Tactical voting scenarios under AV

A common argument in favour of the Alternative Vote (AV) voting system that is the object of the planned referendum on 5 May this year is that it eliminates tactical voting. For instance, in a blog post in yesterday’s New Statesman, George Eaton argues that Tory supporters who voted tactically for the Lib Dem candidate in Thursday’s Oldham East and Saddleworth by-election would not have felt pressurised to do so under AV: “Had the Alternative Vote been used last night, Tory supporters would have been free to vote for the Conservatives as their first preference, safe in the knowledge that their second preference votes would be redistributed to the Lib Dems”.

On the contrary, under AV, there would still have been a strong tactical case for Conservative voters to indicate the Lib Dem candidate as a higher preference than the Tory. This would be to ensure that the Lib Dem candidate, not the Tory, would enter the final run-off against the Labour candidate, because the Lib Dem would gain more Conservative second preferences than vice-versa. According to a survey referred to by one commentator on today’s BBC Radio Four Week In Politics show, around 80% of Tory voters are prepared to back a coalition candidate if they stand a strong chance of winning, while only 50% of Lib Dem voters are prepared to return the compliment. So, in the hypothetical Oldham poll held using AV, if the Lib Dem had been in second place once all the votes except those of Tory voters had been transferred, he would have been in a position to win; whereas if the Tory was in second place, there would almost certainly not be enough Lib Dem voters who would give him their second-preference votes to enable him to win.

There are likely to be many tactical-voting scenarios like this if AV replaces FPTP as the electoral system for UK-parliamentary elections. The key to these tactics as a voter is to consider whether you want your No. 1 preferred candidate to win at all costs, or whether it’s more important for you to try to ensure the defeat of another candidate. If the latter is the case, you need to work out which party would be best placed to beat the party you dislike in a final run-off, i.e. in the final count between two candidates once all the second preferences of voters for other parties have been redistributed. You then need to indicate that party as a higher preference than any other party that stands a chance of being in the final two, including your actual favourite party if that is the case.

It’s impossible to predict how the main English parties will be faring when it comes to the next UK general election, in 2015. The scenarios here assume that the coalition government remains in place until then, and that it is stated during the election that it will be re-formed if there is another hung parliament and the parties’ shares of the seats allow them to put together another deal to work together. I then examine the different tactics that might be required by supporters of different parties if the coalition is popular, and the Tories and Lib Dems are resurgent in the opinion polls, or if it is unpopular and Labour is resurgent.

General context

Type of seat

Tactical voting strategy

Reason

The coalition is popular Seat in North of England, Midlands or London that the Tories aim to hold or regain, and where Labour is perceived as the main challenger Labour voters should vote Lib Dem as a higher preference than Labour If the final run-off is between the Tory and Labour candidates, Labour cannot rely on enough Lib Dem second preferences to win. However, if the final run-off is between Tory and Lib Dem, there will be enough Labour voters giving their second preferences to the Lib Dem to defeat the Tory.
The coalition is unpopular Seat in North of England, Midlands or London that Labour aims to hold or regain, and where the Tories are perceived as the main challenger Tory voters should vote Lib Dem as a higher preference than Conservative If the final run-off is between the Tory and Labour candidates, the Conservatives cannot rely on enough Lib Dem second preferences to win. However, if the final run-off is between Labour and Lib Dem, there could be enough Tory voters giving their second preferences to the Lib Dem to defeat the Labour candidate.
The coalition is popular or unpopular Seat in North of England, Midlands or London that the Lib Dems aim to hold or win, where Labour is perceived as the main challenger (e.g. Oldham East and Saddleworth) Tory voters should vote Lib Dem as a higher preference than Conservative If the final run-off is between the Tory and Labour candidates, the Conservatives cannot rely on enough Lib Dem second preferences to win. However, if the final run-off is between Labour and Lib Dem, there could be enough Tory voters giving their second preferences to the Lib Dem to defeat the Labour candidate.
The coalition is unpopular Seat in South of England that the Conservatives aim to hold, where the Lib Dems are perceived as the main challenger Lib Dem voters should vote Labour as a higher preference than Lib Dem If the final run-off is between the Tory and Lib Dem candidates, the Lib Dems cannot rely on enough Labour second preferences to win. However, if the final run-off is between the Conservatives and Labour, there could be enough Lib Dem voters prepared to give Labour their second preferences to allow Labour to win.
The coalition is popular Three-way marginals Labour voters should vote Lib Dem as a higher preference than Labour If the final run-off is between the Tory and Labour candidates, Labour cannot rely on enough Lib Dem second preferences to win. However, if the final run-off is between Tory and Lib Dem, there will be enough Labour voters giving their second preferences to the Lib Dem to defeat the Tory.
The coalition is unpopular Three-way marginals Tory voters should vote Lib Dem as a higher preference than Conservative If the final run-off is between the Tory and Labour candidates, the Conservatives cannot rely on enough Lib Dem second preferences to win. However, if the final run-off is between Labour and Lib Dem, there could be enough Tory voters giving their second preferences to the Lib Dem to defeat the Labour candidate.

Clearly, these examples of tactical-voting scenarios are hypothetical, and as we have not yet had an election using AV, we don’t know if these strategies would work out in practice. But they are logical even if so counter-intuitive that many voters may not appreciate the opportunities that exist to vote tactically under AV and so obtain what they would regard as a more satisfactory result. But I hope at least to have demonstrated that AV is far from eliminating tactical voting: it just makes it more difficult for voters to use to their advantage.

Advertisements

4 Responses

  1. You’re right that no system is free of tactical voting considerations, but the key fact is in your last sentence: first–past-the-post voting is FAR worse for tactical voting than the Alternative Vote.

    • I don’t know about ‘far worse’, Jack. In some respects, it makes the ‘benefits’ of tactical voting harder to work out and achieve, i.e. ensuring the party you dislike doesn’t win. But I agree that it’s a lot less frustrating and distorting than having to vote for only one party you wouldn’t otherwise support to achieve that goal, as under FPTP.

  2. Do you think the opinion polls will be good enough to give us the information we need in order to vote tactically under AV? They struggle to do a good job even under FPTP!

    • Anthony, what I’d say is what I wrote in a comment on the Yes to Fairer Votes website today, copied here: “national polls could provoke large-scale tactical responses. For instance, if it looks as though Labour is going to win an outright majority, it could be in the interests of Lib Dem voters to vote for the Conservatives tactically in seats where this can make a difference to the result in order, ironically, to increase the chances of a Lab-Lib coalition, which would depend on a hung parliament with Labour as the largest party. Similarly, if the Tories are riding high in the polls, in seats where Labour is second, it could be advantageous for Labour supporters to vote Lib Dem tactically on a ‘nothing to lose’ basis: if this results in a final duel between the Tory and Lib Dem candidates, Labour second preferences could swing it for the Lib Dems; if the final pairing is between Labour and Conservative, Labour voters who voted Lib Dem tactically can still vote Labour in the final run-off.”

      I think in instances like this, just the standard opinion polls, supplemented by information on second-preference intentions, will be enough to inform tactical voting in many constituencies.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: