The Speaker
Sunday, 21 July 2024 – 09:27

What is tactical voting?

In the run-up to the General Election, we’re answering questions commonly searched for about the election, and asked on Twitter tagging @speakerpolitics. Tweet us now to ask your question.


Tactical voting is not new, but it is being talked about a considerable amount in this election campaign.

Scroll through social media at the moment and chances are, it won’t take you too long to find a reference to tactical voting. It’s a topic that many are talking about, but what actually is it?

Tactical voting is essentially a method of voting whereby a voter will vote for a candidate who isn’t their top preference in order to avoid a more undesirable outcome. Let’s break it down with an example;

Let’s pretend there are three candidates standing in a constituency (these are just examples and are in no way intended to be real):

  • Stuart – Supports Leaving in the European Union
  • Barbara – Supports Remaining in the European Union
  • Katie – Supports Remaining in the European Union

A voter may support remaining in the European Union. Their favourite candidate is Barbara, but they know there is very little chance that they will win the seat. Therefore, instead of voting for Barbara, they will vote for Katie. Katie isn’t their first choice, but Katie supports similar principles to Barabara, such as remaining in the European Union and is much more likely to win the constituency seat. By voting for Katie rather than Barbara, there is more chance of stopping Stuart, who the voter may not like, from winning the seat and potentially representing a different view.

In this election, people are mainly voting tactically in order to try and see more candidates in Parliament that support a particular view on Brexit, such as in the example. There are also cases of people voting for their second or third choice party candidate in order to try and stop another party winning power.

Some parties have gone further than just encouraging tactical voting – the Liberal Democrats, Green Party and Plaid Cymru have formed a ‘Remain Alliance’ which has seen them stand down candidates in some areas in order to avoid splitting the Remain-supporting vote in the election. The Brexit Party has formed a sort of unofficial alliance with the Conservatives, in an effort to avoid splitting the Leave vote. Some parties and groups are encouraging tactical voting through tools on their websites explaining who to vote for.

There are some questions over the ethics of tactical voting, and many will still vote for their number one preference candidate. With lots of tactical voting expected to take place, it’s unclear whether it will really have a significant impact in shaping the election results.


Photo Credit: Matt Brown via Flickr under licence (CC BY 2.0)

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