How does tactical voting work and why do people do it?

Heading to the polls on 4 July may feel like a simple act that requires little explanation.

You go into the local polling station, tick the name of whichever candidate you believe will best represent your constituency, and then you leave.

But the reality is people use their vote in a number of ways, sometimes straying from conventional methods to maximise the impact of it.

The reason tactical voting exists is because of our first past the post system - or FPTP - where each voter chooses a single candidate as MP in their constituency, with the winner determined by simple majority.

Therefore, a lot of the votes cast in the constituency are - in theory - "wasted".

The party with the most MPs wins, rather than the party with the most votes overall. A party could therefore lose an election even if more people voted for them overall.

This is where tactical voting comes into play.

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What is tactical voting?

The Cambridge Dictionary defines it as "an occasion in which you vote for a political party or person that you would not usually support in order to prevent another party or person from winning".

You may have heard it mentioned in past elections - it first became popular in 1997, when Labour's Sir Tony Blair won the general election by a landslide.

There are a couple of tactical voting methods, but it's essentially a way people use their vote to increase the chance of getting the outcome they want.

Vote swapping

This is where you agree to vote for a party on someone else's behalf, and they'll vote for your preferred party in their constituency.

You would likely agree to do this because you know the party you would like to vote for in your constituency is extremely unlikely to win the seat.

Let's say you're a Reform UK supporter living in a constituency that's typically a safe Labour seat. If you know you're likely to be one of only a few constituents voting for Reform, that might feel like a wasted vote.

Instead, you decide to make a pact with someone in another constituency where Reform is more likely to have a shot at winning.

For example, you could swap votes with a Conservative supporter. That way, the Conservative party has a better chance of beating Labour to the seat in your constituency, while Reform has an extra vote in another constituency to get them over the line there.

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In theory, you could vote swap with somebody in another constituency who you already know and trust, but there are also vote-swapping websites that match you up with other voters in other constituencies who are willing to make a deal.

Least worst option

This method of voting is simpler because it doesn't require getting another person involved.

A lot of constituencies will be straight fights between two parties - so people may want to think about how their vote will matter.

Similarly to vote swapping, it's an option you'd take when you assume your preferred party wouldn't win the seat in your consistency, even with your vote.

But in this instance, rather than making a deal with another voter, you would select a different party to vote for in your constituency which you consider to be the best of the rest.

Let's say you're a Green Party supporter, but you don't think they stand a chance of winning and think the Lib Dems align more with your values than other parties and have a higher chance - you might vote for them instead.

Is tactical voting legal?

There are no laws against either method of tactical voting. Ultimately, it's your vote to do with as you choose.

The only way vote swapping could become a legal issue is if coercion is involved, which is when someone is forcefully persuaded to do something they don't want to.

It's legal to make a pact with someone you know and it's also legal to use one of the websites which allows you to swap votes with a stranger.

However, vote-swapping agreements are not legally binding, so if someone agrees to one and then doesn't hold up their end of the deal, there's nothing in place to protect you from a legal standpoint, you're simply operating on trust.