Exclusive poll: Almost a quarter of voters planning to vote ‘tactically’ in general election

Posted on the 21st October 2019

  • Statement from the Electoral Reform Society for immediate release, Monday 21st October.
  • Contact Jon Narcross, mediaoffice@electoral-reform.org.uk / 07794728820 for interviews, more information and full cross-tabs.

Nearly a quarter of voters look set to ‘hold their nose’ and vote tactically at the next election, according to new BMG Research polling for the Electoral Reform Society [1].

In new analysis published by the ERS pollsters found that millions could turn to tactical voting as many do not feel able to opt for their first choice under Westminster’s one-person-takes-all voting system.

With a general election before Christmas still possible the polling found that nearly a quarter (24%) of voters’ plan to use their vote tactically – turning to a party or candidate to keep out someone they dislike more. Based on 2017 general election turnout, this would equate to almost 7.8 million votes [2]. Around two thirds (66%) say they’ll vote for their first preference regardless of how likely they are to win, and 10% 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 [3]. 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 a rise in very marginal seats: 11 seats were won by fewer than 100 votes [4].

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. Earlier this month former Brexit Secretary David Davis argued that the current system in Westminster was ‘now failing to deliver either effective or democratic government’ [5], while the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon and several Conservative MPs have also voiced calls for reform in recent months [6].

Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:

“With nearly a quarter of voters feeling that they can’t vote for the party of their choice it’s becoming clearer than ever that time is running out for Westminster’s broken voting system.

“For too long First Past the Post has skewed our elections beyond recognition, piling up wasted votes and forcing people to make tactical choices at the ballot box, depriving them of voting for the party that most accurately represents their views.

“If we had a fair, proportional voting system – as in Scotland and most of the developed world – this problem simply wouldn’t exist: 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.


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.

[1] Polling by BMG Research, commissioned by the Electoral Reform Society. Methodology: Fieldwork dates: 8th – 11th October 2019. Sample: 1502 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:
“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

[2] https://www.electoralcommission.org.uk/who-we-are-and-what-we-do/elections-and-referendums/past-elections-and-referendums/uk-general-elections/results-and-turnout-2017-uk-general-election

[3] 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/

[4] https://www.electoral-reform.org.uk/the-myth-that-westminsters-voting-system-is-strong-and-stable-has-been-bust-for-good-3/

[5] https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/brexit-is-the-writing-on-the-wall-for-our-constitution-npzsg9q2d

[6] 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/

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