Tactical Voting

 First used on a large scale in 1997, tactical voting occurs when two parties are sufficiently close to one another in policy and ideological terms for their supporters to be willing to vote for the ‘other’ party in order to keep their ‘least preferred’ party out of power. In 1997 and 2001, tactical voting favoured Labour and the Liberal Democrats and damaged the Conservatives. However, more complex patterns of tactical voting appeared to have taken place in 2005 and 2010. Divisions between Labour and the Liberal Democrats over the Iraq War may have meant that – in those elections – fewer Liberal Democrat supporters were willing to ‘lend’ their vote to Labour, while former Labour supporters disaffected by the war were happy to switch their vote to the Liberal Democrats.

Can it make a difference?

Yes: This is particularly noticeable in byelections, where it can be easier to get the tactical voting message across. To take one example, in the 2021 North Shropshire byelection, the Lib Dems overturned a near-23,000 Tory majority because much of the Labour vote shifted over to back their candidate.

In 2024 Millions of voters were faced with a choice of wasting their vote- ie voting for a candidate with no hope of being elected or voting tactically ie not expressing their political convictions. A  poll by Best for Britain found that just under 40% of all voters would consider doing it to remove a Conservative. Nearly 14% said they would do so to save the Tories.

The poll suggested about a quarter of people were planning to vote Labour would do so tactically, rising to a third for Lib Dem votes.

Evidence suggests that tactical voting was more significant in 2024 -  particularly the success of the Liberal Democrats whose vote share hardly increased but had a huge gain in MPs-because voters seem to be getting better at tactical voting with more awareness of tactical voting and advice websites.  Several byelections in which large Tory majorities have been lost have helped show how it can work.

There is the more basic motivating factor of simply wanting to deliver a kick to a deeply unpopular government.