When to vote tactically to stop Brexit – and when to not.

UPDATE: With just over a week until polling day (where has the time gone??) I’ve done a little General Election Special Update to this. Scroll down for the original post – it’s still relevant. But there’s a lot more information (and opinion) floating around.

So, there are a LOT of tactical voting sites. There are also a lot of people talking about tactical voting. If you were going to get geeky about how they’re working Jon Worth’s gloriously detailed blog post here is a good read. (also i copied that list below from his site because I was too lazy to type it all in sorry)

These sites here are pro-EU:

(I can only find one Brexitty site  –  Unite 2 Leave (although the Telegraph seem to have a tactical voting tool hidden behind their paywall. But if you’re here you’re probably not so into that?)

They don’t always agree, these sites. But if you’re trying to work out if you should it’s worth looking at the Get Voting site, in particular, because there are nifty little charts for every constituency, showing how their polling thinks the constituency will go, and how it would go with 30% of remain supporters voting tactically. 30% is a lot! If that little graph doesn’t have a Remain party within a few cat’s whiskers of winning then your tactical vote probably won’t count for anything. It’s also worth having a look at the recent YouGov MRP polling to see how marginal your constituency is.

Anyway, if you’ve decided it’s worth you using your vote tactically, the tactical.vote site has a comparison of all five of those sites a, and it’s here. So, check your constituency in there, and see if they all agree (they usually do). If they don’t, you have a bit more thinking to do – sorry! In that case I’d be having a think about which of the recommended parties most align with my viewpoint.

And while you’re doing all this figuring out about how and whether to vote tactically, or bemoaning the fact that your constituency looks like an unassailably safe seat – remember, we can change this! Proportional representation would put a stop to this sad and undemocratic mess.  Make Votes Matter and the Electoral Reform Society campaign for PR.

(And on that note, I think it’s important to NOT vote tactically if it’s not going to make a difference. Tactical voting tends to drive more votes to the two big parties, and the case for PR is much clearer when they’re not getting almost all of the votes.)


It makes me a bit sad to even write this; I don’t like tactical voting. It skews things in favour of the two party system, and perpetuates that system. I want us all to be able to vote for the person we believe will do the best job and to feel that our vote is worthwhile.

But for now we’re stuck with the two-party system, and in this election that we’re almost certainly going to have shortly it may make sense for you to vote tactically to maximise your vote’s stopping-Brexit-potential. But it’s also worth figuring out if your tactical vote can make a difference before you commit to it.

Figure out where you stand

Who do you want to vote for?

What party is most aligned with your values – not just on Brexit, but economically, environmentally, socially? Who do you feel happiest about putting your little tick besides? If you were going to trot about for the rest of polling day proudly sporting a big sticker with ‘I VOTED X’ on it, who would that X be?

And who do you NOT want to vote for?

Which party, or parties, would it pain you to scrawl that X next to? Are they in the NEVER NEVER camp, or could you bear to vote for them if you needed to.

Figure out your tactical voting limits

Here are mine! I’m a Green voter (and party member), and I really want to put my X in that box. I could maybe consider voting for Labour or the Liberal Democrats in the right circumstances. I could never vote for the Conservative party/ UKIP/ Brexit. I would have to do some very hard thinking if, say, one of the ex-Tory rebels was standing, and it was marginal between them and a hard-Brexit candidate.

Having trouble deciding?

If you’re not sure who to vote for there are online tools to help you decide. (Disclaimer: I am a cynical old knitter and would never trust just one or two sites, so if I were using tools like this I’d take the average of several quizzes – and I’d be checking the agenda of the organisations behind them.)

Figure out where your constituency stands

There’s no point voting tactically if your vote can’t make a difference to the outcome, and sadly there are millions of votes in this category. So the next step is to work out whether your constituency is marginal enough to make a difference. If it’s not, you can vote with your heart.

