Tactical voting: keep it proportional

Our letter to tactical voting organisations

We recently contacted the various tactical voting organisations to review their recommendations for seats where tactical voting is unlikely to be needed. We argue that it is counterproductive to promote tactical voting in such seats. Our dialogue with these organisations is ongoing.

Dear friends,

Thanks very much for the great work that you are doing to help voters in marginal constituencies understand how they can best prevent a Tory victory.

It’s a deep tragedy that our national elections are still contested under an outdated and unfair first-past-the-post system. In today’s multi-party reality, it has made tactical voting into a necessary habit for many voters, and the information and advice you provide is vital in helping them do so in an effective manner.

However, we are sure that you will agree that tactical voting is not desirable behaviour per se, and that where possible it is vastly preferable that voters feel free to vote for the party of their first choice. 

In constituencies that aren’t marginal between progressive parties on the one hand and the Conservatives and the Brexit Party on the other, tactical voting is unlikely to affect the outcome. That begs the question why voters in these seats should be encouraged to vote for anything else than their actual first preference candidate. There’s nothing tactical about that.

Tactical voting advice for non-marginal constituencies only further erodes public confidence in our democracy. It suggests that the differences between progressive parties don’t matter, it creates false expectations in safe Tory seats, and it disproportionately harms smaller parties’ vote share and their ability to retain deposits. In short, it’s counterproductive.

Our initial basic analysis suggests that almost half of all seats are highly unlikely to flip from progressive to conservative or vice versa. That’s enough of a democratic disgrace in itself, so let’s not make it worse.

We would encourage you to use your own, superior, analysis tools to identify which constituencies are ‘not in play’ in the 2019 general election. We suspect you’ll agree that the number runs into the hundreds. 

There are three types of seats that we believe should be exempt from tactical voting advice:

  1. Safe Tory seats. Example: Meriden. 2017 Con majority 19,198. Joint 2017 vote share of Con+Ukip 65.7%. Progressive vote share: 34.3%. Estimated Leave vote: 59%. Electoral calculus prediction: Con (96% likelihood). Other examples: North Dorset, Mid Norfolk.
  2. Safe progressive seats. Example: Walthamstow. 2017 Lab majority 32,017. Joint 2017 vote share of progressive parties 85.9%. Con+Ukip vote share: 14.1%. Estimated Leave vote: 33%. Electoral calculus prediction: Lab (95% likelihood). Other examples: Preston, Brighton Pavilion.
  3. Seats contested between progressive parties. Example: Sheffield Hallam. 2017 Lab majority over Lib 2,125. Joint 2017 vote share of progressive parties: 74.6%. Con+Ukip vote share: 25.4%. Estimated Leave vote: 34%. Electoral calculus prediction: Lib (64% likelihood vs Con 20% and Lab 16%). Other examples: Bermondsey and Old Southwark, Cambridge.

The arguments against tactical voting advice for safe seats are probably obvious. It’s this third category of seats that will need more careful consideration – especially because tactical voting might determine the result, even when it’s not needed to fend off the Tories.

So, please keep interrogating your data and running your models with that in mind. Ask yourself if it’s appropriate to provide a specific recommendation to voters who are not at great risk of inadvertently ending up with a Tory or Brexit Party MP. This is where we should let democracy run its course, and revel in the reassurance that the best progressive candidate will win. 

Many thanks for taking on board this feedback. We look forward to discussing this further – please feel free to get in touch.

With kind regards,

Remco van der Stoep, Compass

3 thoughts on “Tactical voting: keep it proportional

  1. Many are put off the idea of tactical voting if that means voting for a candidate that doesn’t support proportional representation. Labour’s manifesto omits any mention of voting reform. Dragging it’s feet over this issue makes it really difficult for any self-respecting progressive of other parties to contemplate tactically voting for them. Each individual Labour candidate should therefore first be questioned on what their own idea of what a modern democracy should look like. Tactical voting might then have a chance of success here and there, depending on how they answer.

    1. We commend your caution and your important work to help voters find out about the tactical thing to do in their constituency.

      But some harm is done where you recommend a tactical vote for the incumbent where there is no credible threat from Tories and Brexit Party. Other progressive parties are impacted by a slump in their vote share as a result of unnecessary tactical voting – it affects their ability to save their deposit, their future electoral prospects in the seat, and the distribution of so-called Short Money for funding opposition MPs. And in one case, Bristol West, you recommend voting tactically where the race is between two progressives.

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