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.

Arts and Entertainment
The first film introduced Daniel Radcliffe to our screens, pictured here as he prepares to board the train to Hogwarts for the first time.
booksHow reading Harry Potter helps children grow up to be gay-friendly
Sport
Frank Lampard will pass Billy Wright and equal Bobby Charton’s caps tally of 106 caps against
sportFormer Chelsea midfielder in Etihad stopgap before New York contract
Arts and Entertainment
A scene from Aladdin is performed at the Tony Awards in New York in June
theatreBrit producer Lythgoe makes kids' musical comedy a Los Angeles hit
Sport
Usain Bolt of Jamaica smiles and shakes hands with a competitor after Jamaica won their first heat in the men's 4x100m relay
sport
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
News
ebookA unique anthology of reporting and analysis of a crucial period of history
News
Chancellor George Osborne, along with the Prime Minister, have been 'complacently claiming the economy is now fixed', according to shadow Chancellor Ed Balls
i100... which is awkward, because he is their boss, after all
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Adèle Exarchopoulos and Léa Seydoux play teeneage lovers in the French erotic drama 'Blue Is The Warmest Colour' - The survey found four times as many women admitting to same-sex experiences than 20 years ago
filmBlue Is The Warmest Colour, Bojack Horseman and Hobbit on the way
News
Kenny Ireland, pictured in 2010.
peopleBenidorm actor was just 68
Arts and Entertainment
Preparations begin for Edinburgh Festival 2014
Edinburgh festivalAll the best shows to see at Edinburgh this year
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

(Senior) IT Support Engineer - 1st-3rd Line Support

£40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: A successful IT service provider that has bee...

Wind Farm Civil Design Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principal Marine Mechanical Engineer

£60000 - £70000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Principle Geotechnical Engineer

£55000 - £65000 Per Annum: The Green Recruitment Company: The Green Recruitmen...

Day In a Page

Dress the Gaza situation up all you like, but the truth hurts

Robert Fisk on Gaza conflict

Dress the situation up all you like, but the truth hurts
Save the tiger: Tiger, tiger burning less brightly as numbers plummet

Tiger, tiger burning less brightly

When William Blake wrote his famous poem there were probably more than 100,000 tigers in the wild. These days they probably number around 3,200
5 News's Andy Bell retraces his grandfather's steps on the First World War battlefields

In grandfather's footsteps

5 News's political editor Andy Bell only knows his grandfather from the compelling diary he kept during WWI. But when he returned to the killing fields where Edwin Vaughan suffered so much, his ancestor came to life
Lifestyle guru Martha Stewart reveals she has flying robot ... to take photos of her farm

Martha Stewart has flying robot

The lifestyle guru used the drone to get a bird's eye view her 153-acre farm in Bedford, New York
Former Labour minister Meg Hillier has demanded 'pootling lanes' for women cyclists

Do women cyclists need 'pootling lanes'?

Simon Usborne (who's more of a hurtler) explains why winning the space race is key to happy riding
A tale of two presidents: George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story

A tale of two presidents

George W Bush downs his paintbrush to pen father’s life story
Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover

The dining car makes a comeback

Restaurateur Mitch Tonks has given the Great Western Pullman dining car a makeover
Gallery rage: How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?

Gallery rage

How are institutions tackling the discomfort of overcrowding this summer?
Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players

Eye on the prize

Louis van Gaal has £500,000 video surveillance system installed to monitor Manchester United players
Women's rugby: Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup

Women's rugby

Tamara Taylor adds fuel to the ire in quest to land World Cup
Save the tiger: The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

The day America’s love of backyard tigers led to a horrific bloodbath

With only six per cent of the US population of these amazing big cats held in zoos, the Zanesville incident in 2011 was inevitable
Samuel Beckett's biographer reveals secrets of the writer's time as a French Resistance spy

How Samuel Beckett became a French Resistance spy

As this year's Samuel Beckett festival opens in Enniskillen, James Knowlson, recalls how the Irish writer risked his life for liberty and narrowly escaped capture by the Gestapo
We will remember them: relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War

We will remember them

Relatives still honour those who fought in the Great War
Star Wars Episode VII is being shot on film - and now Kodak is launching a last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Kodak's last-ditch bid to keep celluloid alive

Director J J Abrams and a few digital refuseniks shoot movies on film. Simon Usborne wonders what the fuss is about
Once stilted and melodramatic, Hollywood is giving acting in video games a makeover

Acting in video games gets a makeover

David Crookes meets two of the genre's most popular voices