Millions look set to ‘hold their nose’ and vote tactically at the next election, according to new BMG Research polling for the Electoral Reform Society.
In analysis published to mark 200 years since the first major ‘battle’ in the right for the vote at St. Peter’s Field – pollsters found that many do not feel able to opt for their first choice under Westminster’s one-person-takes-all voting system.
As rumours grow of a General Election this Autumn, over a fifth (22%) of voters say plan to opt to plump for a party or candidate to keep out someone they dislike more. Around two thirds (67%) say they’ll vote for their first preference regardless of how likely they are to win, and 11% say they don’t know.
When the same question was asked before the 2017 General Election, 20% of people said they’d opt for someone who wasn’t their first choice. ERS analysis of the 2017 election also found that 68% of votes had no impact on the result – 22 million votes went to waste. It also found that just 0.0016% of voters choosing differently would have given the Conservatives a majority, while the election saw rise in very marginal seats: eleven seats were won by fewer than 100 votes.
The UK remains the only country in Europe to use First Past the Post – where only one candidate wins in each area, and all other votes go to waste – for its main elections.
However, calls for reform have been growing in recent months. This week former Labour deputy leader Roy Hattersley said he now supported switching to proportional representation, while the SNP’s Nicola Sturgeon and several Conservative MPs have also voiced calls for reform in recent months.
Darren Hughes, Chief Executive of the Electoral Reform Society, said:
“Clearly something is wrong when more than one in five don’t feel able to vote for their party of choice. Westminster’s broken electoral system – a vote-burning machine of epic proportions – is skewing our elections beyond recognition.
“It’s simply absurd that 200 years since people fought and died for the right to vote, rotten boroughs are still rife – with millions having to ‘hold their nose’ and opt for what they see as a lesser evil, just to have a chance of being heard.
“If we had a fair, proportional voting system – as in Scotland and most of the developed world – this simply wouldn’t be an issue: you can vote for who you want, and if your first choice doesn’t stand a chance, your second choice is counted instead.
“It’s long past time Westminster moved into the 21st century and ensured people were heard and represented – rather than constantly having to game the system.”
Current polls put Labour and the Conservatives on a combined vote share of around 60% – around 10 points less than the lowest ever joint result in a General Election. Voters are keen to ‘shop around’ more than ever – but are hampered by a warped electoral system, say the ERS.
All major parties except the Conservatives and Labour back a switch to proportional representation. There is a strong push in Labour for the party to back fair votes however, with John McDonnell a keen supporter of reform.
On 31st August in Manchester, Politics for the Many – the trade union campaign for democratic reform – will bring hundreds together for an inaugural conference to put constitutional reform back on the political agenda, amid growing talk of a constitutional crisis.
Next week the ERS will publish a major report on this year’s elections – including full analysis of the local and European elections and their voting systems.