How Could Tactical Voting Have an Impact on the General Election?

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By Dr Sotirios Zartaloudis
School of Government, University of Birmingham

Following the decision to hold an election in the UK for the third time since 2015, a new term has gained prominence in British politics –  the one of tactical voting. The main idea behind tactical voting is that voters should vote, not just according to their own preferences, but also in a strategic way (i.e. tactical) in order to prevent the victory of a very undesirable one.

The first way that tactical voting could have an impact on this general election is the so-called ‘Remain alliance’ election pact of the smaller parties in the UK. Approximately 60 seats as Lib Dems, Greens and Plaid have formally agreed to not have separate candidates (one per party) in these seats, but actually, form a coalition where all voters of these parties would vote a ‘single Remain candidate’ in order to maximise the winning chances of this candidate. In a similar fashion, Nigel Farage, who now leads the Brexit party, has announced that his party will not be contesting 317 Tory won seats in an effort not to split the leave vote.

Tactical voting, however, can also affect the coming election outside party pacts or even occur against parties’ wishes. For instance, traditional Labour voters who strongly oppose Brexit, if they live in a marginal seat where the most likely candidates to win are a Tory or a Lib Dem one, they have a strong motive to vote not for the Labour candidate that would be their usual/first choice, but to vote for the Lib-Dem one to prevent the Tory candidate winning. In this example, the Labour supporter votes the ‘lesser of two evils’ anti-Brexit Lib-Dem candidate.

Similarly, a Lib-Dem voter may end up voting for Labour to prevent a pro-Brexit Tory candidate winning. In other words, in this election, probably for the first time in recent British history, parties seemingly put themselves in a second priority to support their main Brexit position/wish. Pro-EU/anti-Brexit and anti-EU/pro-Brexit parties try to avoid competing with like-minded parties by uniting under one ‘best chances to win’ candidate who agrees with their Brexit stance.

Finally, tactical voting could have an impact on the general election by motivating less keen voters to go out and vote either as a protest to the government or against/for a particular party leader given how polarising Boris Johnson and Jeremy Corbyn are among the electorate.

What does this all mean? That we probably should not try to predict the result of this election before we see whether, and if so how, voters have (tactically) moved or not.


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