Social media has become quite excited this week over tactical voting. Sites such as tactical2017.com are emerging giving voters helpful directions on which party to vote for in order to defeat Conservative candidates.
Some commentators have suggested that this time, it matters. Why? Firstly, because it’s an unusual election. Secondly, because of the Brexit issue, which, they suggest over-rides normal party loyalties. Even former Prime Minister Tony Blair has latched onto that one.
And hence the buzz about tactical voting.
But this isn’t going to take off in any significant way. For four main reasons.
An anti-Tory majority?
The tactic assumes that there is an anti-Tory majority out there and, if only it could get itself organised, Mrs May could be toppled. The assertion is false. There is a much bigger anti-Labour majority out there. And an even bigger anti Liberal Democratic majority.
Furthermore, it isn’t just about party. We know that ‘leadership’ perceptions influence final choices amongst floating voters. And here there is a far bigger anti-Corbyn sentiment than an anti-May one.
Even amongst the anti-Tories, the tactic assumes that voters will happily move their vote around between different parties in order to weaken the chances of a party they oppose. This is an unsustainable proposition. The tactic completely disregards the fact that Labour and Liberal Democrat supporters are perfectly capable of having a dislike of each other’s party that matches their shared dislike of the Conservatives. Why would Labour supporters switch to LibDem, while still angry that they propped up the ‘hated Tories’ in coalition from 2010-15? Why would LibDem supporters switch to Labour who they regard as financially incontinent, and weak on opposing Brexit?
Is Brexit really special?
Brexit may be an election issue, and that may be a unique feature of this general election. But there is scant evidence that the issue will lead to some upsurge in tactical voting. The issue may not last the course of the campaign; there are still 40 days to go. The issue of in/out is decided anyway, and how many voters are really engaged in the more obscure debate about exit terms and ‘holding the government to account’?
The tactic still asks Labour ‘remainers’ to switch to LibDem where they challenge the Conservatives and LibDems to switch to Labour in the opposite case. For that to happen, the Brexit issue – whatever it turns out to be by June 8 – has to trump all other concerns about the respective parties. That seems unlikely.
Who is unpopular?
Recent history suggests that the tactical voting incentive may gain at least a bit of traction where the objective is to remove a deeply unpopular government. Even then, it only works if the two parties who are asking for a vote trade are already really close in policy and are known to be collaborating at a high level. Hence, the presence in 1997 of tangible tactical movements in some seats to ensure the defeat of a sitting Conservative MP. But none of these conditions applies in 2017. The deep unpopularity this time relates to the main opposition party, and there is no tangible proximity in policy or leadership between the main opposition parties. Quite the opposite. They are mostly stressing that they could not contemplate coalitions!
The only constituencies where something similar will happen is where one or more opposition parties decide not to contest the seat. That may be dressed up in some circumstances as ‘an arrangement’; but the reality is more likely to be that is the result of shortage of funds or candidates. The result isn’t really tactical voting. It’s just offering voters a restricted choice.
This time tactical voting could turn out to be a much talked about but little practiced sport. A bit like quidditch.