(Image above from the Political Compass website at http://www.politicalcompass.org/uk2015)
It seems to be a recurring theme of this election that we are being asked to vote tactically. We are being told how important it is to keep out parties we don’t want. We are being asked to look ahead and second-guess post-election coalition talks: “vote this colour, and you’ll get that colour”. We are not only told it nationally, we are also told it locally: “in this constituency, the only person who can beat the incumbent is so-and-so”. We are told that a vote for a party that won’t win is a wasted vote.
This is a plea not to vote tactically. Look, if what you really believe in is represented by one of the big parties, you’re going to vote for what you believe in anyway, right? So although the message applies to you as well, this message isn’t really for you. It’s for those who might be persuaded to vote against what they dislike instead of for what they believe in.
Why not vote tactically?
First and foremost, tactical voting perpetuates the fortunes of the big parties, preventing other voices being heard. If you have grown cynical about politics, why perpetuate the current system? But by voting for what you don’t believe in, you collude in perpetuating the message that there is no point doing otherwise. Conversely, as the prospects for a wider range of parties increase, so a virtuous circle is created whereby it becomes increasingly apparent that a vote for them is not wasted.
Second, tactical voting is a stab-in-the-dark, a pig-in-a-poke – whatever the metaphor, you don’t know what it will achieve. Achieving what you want through tactical voting depends on second-guessing what everyone else will do. More often than not, it is people you don’t really want from an elite you don’t really trust telling you how to do it. But just think about the possible coalitions, and what parties are saying about them: “let the voters vote first, we’ll have the coalition talks in secret and afterwards”. You can’t know the effect of your tactical vote with half the picture. Sure, you can’t know the end result of a vote for what you believe in either, but at least you have maximised the chance of a voice for it.
Third, majorities aren’t critical. We’ve already moved away from a two party system enough to be familiar with the mathematics that someone a majority of the electorate didn’t vote for can be first-past-the-post, and a party a majority of the electorate didn’t vote for can have a governing majority. There is every chance that this election will further reduce the electoral reliance on majorities: there was an argument at the last election that a party holding the balance of power ought to support the party with the most votes. But there is in fact no reason at all why they should do so. Once you move away from two-party politics, allying with your natural allies rather than worrying about majoritarianism becomes the norm.