CLASH OF COMMENTS: Should the electorate tactically vote to prevent a party from a majority victory?

Credit: MarylandGovpics

Yes– James Humpish

People pick their second preferred option all the time to avoid a worse-off situation. They do it because there’s sometimes more than one factor at play. It can be the same with elections. At every election, there comes an apex of support for tactical voting as a means to block another party or parties’ success. It’s a rational tactic and it can’t really be considered to be contrary to the principles of democracy. Democracy is about choice after all, and the opportunity to influence who runs the country. Maybe tactical voting is in a negative spirit rather than a positive one, but it still serves its purpose. Choosing to ‘just vote for the party you actually want to get in’ is facile. Because there are so many incidents where that attitude yields such a low probability of affecting the outcome that it effectively saps the motivation to vote for many voters. Scrap the idea of opting for the candidate you most prefer anyway. Instead think about what you can gain from each outcome and discount that gain by the probability of success.

There are going to be some Labour supporters better off voting for the Liberal Democrats to keep out the Conservatives. There are going to be some UKIP voters that would be safer with the Conservatives to avoid a Liberal Democrat gain. It’s an effect of a system which fails to translate millions of votes to a representative number of seats. With the parties having diverged from the centre since 2010 and 2015, there’s more at stake. So why effectively waste a vote? Even more, as students we are directly offered the opportunity to tactically vote with the government allowing us to choose to vote at home or at our university constituency. I personally have the choice to vote in my home constituency, Telford, which is an ultra-marginal seat that went Conservative for the first time in 2015, or York Central, which was dominated by Labour in the last two elections. It’s a different sort of tactical voting, but it’s still a situation where you have to ask where a single vote is going to be more influential. And that leads to the crux of the issue, really. Getting the most value of out of a vote might come across as a bit seedy. It’s almost as if you’re trying to make your vote more meaningful than somebody else’s. Yet if everyone’s trying to make the most of their vote that issue is somewhat diminished, especially considering that it can only get someone so far. Look back more than ten years ago and you wouldn’t have the choice of parties there is now. It’s a good thing in many ways. The flipside is that it undermines ‘broad church’ parties.

Voting simply for who you like the most ignores how atomised politics has become. In a two party system, a tactical vote just simply couldn’t exist. Perhaps tactical voting means that the poll tallies won’t represent what the electorate truly feel if people vote tactically. Maybe it’s wrong to act contrary to the ballot paper asking ‘Which one of these candidates would you like to win?’ These are problems with the electoral system. Tactical voting makes sense given the system. It’s a symptom, not a problem.

No-Dom Smithies

Idealism and pragmatism have always been an irksome dichotomy. With the snap election right around the corner I am yet again forced to decide between voting for my ideals or voting for what’s most likely to produce ‘the best outcome’. Tactical voting has always existed. The ‘first past the post’ system was designed for two party’s, while we have multiple parties. Tactical voting encourages people to vote for a party close-ish to their ideals, to beat a party that is the antithesis of those ideals. What then happens is that a party’s ideals constantly shift to try and catch more votes. The problem with this, however, is that it allows a party to ignore the views of a lot of the electorate – people that find themselves accurately represented by the ‘fringe parties’ – because it can depend on tactical voting to ensure success.

The parties nearer the centre thus always succeed. The ‘vote tactically’ strategy guilt trips people into going against their beliefs and encourages them to give up their power to vote for a representative that doesn’t in fact represent them. Shaming me for how I vote goes against everything politics and democracy stands for. When one third of the electorate says they will vote tactically (according to the Independent’s polling) it raises bigger questions about the system we use to elect the government that is meant to represent us. People feel compelled to be tactical now more than ever. Our current Tory government received only 24 per cent of the eligible vote and 37 per cent of the actual vote, accruing over 50 per cent of the seats. I admit I’m impressed with the organisation of tactical voting.

There are handy documents explaining how to vote to ensure that we have a progressive government elected at such a critical time. But I still have my concerns… First, while Brexit is definitely a hot topic at the moment, it is not the sole concern of the government over the next few years. I am not going to hinge my vote on whether a party is offering a hard Brexit, a soft Brexit or no Brexit at all. I care about education, healthcare, the environment, housing and refugees, all of which are either in crisis or passing bills. You shouldn’t vote based on a single issue. Second, voting is not just for a party or the next Prime Minister, you’re electing your government representative. How’s their voting record? What are their priorities for the local area and community? Would they listen to you and your opinions? Voting tactically totally disregards who it is that’s actually standing in your constituency. You owe your MP more than that. Third, strategic politics for the greater, progressive good should come from top down. Parties have stood aside to support each other in particular seats and I’m all for that. Progressive alliances should be formed by leaders, not the electorate. But if you give people choice, you cannot be annoyed at them for taking it. You should make the choice that best represents you and your interests. I understand the arguments for voting tactically, but I will vote tactically on only one term: when there is a coalition seeking to bring about electoral reform – so I never again have to face choosing between my ideals and operating in a system that refuses to accommodate them.

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