The most significant tactical vote move may be from Green to Labour

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December 26, 2014 by Paul Goldsmith

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Tactical voting has often been seen as a stick to beat First Past the Post with. That people are forced to vote not for the party they want, but for the party they dislike least is cited as a disadvantage for an election system in which voters are allowed only one choice, and in most seats only two, if not one party has a chance of winning. That being the case, it was interesting to see the results of a recent Yougov poll that looked at how supporters of different parties will actually vote in their constituency.

This is important. Given we are heading for an election which is impossible to call, it is quite possible that some constituencies may be one on the basis of which party got the most tactical votes. The problem with most polls on the general election released these days is that when people answer pollsters asking for their pay preference at the election, they will give their real preference NOT the party choice they may make as a compromise in their particular constituency.

This is done for many reasons. For instance, the Lib Dems used to benefit from Labour supporters voting for them in constituencies where they were in battle with the Conservatives. This happens in a vice versa fashion too, with many people who might identify with Liberal Democrat policies admitting that the election systems makes them less likely to actually vote Lib Dem in an election. This phenomenon has historically been far more at the expense of the Conservatives, with the 1997 election being the high-watermark of “get Tories out” voting.

The rise of UKIP has seen a different dynamic. As shown in the Heywood and Middleton by-election two months ago, Conservative and Lib Dem voters moved to UKIP and almost beat the Labour candidate in their own heartland. In Rochester and Strood, though, some Labour and Lib Dem voters held their nose and voted Conservative to try and stop UKIP’s Mark Reckless winning. In reality, the Conservatives are hoping that UKIP supporters in Lab-Con marginals realise that a vote for UKIP might make it more likely that Labour will win a seat and vote Conservative in May. YouGov looked at whether that will happen.

Using a sample of 4335 voters, YouGov asked two questions:

1) “Which party would you most like to win in your constituency? Please choose the party you like best, regardless of whether they have a chance of winning​.”

2) “How do you predict you will actually end up voting? This may not be for your favourite party but for your tactical choice”.

The results were interesting for one movement of real significance in amongst movements to and from all parties. You might think I am about to say UKIP to Conservatives, right? Wrong, the movement was from Green to Labour. A third of those who said that the party they would most like to win in their constituency was the a Green Party said that in the election they will actually end up voting for Labour. Should this actually come true, we need to factor in a couple more percentage points for Labour in May, over and above what they are receiving in polls.

Those two percentage points could be the difference between getting the most seats or not in May. For instance, in Scotland, where the SNP are basing their entire economic plan on selling oil, the Greens may prefer a Labour Party who aren’t so reliant on extracting fossil fuels. That could save some of the many seats expected to leak to the SNP there. In constituencies in the UK where environmental concerns are of particular saliency, such as near Heathrow, Green voters may vote for the party that doesn’t have a leader who has been quoted as being fed up of “all that green cr*p” and vote instead for the party with a leader who used to be Climate Change Secretary.

That leader (David Cameron of course) would be best advised to ensure that the Greens ARE included in as many of the televised debates as possible during the next election campaign. The more potential voters see them, the more they may be persuaded to vote for them, not Labour.

Now, whether or not we should have an election system where one third of a party’s supporters feel they can’t vote for their favourite party at the next election? That’s another story.

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