Remain United: To tactically vote or not?

PUBLISHED: 08:11 16 May 2019 | UPDATED: 10:00 21 May 2019

Should Remainers be voting tactically next week? And if so, how? MIA Jankowicz reports.

Next week's European elections are throwing up difficult choices for Remain voters.

With a range of pro-EU parties standing in each area, their candidates risk cancelling one another out. Voters looking to make clear their support for a second referendum will have to choose between the Liberal Democrats, Change UK, the Greens, and - in Scotland, Wales and London - the SNP, Plaid Cymru and the Women's Equality Party. There are also other small, but avowedly pro-EU, parties out there, including the UK EU Party and Volt Europa.

Confusing the picture still further are Labour - still holding out on unequivocal support for a People's Vote but doubtless tempting some Remainers who consider the party best placed to thwart a hard Brexit.

On the other side of the argument, the Leave vote seems irresistibly drawn to the Brexit Party. Nigel Farage's new group is predicted to take between 26% to 28% of the vote. By contrast, no pro-second referendum party is expected to take more than 11% - although polls have given them a combined vote share of 29%.

Against this backdrop, many Remainers have been considering tactical voting, to maximise their voice. In response, two initiatives - Remain United and Remain Voter - have been set up to help guide pro-EU voters in England, Scotland and Wales.

Remain United, which was launched by campaigner Gina Miller, has analysed polling carried out earlier this month to identify which pro-second referendum party is most popular in each region and is then encouraging all Remainers to vote for this party. The project has used a relatively new polling method which successfully predicted that the Tories would lose their majority in the 2017 general election. The polling method uses algorithms to extrapolate broader voting habits out of the demographic data of a relatively small sample of people.

The group has already issued its advice - although this is due to be updated, following further polling, two days before the election - which is relatively straightforward: people should vote for the Liberal Democrats in all English regions, the SNP in Scotland and Plaid Cymru in Wales.

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The advice highlights how tactical voting can throw up further complications beyond those it attempt to address, with Scottish and Welsh unionists left encouraged to cast their vote for pro-independence parties.

The Remain Voter project highlights another potential problem with tactical voting. It combines polling data with their own algorithm to test how differing parties will fare using the D'Hondt system, under which British seats for the European parliament are allocated. Its analysis aims to find, in each region, the Remain party that needs the fewest votes to shift the seat from a Leave party to a Remain party.

Voters can sign up and will be emailed the recommendation for their region in time for polling day. The project has yet to release its final advice, but say early indications suggest that the Lib Dems, Greens, Change UK, the SNP and Plaid Cymru will all feature in their recommendations. So with a different approach, it looks like coming up with different advice to Remain United. So which recommendation should the well-intentioned pro-EU voter follow? Will the two projects end up cancelling each other out?

Such questions explain why some Remainers recommend eschewing tactical voting altogether. Critics say it that such initiatives will help Brexiteers in their efforts to create the narrative that the European elections are a de facto referendum. As James Ball wrote in these pages earlier this month: "The pro-Brexit parties will try to frame this contest as a confirmation of the 2016 vote, as proof the public wanted Brexit then and still wants it now." The best response may be to refuse to take part in this narrative, he says. So, who to vote for then? Perhaps, in Ball's view, it's more simple than the algorithms suggest. As he put it: "People are better voting for the party they like best."

DECODING D'HONDT

The European elections use the d'Hondt method and a party list system to fill between three and 10 MEPs' seats per region.

The first seat goes to the winning party, which then has its number of votes halved. The second seat goes to the party which now has the most votes. This party then has its number of votes halved and the process is repeated again, and again, until all seats are allocated.

If it was done across the UK as a whole, this would work to allocate seats quite fairly across the country. But by breaking into relatively small regions, the system favours bigger parties, as if small parties split the vote, they often fall below the threshold to pick up a seat, even if they pick up millions of votes across the country.

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