What is tactical voting and why is it bad for democracy?

Sabine McGinley,

Posted on the 12th November 2019

In a Westminster election, tactical voting takes place when a voter chooses a candidate whom they wouldn’t normally support, in order to prevent another candidate from winning.

For example, if you want to vote for a party that is unlikely to win in your constituency you might pick your preferred of the other candidates with a greater chance of winning.

The problem with this, is that it encourages people to vote for a candidate or a party whose policy they may not agree with. It can also be hard to work out who is likely to win, and who is the best person to cast a ‘tactical’ vote for. Voters have to second guess the rest of the electorate based on past results and polling.

Tactical voting of this kind is inevitable under our failing first past the post system for Westminster elections. As only one candidate can become the MP in each area, votes for all the other candidates go to waste. This all-or-nothing system means that voters have to choose between voting with their hearts or working around the system to get the best available outcome.

Our recent polling revealed that “almost a quarter of voters plan on voting ‘tactically’ in the next general election”. It is a damning indictment of an electoral system that it makes voters change their behaviour to work around its failings.

Tactical voting is not likely to disappear any time soon. As the country remains more divided than ever over Brexit, there has been an increase in tactical voting websites to help voters make their decisions. Yet the difficulty in predicting how people plan to vote, has meant that different tactical voting websites have made different recommendations. Its high time that we resolve this broken system of voting.

How can we change this?

We need an electoral system that works for voters, not one that voters have to try to workaround. Under a proportional system, the need for of tactical voting massively drops. That’s because, as there is more than one winner in each area, unless you decide to vote for a tiny fringe party there is a high chance you will get someone elected to represent you. The Single Transferable Vote (STV) form of proportional representation is even better as you can write down back up choices in case your first choice doesn’t get enough votes. STV gives people the chance to vote for their preferred candidate without the fear that their vote will go to waste.

It is now more important than ever, that the public is involved in decisions being made for the future of our country. With a voting system that allows people’s voices to be heard, we can introduce a fairer democracy.

The UK remains the only democracy in Europe to still use the outdated first past the post system for its main elections. For hundreds of millions of voters around the world, the idea that you might have to vote tactically to be heard rather than just voting for who you want would be considered bizarre. It is time to bring decision making closer to the people.

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