV show. 

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