Tactical voting sites sold us myths – they’ll never be trusted again

Tactical voting was one of the hot topics of this general election; dozens of independent websites, celebrities and even some of our own candidates were banging the drum of tactical voting to ‘get the tories out’ and deliver a hung parliament. It was also pushed relentlessly in the media that tactical voting was going to be a seismic force this election and the polls even seemed to suggest that may be the case.

In Southport we garnered the support of tactical voting websites early on in the campaign only to be urcerimoniulsy dumped in favour of Labour later on, we even had People’s Vote actively campaigning for Labour in the final weeks. All this achieved was to squeeze our vote both ways and deliver the Tories an increased majority. The idea that tactical voting could lead to Labour victory in Southport was nothing short of a white lie peddled to well-intentioned voters, much like the ideas of unseating Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg.

As long time local activists we knew Labour couldn’t get the moderate conservative votes they would need to win, this is the level of community understanding that will always be missing from sites so reliant on quantitative data. These sites clung onto every poll that came out, except the ones that showed Jeremy Corbyn was the unpopular opposition leader in generations, why should we be surprised voters rejected the idea of letting him into number 10 through the back door?

The tactical voting campaign failed because it made misguided and oversimplified assumptions on how votes migrate – it was never correct to think all Liberal Democrat votes would default to Labour or vice versa. It’s hard to see tactical voting ever regaining the trust of progressive voters again after this election. The silver lining may be that the calls for electoral reform may now grow; Liberal Democrats need to make sure we are at the forefront of this debate.

* Peter Blake is a member and activist in Southport.

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22 Comments

  • Well, no, tactical voting didn’t “work” in this sense. On the other hand, the labour party got 3 times the lib dem vote in Southport. If labor has been recommended in seats where they got 13% and the lib Dems 39%, what would you say to that?

    If you wanted to reduce the Tory majority in Southport, voting labor was correctly recommended to do so. If you think peoples vote and tactical voting endorsements would have closed the 26 point gap to Labour (forget the Tories) I think you know that’s not so.

    Losing is hard but you won’t benefit from not taking a realistic perspective.

  • Michael Berridge 13th Dec '19 - 8:19pm

    Tactical voting was worth it in Canterbury. As a former Lib Dem councillor in the city I would have voted for Rosie Duffield, and was pleased to see her beat arch-Brexiter Anna Firth.
    Tactical voting was not worth it in Bromley and Chislehurst. Tory Bob Neill was always going to win. I voted Lib Dem and encouraged others to do the same. It boosts our national vote share. Good to see that up by over 50 per cent this time!

  • Mike Farrell 13th Dec '19 - 8:19pm

    I think Peter was making the point that Labour will never have enough appeal to take Southport . The fact that they’ve got their noses ahead into second place which I presume is a hangover from the Coalition actually entrenches the Tories.
    Tactical voting won’t work when there’s huge political space between parties. It did when Tony and Paddy cosied up not a chance with Jeremy Corbyn.

  • Peter Blake 13th Dec '19 - 8:24pm

    @Mulhahey I think you’re missing the point. The Tory majority didn’t go down in Southport – it went up! Labour can’t win in Southport, tactical voting only artificially inflates their 2nd place vote.

  • @Mulahay

    I think what the author is saying is that in some constituencies, the “ceiling” of the maximum potential Labour vote will be lower than what is needed to overturn a Conservative majority, and that the Lib Dem’s “ceiling” is higher and enough.

    Southport typically illustrates this. It’s a constituency where most voters are probably right of centre on most issues. Historically Lib Dems could hold such a seat based on a coalition straddling moderate views (plus extremely hard working local councillors and MP). Hence they can carry the liberal and soft Conservative voters, plus squeeze the soft Labour voters and win the seat.