This is a trickier question than it used to be, because politics is in such a state of flux. But there are some key bits of information you can arm yourself with.

Take a look at your constituency on Electoral Calculus.

Electoral Calculus crunches numbers from polling to predict how each constituency will vote. It’s not perfect – especially not in these strange times – but it’s worth a look.

Check how your constituency voted in the last few elections

Wikipedia is good for this. Here’s the constituency I live in. You can see that my (Tory, pro-Brexit) MP has been increasing his vote share in the last few elections. The Brexit party might steal some of those votes, but I don’t think that tactical voting will make a difference here.

Check how your constituency voted in the recent EU parliament elections and in That Referendum – and how much it might be changing.

This potential election will, I think, be fought 90% on Brexit, so it’s worth having a think about how that will change traditional voting patterns.

Referendum results with breakdown by local authority (BBC)

EU parliament election results by local authority (BBC)

Note: these are counted by local council boundaries rather than constituency. Sometimes these are the same, or very similar, but often they don’t cover the same area.

Also note: People are far more likely to vote for the party they really support or to use their vote as a protest in EU elections, because they’re seen as less important or because proportional representation means that your smaller-party vote actually counts (hurrah!). The massive swing from Conservative/ Labour to Brexit/ Lib Dems/ Green that we see here will almost certainly not be replicated in a Westminster election.

Keep an eye on polling

Hope Not Hate and Best for Britain have some recent polling on how support for Brexit has changed over the last few years, at a constituency level. It’s a heartening message, but I’m very wary of trusting polls bearing good news (or bad) at the moment.

Uk Polling Report has details and an analysis of polling. If you’re a little bit geeky about things like this it’s a good read.

And figure out where your candidates stand

You can easily check your current MP’s stance on Brexit (and everything else) using the They Work For You site. (EU based votes are under Foreign Policy and Defence.)

It’s a little harder to check the stances of the other candidates, yet. Most parties will have selected their candidates, or have selection underway but you may have to wait until the election is called before you know. You can always get in touch with your local political parties to ask who’s standing for them, and what their stance is on Brexit – and on anything else that’s important to you.

Reach a decision?

In some areas it’s going to be really obvious that your vote isn’t going to make a difference to the outcome, and you can vote with your heart. In other areas it’s going to be obviously a close run thing and you might be better voting tactically.

You don’t need to decide until you’re actually in the polling booth (or filling out your postal vote form). Take your time. Talk to family and friends. Investigate all of the candidates. Remember that, at the heart of this, you’re voting for a person to represent you and your interests.

And do vote!

It might seem pointless to cast a vote in a constituency where the outcome is already practically guaranteed, but that vote does still make a difference. An increase in national vote share brings lots of benefits to smaller parties, especially, even if it doesn’t lead to more bums on the benches in parliament.

If you really can’t bring yourself to mark an X for anybody then think about spoiling your ballot rather than just not voting. Spoiled ballots are scrutinised by a little scrum of candidates and agents. If you choose this option you can be creative; my favourite spoiled ballot in the last general election was a fine sketch of a cat doing a poo!

And finally…. Proportional Representation NOW!

Isn’t all this depressing – the figuring out if your vote is going to make no difference to the outcome, or if you should hold your nose and vote against your instincts? It’s a side effect of first past the post, which perpetuates a two-party system, stifles alternative voices, and leads to widespread voter apathy and disillusionment and disengagement.  That disillusionment is partly to blame for this Brexit mess, and the rise of populism.

Make Votes Matter campaign for a more representative electoral system.


Disclaimer the first: I am not an expert at this, just a person who’s interested in politics and worried about the world. Don’t take this as some sort of perfect truth.

Disclaimer the second: Bear in mind that I am biased. I really am. I’d love for everyone to vote Green. But I also want everyone to vote, and for everyone’s vote to work for their values and hopes and aims. Democracy in the UK is in a bit of a crisis right now. I believe that thoughtful engagement with it might help.