The truth about tactical voting


Ed Balls and Peter Hain have both urged voters to vote tactically this morning to prevent a Conservative government. Left-leaning newspapers, like the Daily Mirror and Polly Toynbee and Jonathan Freedland in the Guardian, have also encouraged tactical voting. The reality is that in nearly three out of four Tory target seats, a tactical vote means a vote for Labour.

UK Polling Report has a useful list of the Conservative’s target seats. After boundary changes, they require 116 seats to win an overall majority. Only 23 of these are held by the Liberal Democrats (20 per cent), two are SNP, while one (Wyre Forest) is held by an independent. The remaining 90 seats targeted by the Conservatives are Labour-held seats. Of these 90 seats, only nine* are three-way marginals where the Liberal Democrats could win with a swing of 8 per cent or less. In practice this means that the Liberal Democrats cannot win in 81 of the Labour-held seats targeted by the Conservatives.

The difficulty for progressives is that support for the Liberal Democrats – encouraged by the Guardian and Observer – is tipping the balance between a hung parliament and a Conservative government. An Ipsos-MORI poll of marginal seats published yesterday looked at voting intentions in 57 Labour-held constituencies where Tories need a swing of 5 to 9 per cent to win. They project Labour and Conservative to be tied on 36 per cent with the Lib Dems on 20 per cent – enough for Political Betting to say that it “points to Tory majority of 2″.

Entirely unreported are the 2005 results, which Ipsos-MORI publish in their nine page accompanying document: “Conservatives 31%, Labour 45%, Liberal Democrats 17%, Other 7%”. In these marginal seats, the Tories have only gained 5 points while Labour has lost 9 points including 3 points to the Liberal Democrats. Under our bankrupt electoral system, these Labour-Lib Dem switchers are effectively handing power to the Tories. Unless the Tories’ haul of seats falls below the psychologically important 300-mark, David Cameron seems intent on breaching convention and leading a minority government.

Any voters who are confused about how to “Stop Dave” can visit this helpful website and enter their postcode can use the Daily Mirror‘s guide to tactical voting while the “Torymergency!” website sort out a couple of bugs.

* Watford, Edinburgh South, Colne Valley, Northampton North, Bristol NW, Pendle, Aberconwy, Stirling, and Brentford and Isleworth.

UPDATE 13.59:

Thanks to Lib Dem commenter, Duncan Stott, who points out that the Lib Dem surge can help knock out the Tories in a series of Lib Dem target seats including Oliver Letwin in Dorset West (2.3 per cent swing required) and Liam Fox in Somerset North (5.9 per cent swing needed). There are also a series of seats where tactical voting for Labour could kick out incumbent Tories.

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  • http://twitter.com/andy_s_64/status/13362241383 Andy Sutherland

    RT @leftfootfwd: The truth about tactical voting – Lib Dems can't win in 81/116 Tory targets http://bit.ly/cff3i0

  • http://twitter.com/mcgregormt/status/13362517017 Matthew McGregor

    Excellent @leftfootforward piece re Ed Balls, Compass et al http://bit.ly/c4ETIH In vast majority of seats, tactical voting = Vote Labour

  • http://twitter.com/dodgerzulu/status/13362698643 Andrew Dodgshon

    Thing about tactical voting is if your tactic is to get a Labour government, then VOTE LABOUR http://bit.ly/cff3i0

  • http://twitter.com/darrellgoodliff/status/13362936442 DarrellGoodliffe

    RT @mydavidcameron: RT @leftfootfwd The truth about tactical voting http://bit.ly/cff3i0

  • http://twitter.com/12crasssongs/status/13363280832 N Seventeen

    RT @leftfootfwd: The truth about tactical voting – Lib Dems can't win in 81/116 Tory targets http://bit.ly/cff3i0 #labourwin #ge10

  • http://twitter.com/regordane/status/13363457387 hilary

    Why you should vote Labour to keep the Tories out http://www.leftfootforward.org/2010/05/the-truth-about-tactical-voting/

  • http://twitter.com/8minstosunrise/status/13363651606 Milena Buyum

    RT @leftfootfwd: The truth about tactical voting – Lib Dems can't win in 81/116 Tory targets http://bit.ly/cff3i0

  • http://twitter.com/jo_cox1/status/13364120611 Jo Cox

    Great analysis from @leftfootfwd on tactical voting. Lib Dems can't win in 81/116 Tory targets http://bit.ly/cff3i0 #votelabour #ukelection

