- Statement from the Electoral Reform Society for immediate release, Friday 16th August.
Millions look set to ‘hold their nose’ and vote tactically at the next election, according to new BMG Research polling for the Electoral Reform Society .
In analysis published to mark 200 years since the first major ‘battle’ in the right for the vote at St. Peter’s Field  – pollsters found that many do not feel able to opt for their first choice under Westminster’s one-person-takes-all voting system.
As rumours grow of a General Election this Autumn, over a fifth (22%) of voters say plan to opt to plump for a party or candidate to keep out someone they dislike more. Around two thirds (67%) say they’ll vote for their first preference regardless of how likely they are to win, and 11% say they don’t know.
When the same question was asked before the 2017 General Election, 20% of people said they’d opt for someone who wasn’t their first choice . ERS analysis of the 2017 election also found that 68% of votes had no impact on the result – 22 million votes went to waste. It also found that just 0.0016% of voters choosing differently would have given the Conservatives a majority, while the election saw rise in very marginal seats: eleven seats were won by fewer than 100 votes .
The UK remains the only country in Europe to use First Past the Post – where only one candidate wins in each area, and all other votes go to waste – for its main elections.
However, calls for reform have been growing in recent months. This week former Labour deputy leader Roy Hattersley said he now supported switching to proportional representation , while the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon and several Conservative MPs have also voiced calls for reform in recent months .
Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:
“Clearly something is wrong when more than one in five don’t feel able to vote for their party of choice. Westminster’s broken electoral system – a vote-burning machine of epic proportions – is skewing our elections beyond recognition.
“It’s simply absurd that 200 years since people fought and died for the right to vote, rotten boroughs are still rife – with millions having to ‘hold their nose’ and opt for what they see as a lesser evil, just to have a chance of being heard.
“If we had a fair, proportional voting system – as in Scotland and most of the developed world – this simply wouldn’t be an issue: you can vote for who you want, and if your first choice doesn’t stand a chance, your second choice is counted instead.
“It’s long past time Westminster moved into the 21st century and ensured people were heard and represented – rather than constantly having to game the system.”
Current polls put Labour and the Conservatives on a combined vote share of around 60% – around 10 points less than the lowest ever joint result in a General Election. Voters are keen to ‘shop around’ more than ever – but are hampered by a warped electoral system, say the ERS.
All major parties except the Conservatives and Labour back a switch to proportional representation. There is a strong push in Labour for the party to back fair votes however, with John McDonnell a keen supporter of reform.
On 31st August in Manchester, Politics for the Many – the trade union campaign for democratic reform – will bring hundreds together for an inaugural conference to put constitutional reform back on the political agenda, amid growing talk of a constitutional crisis .
Next week the ERS will publish a major report on this year’s elections – including full analysis of the local and European elections and their voting systems. Contact press office for more info (details above).
Notes to Editors
The Electoral Reform Society is the UK’s leading pro-democracy organisation. As the ‘pressure group for voters’, the ERS produces research and analysis on issues of political reform.
 Polling by BMG Research, commissioned by the Electoral Reform Society. Methodology: Fieldwork dates: 7th – 12th August 2019. Sample: 1515 GB adults aged 18+. Fieldwork was conducted online. Invitations to participate were sent to members of online panels, with non-response from different demographic groups taken into account during the fieldwork phase and post-fieldwork adjustments.
The question read:
“There is increasing talk of a General Election being held later this year. Elections for Westminster use a ‘winner takes all’ system, where only one party/candidate can win in each seat, and other votes do not result in Parliamentary representation.
Which of these statements is closest to your reasons for voting for your chosen party/candidate?
1. I am voting for the candidate/party I most prefer, regardless of how likely they are to win
2. I am voting for the best-positioned party/candidate to keep out another party/candidate that I dislike.”
3. Don’t know
 https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/latest-news-and-research/media-centre/press-releases/ops-note-spokespeople-available-to-mark-the-200th-anniversary-of-the-peterloo-massacre-and-the-ongoing-fight-for-a-better-democracy/ Find out more here:https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/this-is-what-democracy-looks-like-why-campaigners-are-gathering-in-manchester-200-years-on-from-peterloo-massacre/
 The question asked in June 2017 was identical apart from the introduction context, which did not appear as a General Election was already taking place. More information here: https://www.bmgresearch.co.uk/bmg-research-ers-poll-three-ten-feel-informed-upcoming-general-election/
 See https://www.thenational.scot/news/17578305.electoral-reform-society-call-on-uk-to-adopt-scotlands-model/ and https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/conservative-mps-back-proportional-representation-arguing-fptp-encourages-conflict-and-aggression/
 See here: https://politicsforthemany.co.uk/event/this-is-what-democracy-looks-like/