POLYAS Election Glossary

We provide explanations and background information on elections, voting rights and digital democracy

Tactical Voting

Tactical voting occurs when a voter casts a vote for a candidate that is not their first choice in order to prevent another candidate from winning. This typically occurs in first-past-the-post style elections, in which a voter fears that their first choice candidate lacks the popularity to win. Therefore, a voter may choose to vote for their second choice in order to prevent an undesirable candidate from winning.

In general, tactical voting tends to hurt fringe parties that have smaller voter bases and are unlikely to win candidate elections. Therefore, voters may choose a more popular moderate candidate. At times, voting for a fringe party with little chance of winning is derided as a ‘wasted vote’.

Tactical Voting in the 2016 US Election

An example would be the 2016 US elections, in which many supporters of the Green Party candidate Jill Stein may have chosen to vote for Hillary Clinton. Despite Clinton not being their first choice, they recognized Stein had little chance of winning and therefore voted for the former in order to prevent their least-desired candidate of Donald Trump from becoming president.

Tactical voting is one of the major criticisms of First-Past-the-Post voting systems.  Since this system relies on voters selecting only one candidate, this will frequently result in tactical voting. For this reason, systems such as Single Transferable Vote (STV), which allows voters to rank their preferred candidates, have been proposed as alternative. Many student unions have therefore chosen to adopt this voting method.

Find out more about their elections here. 


See also: First Past the Post , Majority Vote, Proportional Representation

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