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Tory Election Woes "Compounded" By Tactical Voting, John Curtice Predicts

Prof Sir John Curtice pictured in 2019 (Alamy)

3 min read

The Conservatives’ election woes in seats they are hoping to defend could be further compounded by tactical voting, according to polling expert Sir John Curtice.

The veteran elections expert, and professor at the University of Strathclyde, said that tactical voting was evident earlier this year at the local elections, and harked back to 1997, when the local and general elections both saw people picking tactically. 

Speaking at an event on Wednesday night organised by Unlock Democracy and Make Votes Matter, Curtice said that some of the polls suggest there is “tactical voting” and “tactical switching” going on. 

“The honest truth is that it doesn’t look as though you need to gang up on the Conservative Party” for them to be defeated “because that’s the direction it’s going in anyway,” he told the event. 

“Some of the polls do suggest that tactical voting is going on, that tactical switching is going on.” 

In recent months polls have consistently shown Keir Starmer's Labour Party to be significantly ahead of Rishi Sunak's Conservatives, but some seat-by-seat figures are suggesting that the Lib Dems in particular are making advances at the Tories' expense. 

Curtice explained: “A couple that I’ve gone through in detail you can see the Liberal Democrats advancing - insofar as they are advancing anyway - they’re advancing in places that they’re second to the Conservatives, and Labour are doing rather better.” 

“That problem the Conservatives have of their vote falling away more heavily in where they’re trying to defend, is potentially going to be compounded by tactical voting.” 

The summer General Election comes off the back of heavy Conservative losses at this year's local elections, which saw them lose hundreds of council sets, as well as the mayoralty in the West Midlands. 

“Tactical voting did start to appear in the local elections of 2023," Curtice said.

"And at the beginning of May, you could see very clearly protest voting tactically against the Conservatives. 

“The last time we saw tactical voting of that kind in local elections was before the 1997 general election. In the 1997 general election you did see tactical voting make more difference thatn it had done in the previous election.” 

It could be that tactical voting “compound[s]” the difficulties the Tories are facing at this election, Curtice added. 

The polling expert was speaking on the same evening that three MRP (multi-level regression and post-stratification) polls were published by various organisations. 

The polls, which use large response samples to estimate supports for parties within individual constituencies, all showed the Tories on for significant losses come 4 July. 

The data from Savanta, published by The Daily Telegraph indicated the worst result for the Tories, and predicted that Sunak’s party could get as few as 53 seats, only slightly ahead of the Liberal Democrats on 50, while Labour would be on more than 500. 

YouGov projected a better result for the Conservatives, with them on 108 and Labour on 425, and Ed Davey’s Liberal Democrats on 67. 

The best result was from More in Common for The News Agents podcast, and showed Labour winning slightly more than 400 seats, with the Conservatives on 155 and the Liberal Democrats on 49. 

After the local elections in May this year, PoltiicsHome reported on the “different roles” smaller parties played, and the impact their results had on the fortunes for Labour and the Conservatives. 

Adam Drummond, the head of political and social research at Opinium told PoliticsHome at the time: “Reform’s role is to register right-wing discontent with the Tories, the Greens' role is to register that discontent with Labour and the Lib Dems' role is basically to help remove the Tories where Labour doesn't have a strong presence.”

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