    Labour (theoretically) can’t do that. So even in a situation where Lib Dems have polled lower than Labour, it is actually only the Lib Dems that can potentially win because of their higber “ceiling” of potential support. In spite of being 2nd, it would be a true statement that “Labour can’t win here”. There are quite a number of naturally Conservative leaning seats in the country like this (though far less post 2015)

  • One thing that should happen going forward with tactical voting sites is this. Since tactical voting only exists because of the limitations of FPTP voting, is that for a candidate to be recommended for tactical voting in a specific seat, that candidate must be either;

    1. From a party committed to electoral reform/proportional voting system
    2. If from a party that is opposed or makes no commitments to electoral reform in the manifesto, then the candidate must sign a pledge that they will vote for electoral reform legislation, defying the party whip is necessary.

    It makes no sense to encourage tactical voting for candidates seeking to benefit from a tactical vote, but are not committed to changing the situation that creates the need for tactical voting in the first place

  • Yousuf Farah 13th Dec '19 - 8:59pm

    It isn’t so much the failure of tactical voting sites; as it is actually the deceitfulness, arrogance and selfishness of Corbynistas. When they realised (correctly) at the beginning that they couldn’t beat the Conservatives, they sold the myth of tactical voting to remainers and people that didn’t want the Conservatives to win. But as the course of the election was nearing its end, they were rising in the opinion polls, and they took this as proof that they could actually win. So at first it was “VOTE TACTICALLY!”, then it became, “VOTE LABOUR!”, socialists sure are a slippery lot.

  • The problem with tactical voting sites is that in two-way contests voters already generally know who the top two are – or will find out from the two parties that bother to campaign there – and probably already pick the best one. In contests which are closer to three-way (where conscious tactical voting might have some benefits) then even a constituency poll – margin of error 5% or more, so 10% or more on margins – is not very useful so the risk of voting tactically the wrong way is too high.

    It’s hardly just a Labour problem: every party can get the wrong idea of how it’s going to do in a seat or two – the Lib Dems campaigned with a high profile candidate in Kensington, and got nowhere even *with* the endorsement of about half the prominent TV sites (which perhaps shows how much attention was actually paid to them outside the politically active people who could have worked it out themselves) … and in my constituency the Lib Dems threw in more publicity than everyone else combined to come a distant third to the Conservative paper candidate.

  • There is another problem, that Tactical Voting Sites, like any other campaign are going to be run by volounteers, its so easy for big Parties like Labour to simply send people in & take them over. Theres no way to stop that happening.

  • I think James Pugh has summed the tactical vote process: & FPTP has always been unfair and dis-functional, but it is now a major block to the public having respect for the democratic system.

  • “The fact that they’ve got their noses ahead into second place which I presume is a hangover from the Coalition actually entrenches the Tories.”

    The Lib Dems won Southport in 2015

    Tactical voting just didn’t happen (and it rarely does on any scale). LIb Dem candidates in Stockton South and Cardiff North actually asked their supporters to vote Labour. And their vote share went up!

  • Dr Zulfiqar Ali 14th Dec '19 - 12:01am

    Support for tactical vote from the party and candidates was a gross mistake and is something hurting us in recent years. It is meant to help Labour anyhow and we should stay miles away from the notion. Us changing our long held position on a 2nd referendum was also instrumental in public losing faith in us so sooner after European election victories. We are again not to be trusted by the public to a degree where we could have sizeable elected parliamentarians for few more years to come. We are also looked down by voters due to our role in the coalition, hike in tuition fee and bedroom tax are still hurting people. This is the time that we continue with the positive message of being pro European but not to oppose Brexit rather to work to make it less painful. Our next leader has to be someone with wider front bench experience and a well known public figure who can regain public trust like the Vince Cable did only earlier this year. Having a young and firebrand leader is not necessarily the right approach at times when we have an existential threat. Among current pool of MPs Ed Davey appears to be most suitable one for the big role but am sure there would be wider debate.

