In Depth

General Election 2019: What is tactical voting?

Parties are showing a willingness to endorse voting pacts as Britain heads to the polls

As Britain heads to the polls once more, many voters will be wondering whether to vote with their heads or their hearts.

Anti-Brexit groups across the country have spent the general election campaign advocating for tactical voting, in an effort to stop Boris Johnson getting a majority and pushing through his withdrawal agreement.

The Independent reports that “many senior Brexiteers are highly vulnerable to tactical voting by opponents of EU withdrawal in their own constituencies”, and may see themselves being replaced by Labour, Lib Dem or even Green Party candidates.

Similarly, Brexit Party supporters may feel the need to vote Conservative in order to avoid splitting the pro-Brexit vote and handing power to Labour.

According to the latest Ipsos MORI polling, 41% of Lib Dem voters may still change their mind, presumably to back a pro-Remain Labour candidate. Meanwhile, one in four Labour voters may still switch their allegiance.

What is tactical voting?

Sometimes voters deliberately choose not to vote for their first-choice candidate.

“Usually,” says the BBC, “this is because the candidate in question has little prospect of winning and so the voters prefer to give their second choice options a better chance of winning the seat.”

Often tactical voting takes place specifically to stop one political party getting into power. For instance, if a Labour voter lives in a marginal seat that is closely contested by the Conservatives and the Lib Dems, they may vote Lib Dem to keep the Tories out.

Ahead of the 12 December election, a number of anti-Brexit tactical voting sites have been launched by a variety of campaign groups. On the sites, voters can enter their postcode and receive advice on how to vote to best counter Brexit.

How will it affect this election? 

The i reports that tactical voting is believed to have played an important role in past elections, such as Tony Blair’s landslide Labour victory in 1997.

The most impactful seats for pro-Remain tactical voters will be those marginals where the incumbent is a pro-European or where tactical voting could unseat a pro-Brexit MP.

Campaigners for a “final say” referendum have released a list of 25 key marginal seats where tactical voting could block a Conservative victory, reducing the party’s chances of winning an overall majority, The Independent reports.

In October, says Metro, the Electoral Reform Society asked polling company BMG Research to find out how widespread tactical voting might be. Of 1,500 voters questioned, 24% said they planned to vote tactically to keep out a candidate they dislike.

When the same question was asked before the 2017 general election, 20% of people said they planned to vote tactically.

The poll also found that Remainers were more likely to vote tactically (28%) while 22% of Leavers said they’d be strategic when selecting their favoured candidate.

What do the political parties say?

The parties themselves have, to an extent, embraced tactical voting – also with Brexit in mind.

The Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and Plaid Cymru entered a “Remain alliance” in which the parties will stand down candidates in 60 seats to maximise the chances of electing anti-Brexit MPs.

According to The Independent, “the fervently Brexit-backing foreign secretary Dominic Raab is the most high-profile target of the electoral pact”, with the Greens standing aside for the Liberal Democrats in his Esher and Walton constituency.

However, Raab’s seat is also an example of tactical voting not being fully deployed. The Lib Dems trail the foreign secretary by two points, meaning that if the Labour candidate were to step aside, Raab would almost certainly lose his seat.

The Brexit Party has also implicitly backed tactical voting by stepping down candidates in all of the 317 seats won by the Conservatives in 2017 to bolster the Tories’ chances of a majority.

The BBC reports that Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage was “under pressure not to split the pro-Brexit vote” and so is focusing on damaging Labour, who he accused of “betraying” its Leave-supporting voters.

Will tactical voting make a difference?

According to YouGov’s Chris Curtis, the Brexit Party backing away from Tory seats is not likely to make a huge difference, as it does not help the Conservatives win the Labour seats they need to return a majority.

“Whilst it will certainly help the Tories retain the seats it currently holds, the Brexit Party will still be standing in the seats the Conservative Party hopes to gain from Labour in order to secure a majority,” Curtis explained.

“Farage’s decision to stand aside in Conservative-held seats and not in Labour-held seats will likely make very little difference.”

Boris Johnson welcomed the pact, describing it as a “recognition that there’s only one way to get Brexit done, and that’s to vote for the Conservatives”.

The “Remain alliance” looks more likely to have an impact, with the Financial Times noting that “co-operation can certainly bring results”. In August, a similar pact saw the Lib Dems overturn an 8,000 Tory majority in the Brecon and Radnorshire by-election.

BBC analysis has suggested that none of the contests in the 60 seats in question would have had a different result in 2017 if the Lib Dems, Plaid Cymru and Green votes had been added together.

But the Financial Times reports that the alliance could come into play if “Remainers believe this election is the last chance to stop Brexit”, leading them to focus their efforts on one pro-Remain candidate.

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