  • http://twitter.com/houseoftwits/status/13362152395 House Of Twits

    RT @leftfootfwd The truth about tactical voting – Lib Dems can't win in 81/116 Tory targets http://bit.ly/cff3i0

  • http://twitter.com/chrisplol/status/13362210637 Chris Paul

    RT @houseoftwits: RT @leftfootfwd The truth about tactical voting – Lib Dems can't win in 81/116 Tory targets http://bit.ly/cff3i0

  • http://twitter.com/mydavidcameron/status/13362411720 MyDavidCameron

    RT @leftfootfwd The truth about tactical voting http://bit.ly/cff3i0

  • http://twitter.com/pastyface43/status/13362458293 kate

    RT @leftfootfwd: The truth about tactical voting – Lib Dems can't win in 81/116 Tory targets http://bit.ly/cff3i0

  • http://twitter.com/johannabaxter/status/13365089012 Johanna Baxter

    RT @DodgerZulu: Thing about tactical voting is if your tactic is to get a Labour government, then VOTE LABOUR http://bit.ly/cff3i0

  • http://billyblofeld.wordpress.com Billy Blofeld

    I just tried the “Stop Dave” web-site – I am recommended to vote Lib Dems…..

    …..tactical voting does seem like it could seal Labour’s 3rd place in the popular vote fate.

  • http://twitter.com/yarrumniai/status/13362648309 Iain Murray

    RT @leftfootfwd: The truth about tactical voting – Lib Dems can't win in 81/116 Tory targets http://bit.ly/cff3i0

  • http://twitter.com/frejan/status/13362679427 Fredrik Jansson

    RT @mcgregormt: Excellent @leftfootforward piece re Ed Balls, Compass et al http://bit.ly/c4ETIH In vast majority of seats, tactical voting = Vote Labour

  • http://twitter.com/conormcginn/status/13362758929 Conor McGinn

    RT @DodgerZulu: Thing about tactical voting is if your tactic is to get a Labour government, then VOTE LABOUR http://bit.ly/cff3i0

  • http://twitter.com/danwilsoncraw/status/13362785356 Dan Wilson Craw

    RT @leftfootfwd: The truth about tactical voting – Lib Dems can't win in 81/116 Tory targets http://bit.ly/cff3i0

  • http://twitter.com/shamikdas/status/13362887913 Shamik Das

    Excellent analysis by @wdjstraw on @leftfootfwd: The truth about tactical voting: Libs can't win in 81/116 Tory targets http://bit.ly/cff3i0

  • http://splithorizons.blogspot.com Duncan Stott

    Avoiding the Tories making gains is only half the story.

    Given the Lib Dem poll surge, there is also the opportunity for progressive voters to tactically switch to Lib Dems to kick out Tory incumbents.
    http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/guide/liberal-democrat-target-seats
    Vote yellow in all the seats marked in blue.

  • Will Straw

    Very good point, Duncan. I’ll update the piece.

  • http://twitter.com/furiousgeorge10/status/13365829880 Furious George

    RT @mydavidcameron: RT @leftfootfwd The truth about tactical voting http://bit.ly/cff3i0

  • http://twitter.com/royalbluestuey/status/13363441245 Stuart Brandwood

    RT @leftfootfwd: The truth about tactical voting – Lib Dems can't win in 81/116 Tory targets http://bit.ly/cff3i0

  • http://twitter.com/JonSHarvey JonSHarvey

    (The ‘Stop Dave’ website didn’t work for me – it advised me to vote LD – when there isn’t one standing… the only worthwhile vote is for the sitting MP – Speaker Bercow..)

    But that aside – political strategy – like any strategy has to be contextual. The context is this: the fairly well established polling is pointing towards a hung parliament where the Conservatives will have the largest number of seats. The LD surge looks like it will probably deny them a working overall majority. It is in this dynamic context (and things may yet change – who knows David Cameron may call Philippa Stroud a bigot and then it all kicks off…) the advice to vote tactically – or to quote David Hain – intelligently is compelling. I have to hope that the LDs in the Tory/Labour marginals will use their vote progressively. They must know by now that their only hope of electoral reform will be in collaboration with Labour. It won’t happen any other way. Equally if Labour voters in Tory/LD marginals want to use their vote wisely – the choice is clear.

