Vote swapping was credited with taking seats from the Tories in the 2001 general election, so should claimants be doing it now?
This election is on a knife edge.
The Conservatives are pouring huge amounts of money into identifying and contacting a tiny number of undecided voters – perhaps 40,000 – in key marginals. If they succeed in persuading them to vote Tory, the election may well be theirs.
This is a tactic that won’t even show up in the polls.
So, should claimants – who have the most to lose if the Tories get in - also be resorting to ‘under the radar’ tactics, such as vote swapping and tactical voting?
Vote swapping is a kind of DIY proportional representation, allowing your vote to be placed somewhere where it might count, rather than being pointless.
So, for example, if you are a Labour supporter in a safe Conservative seat then your vote is wasted.
But there may be a Green supporter in a Labour/Conservative marginal with a very small Labour lead. Their heart says vote Green, but their head says that doing so increases the chances of the Tories getting in.
So, you swap votes.
The Labour supporter in a safe Tory seat votes Green. It won’t get the Greens a seat, but it will increase their national vote share. The Green supporter votes Labour, knowing that they’ve helped reduce the chances of a Tory success and also added an extra vote to the Green’s total.
The same could be true if you’re a Labour supporter in a very safe Labour rather than Conservative seat. You may feel that your vote could be put to better use elsewhere and look to do a vote swap.
If swapping votes with a Green or labour supporter appeals to you, there’s the Vote Swap website devoted solely to Labour/Green swaps which you might want to check out.
When we visited, the site claimed to have arranged almost 10,000 swaps already.
Lib Dem/Labour swaps
Labour and Green supporters are likely to be fairly equal in their antipathy towards the Conservatives. So there’s a good chance your vote swap partner will honour their side of the bargain?
But what if you are in a Lib Dem/Tory marginal?
Perhaps you can’t stand either party, but one of them is going to get the seat anyway.
However, every seat the Lib Dems take from the Tories reduces the Conservative’s chances of being the largest party. And the Lib Dems have said they wouldn’t support the full £12 billion in benefits cuts.
So you might be prepared to vote Lib Dem if a Lib Dem supporter in a Labour/Conservative marginal will vote Labour for you.
But could you trust a person claiming to be a Lib Dem supporter to vote Labour, when the party clearly favours another coalition with the Tories?
Well, perhaps. There are undoubtedly still some left-leaning Lib Dems and the Swap My Vote site gives you a chance to make contact and check out their political opinions, because you can only register using your Facebook or Twitter login.
But, even if they don’t keep their end of the bargain, you’re probably no worse off. Your vote will not have helped the Tories and their vote in their own constituency will make no difference.
Does vote swapping work?
Vote swapping is not new.
According to a 2005 article in the New Scientist:
“In the 2001 election, the Lib Dems captured Cheadle in Cheshire from the Conservatives with a majority of 33. Online vote trading had seen 47 Labour supporters in Cheadle agree to vote Lib Dem. Assuming they kept their bargain, these vote-traders turned the tide on the Conservatives. There was a similar result in South Dorset, where a Labour majority of 153 followed 185 internet vote-trade pledges.”
So, it’s legal and it quite possibly does make a difference.
The tactical voting alternative
In some circumstances, an alternative to vote swapping is traditional tactical voting. If you’re in a Lib Dem/Conservative marginal you could vote Lib Dem simply to try to deprive the Tories of a seat.
Clearly, whichever way the seat goes it’s still going to be part of any Tory/Lib Dem coalition. But, as noted above, the Lib Dems have said they will oppose the Conservative’s £12 billion benefits cuts plan, aiming to move it closer to their £3 billion cuts. Whether you believe them is another matter.
But voting Lib Dem will also reduce the chances of the Tories being the largest party, making it harder to argue that a Labour minority government lacks legitimacy.
Is it worth it?
Even if vote swapping is effective, could you bring yourself to trust a stranger with your vote?
Likewise, tactical voting definitely works, but could you put your cross next to a Lib Dem candidate?
Is it better to vote as your beliefs dictate and take the consequences, whatever they might be?
Only you can answer those questions for yourself, but many of our readers would be interested to hear your opinion.
So, please leave a comment below or complete our Vote Swapping and Tactical Voting Survey. It’s anonymous, there’s only 4 questions and the results are posted online as they come in.