Journal Article

Tactical Coordination in Plurality Electoral Systems

David P. Myatt and Stephen D. Fisher

in Oxford Review of Economic Policy

Published on behalf of The Oxford Review of Economic Policy Ltd

Volume 18, issue 4, pages 504-522
Published in print December 2002 | ISSN: 0266-903X
Published online December 2002 | e-ISSN: 1460-2121 | DOI:
Tactical Coordination in Plurality Electoral Systems

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  • Economic Development and Growth
  • Public Economics
  • Political Economy
  • Public Policy


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Simple plurality election systems (commonly known as ‘first past the post’) are often associated with the dominance of two political parties. Such systems tend to reward leading parties with a disproportionately large number of seats (the ‘mechanical’ effect) and provoke tactical voting, where voters switch away from trailing parties (the ‘psychological’ effect). We view tactical voting as a coordination problem. A group of voters wish to prevent a win by a disliked party (such as the Conservatives in recent UK elections) and must partially coordinate behind a single challenger (such as Labour or the Liberal Democrats) in order to do this. Crucially, voters have limited information on the situation within their constituency and hence there is no common knowledge of the game being played—tactical voting is a global game. We show that in this setting, voters will only partially coordinate. Furthermore, tactical voting exhibits negative feedback—tactical voting by others reduces the incentive for an individual to vote tactically, since they become concerned that they may switch in the wrong direction. We calibrate our model, and apply it to the UK General Election of 1997. Throughout England, we find that the ‘mechanical’ and ‘psychological’ effects tend to offset each other: tactical voting serves to reverse the Conservative bias that results from the geographic distribution of preferences.

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Subjects: Economic Development and Growth ; Public Economics ; Political Economy ; Public Policy

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