Why you should consider tactical voting, and how to vote tactically.

What is Tactical Voting?

Share of the vote received by Conservatives (b...
Share of the vote received by Conservatives (blue), Whigs/Liberals/Liberal Democrats (orange), Labour (red) and others (grey) in general elections since 1832. Table 2.01 “Summary Results of General Elections 1832–2005 (UK)”, British electoral facts, 1832–2006, by Colin Rallings and Michael Thrasher, 7th edition, 2007, ISBN 978-0-7546-2712-8, p. 59. Election 2010 Results, BBC News. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This is nothing to do with military tactics, no need to dress in combat gear or sneak around. Tactical voting is about looking wider than just your own constituency and trying to understand the best outcome for the party that you believe supports you across the country.

Why would I want to vote tactically?

Mostly this comes about when the candidate that would best represent you is quite unlikely to win the seat that you live in, or perhaps your party isn’t fielding a candidate in your area. Say for example that you were a Green supporter living in Reigate. The Greens aren’t very likely to win in a safe Conservative seat, but you’d probably not feel represented by a Conservative MP. Anything else (bar perhaps UKIP) is bound to be better from your perspective.

How does tactical voting work?

Firstly you need to do a little research on the outcome of the previous election. Usually this is easy to find, either on returning officer’s website (generally the District Council) or via the BBC who have a database of the 2010 general election results. Failing anything else wikipedia often knows and google may help you.

What you are looking for is the order that the parties came, on the basis that unless a seat has boundary changes it is likely to form a similar pattern in this election. You also need to know how big the margin was, and what minor parties stood. Some notes on minor parties:

  • UKIP generally hurts the Conservatives more than other parties (but it can draw support from Labour).
  • Greens tend to draw support from the Liberal Democrats and the Labour parties
  • residents associations and independents draw support from the incumbent in most cases (these bear more detailed examination if they have enough votes to keep their deposit)
  • single issue parties (e.g. ‘Save the NHS’ draw support from the party in power, they tend to be people that oppose that policy rather than the party position as a whole. That said you need to look at these individually)
  • other parties, like the very respectable Monster Raving Loony Party, draw people who can’t quite bring themselves to spoil their vote. If you find yourself here then I suggest you seriously consider tactical voting

So your analysis should show you which candidate is most likely to win, and which is next in the order. You may also have an inkling of how small parties standing in this election might change the dynamic from the last election.

So you want to vote for the candidate that is most likely to beat the incumbent party.

Tell other people

Once you have decided to vote tactically you can extend this to tactical campaigning. Speak to people and find out which way you think they might vote. If they intend to vote for the incumbent then you might big up some of the small parties that split the vote, pointing out some key differences that might lead them to change their mind. If they are voting for anyone other than the candidate that you have chosen then you might speak to them about tactical voting and enlist them in your aid.

Benefits of Tactical voting

If you do enough of this then there is a possibility that the tactical voting could be effective and change the party representing your constituency. Even if it does not, every vote that reduces the majority makes the seat look less safe. Parties have limited resources, so they don’t spend it in safe seats, whether defending or attempting to get elected. You might very well make your seat look like a winnable marginal for the next election, and when parties target seats then elections get interesting.

Either way, you need to go and vote in every election. Every vote cast is a victory for democracy.

Vote early, vote often!