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By Ben Guerin
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One in three Brits 'held their nose' and voted for least-worst party at election, new analysis finds

3 min read

One in three British voters "held their nose" and picked the least-worst political party at last year's general election, according to new research from electoral reform campaigners.

A fresh study by the Electoral Reform Society (ERS) found that 32% of voters plumped for a tactical vote rather than picking their preferred party or candidate in December's poll.

The YouGov research revealed that tactical voting was slightly higher among those who picked Labour or the Liberal Democrats - at 36% and 39% respectively - compared to Tory voters.

Remain voters were also more likely to say they opted for the "best-positioned party/candidate to keep out another party/candidate that I dislike", with 35% of anti-Brexit voters saying they had done so compared to 29% of Leave voters who said the same.

The ERS said similar analysis ahead of the 2017 election suggested just 20% planned to vote tactically, and the report's authors seized on the findings to make the case for a shake-up of the UK's electoral system.

"One of the most striking features of the 2019 election campaign was the focus on electoral pacts between parties and tactical voting," they said.

"That these issues were key talking points reflects the dysfunctional nature of Westminster’s electoral system. Under proportional systems, tactical voting is far less of an issue: what you vote for is what you get."

Elsewhere in its post-election report, the campaign group said over two-thirds (71%) of all votes cast at the electon were "ignored" - meaning that they were not decisive to the local result, while 35% of MPs - 229 out of 650 - were elected without a majority of local support. 

The group defines an "ignored" vote as one which went to a candidate who did not end up being elected - or went to the  winning candidate but was surplus to the amount they needed to get elected.

The ERS said this showed the "brutal" reality of Britain's first-past-the-system in "denying millions of voters any representation at all".


Dr Jess Garland, director of research and policy at the Electoral Reform Society, said: "It is no wonder trust in politics is at rock bottom – the vast majority of people’s votes are being systematically ignored by a voting system that is morally and politically bankrupt. 

“Westminster cannot go on like this – all parties must get behind reform of this broken system at long last.  

"It’s time Westminster caught up with the rest of the UK and ensured seats in parliament reflect how people actually want to vote. No more ‘holding your nose’ tactical votes, ignored votes and warped results. Voters are tired of feeling voiceless – and it doesn’t have to be this way."

The ERS wants to see the first-past-the-post system, which requires candidates to achieve a simple majority of local votes to get elected, scrapped and replaced with the Single Transferable Vote system that is used in elections in Ireland and local councils in Scotland. 

Under the system, constituencies would elect a small team of representatives rather than just one.

Voters would rank a list of candidates in order of preference, with votes redistributed to the second or third choices if someone's top pick has enough votes or cannot win.

The group has modelled the 2019 election under that system, with the Tories picking up 312 seats - fifty-three fewer than they did in December - and Labour netting 221, an eighteen-seat increase on their actual total.

The Liberal Democrats would meanwhile pick up an additional 48 seats, taking their tally to 59, while the SNP would be down 18 seats on 30. 

Dr Garland said: "It’s time for proportional representation and real democracy at Westminster."

Advocates of first-past-the-post say it is simple to understand and maintains a strong link between MPs and their local constituents.

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