The prisoner’s dilemma of tactical voting

🗳 If you’re in the UK, want to stop Brexit and are not sure who to vote for in the upcoming general election, both of these web pages offer interesting insights:

I live in the constituency of South West Hertfordshire, which in usual times means that my vote doesn’t have any impact at all. Since the constituency was created in 1950, the Conservative Party have always had at least 40% of the vote, and usually over 50%, guaranteeing them a seat in parliament. Typically, nobody in the media pays our constituency any attention as it is always clear who will be elected. What’s interesting for the upcoming election is that our most recent MP, former government minister David Gauke, has ‘lost the whip’ and is now running as an independent against a new Conservative candidate. In normal times my vote wouldn’t count but in this situation it may do.

If the constituency is filled with a majority of people who will vote Conservative no matter who the candidate is, then the situation is normal and my vote is irrelevant. However, if David Gauke has enough sway over the usual Conservative voters and they are split down the middle between Gauke and the Conservative candidate, then the other parties may have an opportunity. But…do I then vote for David Gauke to boost the chances of a split vote, or do I vote for a party that I actually want to be elected?

As much of a fun intellectual puzzle as this sounds, I agree with Matt Ballantine’s blog post yesterday on how crazy it all is.

Your vote, for most people, doesn’t really count if you simply vote for the candidate that you think best represents your views. So increasingly people will vote tactically to try to elect the least bad candidate. Electoral campaigns and manifesto pledges, therefore, follow the votes.

Tactical voting sites, if they have an impact, will merely amplify these problems, and now we have to stick an aggregation layer over the top of those to get an average of the least bad candidate assessment, depending on your view, in any particular constituency.

This is madness. The problem is our electoral system and the party system. And technology and data will, if anything, make this worse until at some point the underlying systems are addressed (which won’t be done for as long as the two major parties continue to believe that they can wield absolute power).

I have a postal vote and usually get it sent off early, historically voting for the Liberal Democrats or Green Party depending on how I felt at the time. I now feel that I need to cling onto my ballot paper until the last possible moment, checking the notoriously unreliable local polling data, before deciding which way to go. If a lot of people are doing something similar, it feels like we have the prisoner’s dilemma writ large, with my choice being dependent on everyone else’s choices, none of which I can know in advance. It really shouldn’t be this complicated, but it is.