General Election 2019: what is tactical voting and will it make a difference to the result?

The upcoming general election is set to be incredibly close and incredibly tense.

By Ross Mcindoe
Monday, 25th November 2019, 9:15 am
Updated Wednesday, 11th December 2019, 3:02 pm

With so much riding on the outcome and the currently more visibly divided than it has been in some time, this will be the most high-pressure voting experience many in the UK have experienced.

In such divided times, and with so much at stake, some would argue you should vote pragmatically rather than purely on principle.

“Voting is a chess move, not a Valentine” says author and activist Rebecca Solnit, in a quote that gets a lot of airplay during election time.

Sign up to our daily newsletter

With so much on the line, many people are expected to vote tactically this year. Picture: Shutterstock

With numerous websites now offering tactical voting guides, it’s worth asking whether trying to out-strategise the opposition actually works.

Read More

Read More
General Election 2019: the latest odds for the UK and Blackpool, Fylde and Wyre ...

What is tactical voting?

Tactical voting is where you vote in the way most likely to produce the results you want to see - rather than simply picking the party or candidate most in line with your views.

As the major parties jostle for control, voting can be as much about keeping someone out as getting someone in. Picture: Shutterstock

That might seem like an odd distinction: surely voting for your preferred candidate improves their chance of winning, and therefore brings about the results you want?

While that is true in theory, in reality there are parts of the country where certain candidates have absolutely no chance of gaining a meaningful number of votes.

For example, even if the Green Party is most in line with your political beliefs, there are places where they have no reasonable chance of winning.

Because Britain uses a First Past the Post system, whereby the winner of the General Election is the party that wins the most constituencies, getting a lot of votes does no-one any good if they are spread out amongst lots of second places.

The UK's electoral system means that second place does no-one any good. Picture: Shutterstock

In such circumstances, it can make more sense to vote for a candidate you wouldn’t normally support if they have a better chance of defeating those you want to see kept out.

Tactical voting is essentially designed to prevent your worst-case scenario from coming true.

Does it actually work?

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

And for this year’s election, politicians themselves have made it clear that they will be acting tactically.

The Brexit Party have announced they will not stand in certain constituencies in an effort to drive all pro-Brexit voters towards a single party.

A number of websites and apps have already appeared, offering advice on how best to vote depending on which constituency you are a part of.

For many people, this election boils down to Brexit, so by voting tactically you can attempt to influence what happens next.

Politicians have already made it clear that they will be acting tactically in this year's general election.

The Brexit Party have announced they will not stand in certain constituencies in an effort to drive all pro-Brexit voters towards a single party.

Party leader Nigel Farage initially planned to take on the Tories in more than 300 seats, but after what he called Boris Johnson's "shift in position" on Brexit, he decided it was best not to split the pro-Brexit vote.

The party will continue to stand elsewhere, but they won't stand in 317 seats won by the Tories in 2017, instead focusing their efforts on trying to take seats held by Labour.

Similarly, Remain supporting parties, the Liberal Democrats, Greens and Plaid Cymru, have announced an electoral pact in 60 constituencies in the hope of taking seats.

In Wales, two of the parties won't put forward candidates, meaning the third party has a better chance of winning a seat, and in England it will be an agreement between the Greens and Lib Dems.

All of them are in support of another Brexit referendum and want the UK to stay in the EU.

By not standing candidates in certain seats, political parties are forcing voters to choose tactically. However, it's still unclear if this will impact the overall result.