  • Andrew Daer 14th Dec '19 - 9:17am

    Threads like this, devoted to the mechanics of tactical voting, highlight the rotten state of British democracy. Instead of voting for the party we actually support, we have to try to guess how best to score points in the parliamentary arithmetic game. In this version of the prisoner’s dilemma we have to trust our fellow prisoner not to renege on a ‘promise’ which is sometimes not even spoken, but merely implicit. If this weren’t enough, the calculations we have to make are based on votes cast in a previous election which were themselves influenced by an unknown amount of tactical voting. How can this mockery of democracy be the genuine choice of British voters, around 17 million of whom, because of FPTP, have their votes binned in a typical election? The Tory and Labour cheerleaders for FPTP tell us we like ‘strong and stable government’, like a 19th century slave owner with a whip in his hand saying “it’s alright, they’re masochists, they enjoy it !”

  • The Ashcroft polling is interesting on this.

    https://lordashcroftpolls.com/2019/12/how-britain-voted-and-why-my-2019-general-election-post-vote-poll/

    (And on our strategy generally)

  • We lost because we ran a really crap National campaign. It demoralised the campaigners
    You wont print this

  • Peter Davies 14th Dec '19 - 5:00pm

    A major problem with these sites is that they make recommendations for seats where tactical voting would not alter the result. Either they are safe Tory seats (like my own Romford) or the Tories are not in the race (e.g. Cambridge). In both cases voters were essentially being conned into voting Labour.

  • I am not a fan of tactical voting. Sometimes the logic seems perfect but in many cases it is wishful thinking. The outcome often depends on everyone else being like minded or doing what they said they would do. Of course they could just be inviting you to waste your vote. Trying to be too clever can backfire.

    If everyone votes for the party they want to win, you may not get the result that you want, but at least the results will accurately reflect the support of the voters.

  • Labour can’t win southport when polling 32% nationally. If they do better in national share they can happily win in – only 3.5% swing needed and there’s a 13% lib dem vote to squeeze. It’s disappointing to hear but that’s much more likely than you squeezing the 39% labour vote!

    I can only take the anti tactical voting declarations here as firm commitments never to deliver a bar chart again!

  • Worth pointing out both Unite and PCS actively encouraged their activists to flood Southport. It was their major target seat in the Merseyside region ( and probably beyond). Now having lost Leigh I really don’t think next time Southport will get a look in from either of those unions, they will be wanting their Leigh’s back.

    PCS Volunteers Needed
    The north west region is seeking PCS members to volunteer to join PCS canvassing teams in the following seats:

    Blackpool North and Cleveleys

    Bolton West

    Crewe and Nantwich

    Souhtport

    Campaign dates for each of these target seats will be publicised shortly. Volunteers will be briefed prior to any canvassing sessions. We plan to have our first PCS canvassing sessions set up from the 16 November 2019.

    Intresting to note PCS had a 100% success rate in failing miserably.

  • I think James Pugh is right. We should only back tactically voting for candidates of other parties if they are committed to reform of FPTP. Most of the tactical voting sites I’ve seen are clearly pro Labour.

    Essentially if everyone who didn’t vote Tory voted for Labour, they might have stopped the Tories getting a majority and therefore anyone who didn’t vote Labour is actually a Tory! In fact they consider them worse than the Tories. I had to listen to no end of Labour supporters saying how the one good thing about the night was Jo losing her seat. They hate us just as much as they hate the Tories.

  • Peter Blake is right. Labour in many constituencies has a ‘glass ceiling’ which is several thousand votes below that of a good Lib Dem campaign in the same place. Tactical voting will always be pushed by a clear second place party as long as we have fptp. What does not help, however (arguably hinders and may mean that TV gets completely devalued for the future even where it would be useful) is armies of centrally-based desk politicians giving sometimes self-contradictory ‘authoritative’ (sic) advice based upon the most gossamer-like of data interpreted either purely algorithmically or by people with no real idea of what is going on in the constituencies concerned. Was TV actually successful at all (in affecting results rather than merely denting Tory majorities or ramping up Lib Dem majorities in places we were going to win anyway) outside of Canterbury, Westmorland and Putney?

  • Another thing I might add is that the reason both Labour and the Lib Dems lost ground in terms of seats was former Labour voters switching directly to the Conservatives.

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