    Your figures – despite basing them on ‘marginal only’ data – still fall into the trap of thinking only nationally. Locally – the choices are usually pretty clear. For example if you vote Labour in Oxford West – that will help the Tory get in. But Oxford East is an entirely different kettle of fish -as it is now a Lab/LD marginal it would appear. In this place – it will be down to the Conservatives to swing their tactical votes one way or the other…

    I think ‘thinking’ voters will make some shrewd & local calculations come Thursday. I trust the voters to make the most of our stupid electoral system and this once in a lifetime opportunity to have a government committed to electoral reform and shaking up politics forever!

  • Anon E Mouse

    Will – This smells of desperation by Labour.

    I have voted Lib Dem once before to kick a Tory out and I’m voting Independent this time to keep Labour out (after they tried to force a candidate on a Labour all women’s short list after the death of the much loved Labour MP for the area).

    So tactical voting works both ways – and PLEASE unblock my computer at home Will so I can post my nuggets of advice to your excellent blog…

  • http://twitter.com/meadwaj/status/13367019634 James Meadway

    RT @leftfootforward piece http://bit.ly/c4ETIH In vast majority of seats, tactical voting = Vote Labour <<<good breakdown of vote

  • Pingback: The truth about tactical voting « The best Labour blogs

  • http://twitter.com/rhalldailystar/status/13368280596 Richard Hall

    The truth about tactical voting. http://tinyurl.com/38nc76l @_eide

  • http://twitter.com/roseymainvein/status/13370542312 Claire Rose

    RT @leftfootfwd The truth about tactical voting – Lib Dems can't win in 81/116 Tory targets http://bit.ly/cff3i0

  • http://twitter.com/aliroche/status/13371346085 Alexandra Roche
  • peter roberts

    I normally support labour but what blair and brown have done to this country is discusting and treasonable thats why am voting BNP just like Hundreds of thousands of others. 12% at moment I heard.

  • Pingback: Labour should withdraw candidates in Lib-Con marginals | Left Foot Forward

  • http://twitter.com/aliroche/status/13371284638 Alexandra Roche
  • MariaE

    I agree that people really do need to research this carefully, scrutinise the websites available (Hang Em is very anti Labour)and think through the implications.
    But it takes two to tango with tactical voting. We have seen Labour members, supporters and even Ministers extending a hand to the Liberal Democrats. Yes, this is out of self-interest, maybe even desperation, but primarily because of a genuine horror at the Tory agenda.

    In return, we have got a clenched fist(yes – I am aware of the Obama paraphrase). I hear no voices from the Liberal Democrat’s side suggesting, recognising, let alone promoting tactical voting in favour of Labour candidates. From Paddy Ashdown today on World at One to Lynne Featherstone yesterday on News 24 Campaign Show to Nick Clegg tonight, their statements are pretty unequivocal- vote with your ‘heart,’ for the party you believe in.
    We have no way of knowing if we are indeed voting for a Lib/Con coalition. At local level, I believe most of the coalitions are Lib/Con rather than Lib/Lab. Whether the LDs would be a moderating force is really open to question (see your and others’ reports on local councils and John Harris in the Guardian). I really don’t associate my LD Council with much that is liberal or democratic, let alone progressive.

    The framing of ‘real’ democratic legitimacy as based on the numbers of votes cast, rather than seats won complicates it further. Voting tactically – without a guarantee of reciprocity – could simply result in depressing the Labour vote and delegitimizing its claims.

    Here in Richmond (Surrey) Borough, I reckon that most Labour supporters have almost always voted tactically: to keep the two Liberal Democrat MPs in Parliament and the LDs in control of the council. Every single LD leaflet we have received since the 1997 election boldly and clearly calls for tactical voting from Labour supporters. In today’s leaflet “Labour Cannot Win Here” is given as much prominence as the candidates’ names.

    This time, some Labour supporters are thinking twice, despite the relatively good records of Cable (quite secure) and Kramer (a very close race). Some of us are now saying that if the Liberal Democrats are not even willing to prioritise keeping the BNP out in a number of constituencies, why should we ‘vote with our head’ in order to add to Vince Cable’s winning pile or to keep Zac Goldsmith out?
    I think we need some feedback from the ground about what is happening on the ground in key marginals.

  • Pingback: Politics Summary: Wednesday, May 5th | Left Foot Forward

  • http://twitter.com/fearraigh75/status/13418499259 Olibhéir Ó Fearraigh

    More on tactical voting, by former small-time Mr Nice, Will Straw: http://bit.ly/dAy3XR

  • http://twitter.com/odinsman/status/13420163716 John McGhie

    @chrisniel voting lib dems means handing it on a plate to Tories! http://www.leftfootforward.org/2010/05/the-truth-about-tactical-voting/

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