Election '97: Tactical voting: a blunt instrument for change

Never underestimate the ignorance of the voter. Poll after poll suggests that most people understand depressingly little about the voting system. While Independent readers no doubt appreciate the way the system works (or doesn't), most voters do not.

Historically it has been difficult to persuade many people to vote tactically. There is some of evidence that at the last election there was a little more tactical voting in some places and there may be more this time, but according to MORI only 11 per cent of people are currently considering voting tactically.

Bill Bush, the BBC's political analyst, points out that in 1983 the SDP Liberal Alliance won 26 per cent of the vote but only 4 per cent of the seats. It was intelligent tactical voting in some areas that secured the Liberal Democrats nearly as many seats in 1992 with only 18 per cent of the vote.

People have become a little more aware of the importance of where they vote in trying to secure the least worst outcome. But without proportional respresentation it is often a pretty vain effort.

The 1983 general election produced a monstrously unjust result, when the SDP Liberal Alliance gained only 1.5 per cent fewer votes than Labour yet massively fewer seats. Mrs Thatcher was re-elected, like every government since the war, with a minority of the vote and the will of the people was in no way represented in the Commons.

In its miserable aftermath, a gallant band of we failed Alliance candidates set out on a campaign to collect signatures on a petition to change the voting system, knocking on doors and explaining the virtues of PR. It was an illuminating experience.

Very few people understood that their vote was only counted locally. In some vague unspecified way they assumed their vote had been cast for the government of their choice. There was an underlying belief that somehow, somewhere, their vote for Maggie, the two Davids or Michael Foot had counted for something.

Of course in the great majority of constituencies, as ever it had counted for nothing, either piling up in absurdly wasteful majorities or lost in hopeless minorities. Once it was explained most people signed the petition eagerly. Once they understood, they were indignant and they wanted their vote to count for more.

As for tactical voting, it is often deeply confusing for already muddled voters. In every constituency, the two losing parties both pretend that only they can beat the incumbent. If, say, it is a solid Tory seat, both Labour and Lib Dems will pepper the voters with leaflets claiming that they are the only ones able to oust the sitting MP.

The Lib Dems will point out that they came an easy second last time, and if only the Labour voters would all switch to them, they could win. Labour will point out that nationally they are the only alternative government, so ask you to vote for them. There is little sign of any tacit agreement this time between the two parties to indicate the truth to voters in each constituency. On the ground each local party wants to win and it is virtually impossible to get them to hold back for the greater good.

Then there is conviction. Voting is a civic sacrament for many people, something done with a seriousness not readily abandoned to cynical manoeuverings. After all, voters only rarely get the chance to punish or reward their leaders. If they strongly support a party, say the Tories, they want to put there precious X there on the line to save John Major. It may be a Labour seat, but at least they have had their say. Persuading them to vote Lib Dem instead is unsatisfying. Their loyalty to the party of their allegiance is often stronger than their wish to do down the enemy.

Tactical voting is for those who hate more than they love. But since governments tend to be voted out rather than oppositions voted in, tactical voting ought to appeal to the naturally vengeful instincts of the people.

It is, however, a poor, weak blunt instrument in our present voting system. But the more people can be brought to think tactically, the more it indicates that they understand the grotesque injustice of our first-past-the-post system and the more inclined they will be to support proportional representation in Labour's promised referendum on electoral reform.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
footballLive! Chelsea vs West Ham kicked off 10 Boxing Day matches, with Arsenal vs QPR closing the action
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA year of political gossip, levity and intrigue from the sharpest pen in Westminster
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executive- City of London, Old Street

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Senior Marketing Executiv...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager

£40000 - £43000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: An international organisa...

Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwickshire

£25000 - £30000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Internal Recruiter -Rugby, Warwicksh...

Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketing Controller (Financial Services)

£70000 - £75000 per annum + benefits: Ashdown Group: Marketing Manager/Marketi...

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all