Tactical unwind or tactical rewind?

For a long time after David Cameron’s election to leader of the Conservative Party there was widespread talk of “tactical unwind”, that is how his changes to the Conservative Party may result in much less anti-Tory tactical voting at the next general election. It’s one of the range of reasons that many Tories quote for believing that they will do better in terms of seat numbers than the overall vote numbers suggest.

However, what’s struck me for some time is how the overall political campaigning is playing out in a way that is likely to rewind the unwind.

For example, on cutting public spending it’s much more a case of Conservatives on one side (more cuts! sooner!) and Labour and the Lib Dems on the other. There are important differences between the Lib Dem and Labour economic policies, but on a range of other issues too (such as the Ashcroft affair) the politics is playing out in a way that encourages tactical Labour votes for the Liberal Democrats where the local constituency situation warrants it.

What’s more, the clearer divides emerging over the last year – at least on policy instinct – between Labour and the Conservatives are also setting up a situation that is likely to encourage more tactical voting.

Now there’s also some poll evidence to back up this view. As Politics Home reports:

Research suggests that up to one in five voters may consider voting tactically – not backing their favourite party at the ballot box, but supporting whoever can keep a party that they dislike out of government.

This would represent a doubling of tactical voting from the approximately 10 per cent estimated to have done so in the 1997, 2001 and 2005 elections.

Labour supporters are almost twice as likely to vote tactically as Liberal Democrats or Conservatives.

Liberal Democrat MPs whose main challenge comes from the Conservatives are most likely to benefit from such an outcome, as pro-Labour voters switch to Nick Clegg’s party to prevent a Tory government.

Moreover, a large chunk of both Labour and Conservative supporters would prefer a minority government in conjunction with the Liberal Democrats, as the latest ComRes poll for The Independent showed:

Of Labour supporters:
61% want a Labour majority government
29% want a Labour minority government with Lib Dem support
2% want a Conservative minority government with Lib Dem support

Of Conservative supporters:
71% want a Conservative majority government
25% want Conservative minority government with Lib Dem support
2% want a Labour minority government with Lib Dem support

Those poll figures back up what I’ve been hearing from campaigners across a range of seats: tactical voting has not fallen out of fashion. Unwind or rewind? The evidence seems to be shifting to rewind.

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