Tactical voting

Clever tactics: There are probably over 100 seats where tactical voting could make a real difference.

Nigel Farage, yesterday, claimed that tactical voting will decide the election — and the internet is buzzing with advice. What is tactical voting? And how much difference could it make?

  • What is a tactical vote?

    You may live in a constituency where your preferred party or candidate doesn’t stand a chance of being elected as the MP. Or you may really want to stop a specific candidate from winning.

    Either way, you might decide not to vote for your favoured candidate, but to vote instead for a second best or the one most likely to stop your least preferred candidate.

    That is called a tactical vote.

    Tactical voting is usually considered on a spectrum from Right to Left. But this election is even more complicated than usual because of Brexit, which creates a Leave versus Remain dimension too.

  • What are the tactical vote options?

    If Brexit is your main concern, and for many it is, then the spectrum of options on offer is fairly straightforward.

    The most pro-Brexit is the Brexit Party, then Conservative, then Labour, then the Liberal Democrats and then the Greens, who are the most pro-Remain.

    In Scotland, you also have the SNP; in Wales, there is Plaid Cymru. Both are pro-Remain parties. And, of course, Northern Ireland is another story.

  • Is tactical withdrawal different from tactical voting?


    Some parties are advocating standing down for one another and doing actually doing it. On the Remain side of the Brexit argument, the Liberal Democrats, the Greens and Plaid Cymru are standing down for one another in 60 seats, by agreement. In 43 of these, the Lib Dems are the preferred party; in seven, it is Plaid Cymru and, in 10, it is the Greens.

    The Brexit Party has also unilaterally stood down in the 317 seats won by the Tories in 2017. The Tories are not reciprocating.

    Labour refuses any such pacts, anywhere.

  • How would I know who to vote for in my constituency?

    If the options for tactical voting are not confusing enough, the choice of who to listen to for advice is even more so.

    There are currently no fewer than five websites offering advice to pro-Remain voters about who to vote for in each constituency. As yet, there are no pro-Brexit tactical voting sites.

    But they don’t always agree on the best tactical vote. The good news is that they do agree on 506 of the 632 seats in England, Scotland and Wales.

  • How many constituencies would tactical voting make a difference in?

    In the 2017 election, there were 169 constituencies (about a quarter) where the MP won with less than a 10% majority. This was up from 110 in 2015. Seats where the MP won by less than 10% are usually defined as marginal seats.

    Conversely, in 2017, there were 475 (nearly three-quarters of seats) where the winning MP got more than 50% of the vote.

    Several things make these numbers a bit fuzzy though.

    Among the 475 who won with more than 50% of the vote, 23 also won by less than 10%, making their seats marginal.

    These are based on the 2017 results — if the current opinion polls are to be believed, the numbers could be very different this time.

    There are a higher number of seats than usual where the sitting MP has defected to another party, or is standing as an independent.

    The best we can say is that there are probably over 100 seats where either tactical withdrawals or tactical voting could make a real difference.

  • Isn’t tactical voting dishonest?

    Some would argue that it is simply wrong to vote for a party or candidate that you don’t really support just to stop someone else you support even less. Not only are you being dishonest, but it means that overall election results do not necessarily reflect what the voters actually want.

    The counter-point is that in our first-past-the-post system, if you vote only for what you prefer, you may end up with something you would definitely not want. So, some would argue that you sometimes have to vote tactically.

    It is worth remembering that, since 1945, no single party has ever won more than half the vote, yet only rarely have we not had majority governments.

    This briefing is produced by The Day in association with ENGAGE Public Policy.

You Decide

  1. Should we vote for a political party, a person, or an issue?


  1. Look up your own constituency (you can do this by putting in your postcode online). Find out who people should vote for in order to achieve the following results (i) a Tory victory; (ii) a Labour victory; (iii) a Lib-Dem victory; (iv) Remain, or (v) Leave. List the answers on a piece of paper.

Word Watch

Right to Left
In political terms, from Right-wing (supports social and economic conservatism) to Left-wing (supports social equality).
Done without the agreement of others.
Responding in the same way.

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