What is tactical voting and why are some people against it?

UK voters will head to the polls to elect the next prime minister on 4 July.

LONDON- 6 JUNE, 2024: High Street premises displaying Liberal Democrats political party advertising in Wimbledon. SW19 south west London
Tactical voting campaigners in Wimbledon hope to oust the Tory candidate. (Getty)

UK voters will head to the polls to elect the next prime minister in two weeks' time on 4 July.

Political parties have been busy campaigning following the snap election announcement by Rishi Sunak, who revealed the vote would be held on Thursday 4 July.

The Conservatives are currently trailing Labour by a significant margin in the polls, with the latest polling figures showing Labour projected to potentially secure a record number of MPs and the Sunak himself in danger of losing his seat, which would make him the first sitting prime minister to do so.

Other high-profile Tory MPs - including Michael Gove, Jeremy Hunt, Jacob Rees-Mogg and Liz Truss - are also facing the prospect of being ousted by voters.

Some tactical voting campaigners are eager to make this a reality - with the Conservatives (as the sitting party in government) the most likely to be on the sharp end of such initiatives.

Indeed, the Best for Britain campaign group says it wants to inflict the “heaviest possible election defeat” on the Conservatives. It believes that its GetVoting.org initiative could help oust several prominent Tories, including Sunak and Hunt.

Tactical voting is when someone chooses to vote for a candidate who would not be their first choice, or perhaps a candidate they would not even have considered voting for previously.

The idea is that by voting for that candidate, you are doing your bit to stop another candidate winning.

It tends to apply in constituencies where two candidates are close in numbers, and significantly out in front of their opponents.

Some voters employ tactical voting as a strategy to counter the UK's 'First Past The Post' (FPTP) voting system, where a candidate with the most votes wins.

This can result in an MP being elected even though the majority of voters supported candidates from a different political spectrum.

For example, a Conservative candidate may win in their local constituency if the vote is divided between left-wing candidates from the Labour and Green Party.

Polling station in Moseley on the day of the local West Midlands Combined Authority Mayoral Elections, and also for the Police and Crime Commissioner in England on 2nd May 2024 in Birmingham, United Kingdom. With a general election looking likely to take place in November this year, these local election will be a political barometer for the political landscape in the UK for the coming years, with Labour poised to beat the Conservative party for the first time in fifteen years. (photo by Mike Kemp/In Pictures via Getty Images)
Voters will head to the [polls on 4 July. (Getty)

A scenario where tactical voting could come into play is when a voter’s preferred candidate is likely to come third with no realistic chance of winning.

In this case, the voter could vote tactically by choosing to vote for one of the two candidates who will win the seat.

John Boken, a 43-year-old secondary school teacher from Oswestry, is one of millions of registered voters who is preparing to cast his vote for a party that is not his top preference.

Despite his inclination towards Labour, Boken feels he has to support the Liberal Democrats to prevent the Conservative candidate from securing the seat in his constituency.

An example of tactical voting in action would be a traditional Labour voter who voted for Brexit in 2016 opting to vote for the Conservative candidate in their constituency in the hope of getting a Tory majority and avoiding a hung parliament which they may fear would lead to a second EU referendum.

On the other hand, a traditional Tory voter who wants the UK to remain in the EU could lend their vote to the Labour or Lib Dem candidates in a bid to avoid a Conservative majority government.

Meanwhile, back in 1997, tactical voting group Get Rid of Them (Grot) targeted 90 seats across the country where tactical voting could secure the defeat of the Tory candidate.

And in 2017, the then Liberal Democrat leader Tim Farron called on traditional Tory and Labour supporters to vote tactically to bring Conservative numbers down.

One problem with this approach, some argue, is that you end up with a situation where a voter is choosing a candidate who's policies they may disagree with.

The Electoral Reform Society, a campaign group opposed to the first-past-the-post system, says switching to some form of proportional representation (PR) would remove the need for tactical voting.

Such a system would see, for example, a party that receives one-third of the vote expecting to gain one-third of the seats in parliament.

They say this would remove much of the impetus for voters to try and hack their way around the current system.

In a blog post on the group's website in 2022, Willie Sullivan wrote: "No voter should have to vote tactically. But tactical voting is an inevitable symptom of our failing first-past-the-post system used for Westminster elections.

"As voters are given just one preference and only one candidate can become the MP in each constituency, votes for all the other candidates go to waste. This all-or-nothing system means that voters have to choose between voting with their hearts or working around the system to get the best outcome in their area.

"This kind of voter behaviour is ... sadly a symptom of our electoral system anytime votes head to the polls. The 2019 general election was the most recent example of a ‘hold your nose’ election – where millions of voters were forced to vote for the ‘least worst option."

Your guide to voting

The manifestos

The leaders

Campaign group Best for Britain has published tactical voting recommendations for anyone who wants to oust the Tories from the government.

The group has proposed supporting Labour in 370 seats, the Liberal Democrats in 69, the Green Party in three, the SNP in seven and Plaid Cymru in two.

Best for Britain is hoping to unseat a series of high-profile Conservatives, including Sunak, his predecessor Liz Truss, chancellor Hunt and former home secretary Suella Braverman.

In Richmond and Northallerton, it is predicted Sunak is on course to secure 36.5% of the vote compared with 29.6% for Labour.