Fri, 29 September 2023

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ANALYSIS: Have the chances of tactical voting deciding this election been overblown?

4 min read

With the two main party leaders at historically low levels of popularity, this election campaign has been dominated by calls for voters to deny either the Tories or Labour a majority.

But have the chances of tactical voting making an impact on the result been overblown?

There have been repeated stories about how few people have to switch sides to drastically alter the nature of the outcome come Friday morning, due to the peculiarities of our electoral system.

Research by one pollster suggested around 30% of people will be “voting for the best-positioned party/candidate to keep out another party/candidate that I dislike” on polling day.

Back in 2017 when Theresa May saw her majority wiped away it was calculated she could have been back in Number 10 without the need for the DUP’s support if only 75 voters had acted differently.

This time round it has been claimed Boris Johnson could be deprived of a Commons majority if just 117,000 people vote tactically to defeat Tory candidates.

And after the opinion polls appeared to tighten this week that number was down to 40,000 in 36 seats.

At least two former Prime Ministers are calling for tactical voting to ensure a hung Parliament, despite one of those being a Tory himself.

Celebrities like Hugh Grant have been touring constituencies arguing for people to vote for whoever can defeat the Conservatives.

But the evidence appears to suggest this advice is not being heeded.

The most recent MRP poll by YouGov does show the Tory majority being cut into as election day looms, down from 68 to 28.

However in many of the seats where the most vocal support for voting tactically has been made the Tories are still on course for victory.

In Chingford and Woodford Green, where Labour are focusing heavily on unseating Iain Duncan Smith, the ex-Conservative leader is slated to narrowly hold on.

That is because despite calls to step aside, the Lib Dem candidate has not backed down – even though the predicted 8% of the vote he is expected to get would be enough for Labour to overhaul IDS if they switched.

The same picture is replicated in three other London seats both Labour and the Lib Dems are targeting.

Projections by DeltaPoll over the weekend in Kensington, Finchley & Golders Green and the Cities of London & Westminster put the Tories well in front of all of them – but the combined votes of the other two parties would far outstrip them.

This failure by Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson to come to an arrangement was blasted by anti-Brexit campaigners, who said they had “failed Remainers” and were handing Mr Johnson a majority.

And while pro-Brexit voters have largely coalesced around the Tories, thanks in no small part to Nigel Farage standing down Brexit Party candidates in their existing seats, the Remain vote is split.

There is also evidence that for pro-EU Tories the thought of helping Corbyn into Number 10 has outweighed their desire to put the brakes on Brexit.

They fear the damage to Britain from a Labour-led government will be worse than even the hardest of EU withdrawals, and they will stick with their party despite reservations about Mr Johnson.

But the issue does appear to work both ways, as the MRP poll suggests the Tory advance on the so-called “red wall” in the Midlands and the North will not be as successful as they had hoped.

Mr Corbyn is expected to hold on in 18 seats he was on course to lose, as traditionally Labour-supporting Brexiteers seem unable to face voting for Mr Johnson and the party of Thatcher, austerity and Old Etonians.

This was the rationale which Mr Farage used to justify not standing down the Brexit Party in Labour-held seats, saying there were voters who wanted to back a pro-Leave party, but would never back the Tories.

But all the polls project he will end up with the grand total of zero MPs, suggesting the public are – shock horror – in the end quite tribal in nature.

The fact remains that in every general election there are hundreds of seats where the winning candidate does not get over 50% of the vote, meaning in theory they could have been defeated if everyone else worked together.

But they don’t. Because politics isn’t like that, and despite there being a strong “plague on all your houses” vibe from the voters this time round, 2019 still seems unlikely to play out differently.

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