The scourge of tactical voting

Charley Jarrett, Former Policy and Public Affairs Officer

Posted on the 7th June 2017

A fifth of voters feel unable to back the party they most support this election, according to polling for the ERS. It’s more than twice the number as in 2015.

This is a situation foisted on voters by our arcane voting system – one that means people often feel forced to vote for their second or even third-choice party. First Past the Post leads people to try and second-guess how others will vote, rather than being able to simply back who they believe in.

This whole situation turns elections into a gamble around splitting the vote and trying to predict who on the left/right is most likely to win.

That isn’t a democratic election – it’s a lottery election. It’s time for reform and a system where you can always vote for who you believe in.

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In some seats, even supporters of the larger parties feel obliged to vote tactically too. Under first-past-the-post, everyone is a loser somewhere.

The scourge of tactical voting is something felt necessary by people of all ages and social backgrounds. 18% of 65- to 74-year-olds and 19% of 18- to 24-year-olds feel they’re ‘voting for the best positioned party to keep out another party that I dislike’. The same is true of 18% of voters in AB occupations and 18% in DE occupations.

In 2015, 74% of votes either boosted MPs’ majorities or went to losing candidates, having no effect on the result whatsoever. If 22 million votes can be thrown in the electoral bin like that, it’s little wonder voters feel the need ‘hold their nose’ and vote tactically rather than for the party they most support.

Those who are involved in party campaigning will also have witnessed the tactical campaigning that happens under first-past-the-post– having to journey to nearby constituencies or even further afield to help a candidate in a marginal, ignoring the local base if their local seat is either safe-enough or a no-hoper for their party.

The proliferation of ‘vote-swapping’ websites has been exacerbated this year, with anti-Labour and anti-Conservative tactical voting joined by pro-Brexit and anti-Brexit tactical voting. While this shows noteworthy sophistication in the face of an arcane and confusing electoral system, where seats don’t match votes, it shouldn’t be this way. The Single Transferable Vote would resolve this issue, letting people rank candidates so they don’t lose out by backing the party they most support and instead get the strong local representation for which they have voted and which they deserve.

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