Is a Vote for Your Principles a Wasted Vote?

Adrian Farrel's picture

The media are full of proposals for electoral pacts and ideas for tactical voting. These suggestions are based around keeping one party or another out of government, or making sure that a particular person is not returned to Westminster.

But where does this leave a minority party? Should it encourage its supporters to vote for candidates from other parties and maybe for different parties in different constituencies?

And what should voters do in our first past the post system where their first choice from one of the smaller parties is unlikely to get elected? Should they vote for the person they support or should they consider that a wasted vote?

I am personally very frustrated and disappointed by negative voting. At the previous election my MP said to me words equivalent to, "Vote for me because at least I'm not one of them." This is not exactly a resounding reason to do anything.

What does it mean if a person is elected to parliament? What will they do once they get there? How will they act? What policies will they execute? You can be pretty certain that they will follow their party manifesto more or less. Will they be concerned for what you want or care about? Yes, but only within the constraints of the manifesto promises. So if you vote for a party or a person and they get in, you must expect to get what you voted for.

But shouldn't I vote for the person most likely to get in who is closest to what I want? At least that way the person I really don't want will be kept out? That could work. And obviously it is the solution if you find yourself closely aligned with one candidate's policies. They might not be a perfect fit, but if they are close enough then that is exactly the right thing to do.

And if the candidate that has the policies I most identify with is unlikely to get elected, what should I do? Wouldn't a vote for such a candidate be a wasted vote? Doesn't voting for that candidate risk letting in the wrong person and getting a far worse result?

That all depends on what you want to achieve with your vote. If you want to make a clear statement about what you want and what you care about, then this is your only way to achieve it. You can't just write a letter to a candidate saying you care about one set of policies, but you're voting for them and their different policies and will they please remember that if they get elected: once elected they are going to abide by the policies they stood on.

So it's a long haul for small parties and their supporters. If a candidate from one of the main parties doesn't win by a small margin and if the votes that went to a minor party could have made the difference, then perhaps that candidate will rethink their policies next time. And if the fight is close, perhaps the candidate will even soften their election promises on the fly.

Furthermore, a party that gets a small but respectable vote this time around can use that as a foundation on which to build a larger and more meaningful showing at the next election, and so your vote this time can help to establish the principles you support and build the party that promotes them.

Perhaps the best example of how this works can be seen in the results of the US Presidential election of 2000. Nader, standing as what passed as a Green candidate took just enough votes that George W Bush was able to defeat Al Gore. Notably, in Florida Bush defeated Gore by just 537 votes and Nader polled over 97,000 votes, and it has been rightly observed that had Nader's supporters voted for Gore, the World would have been very different. But who is to blame here? Was it the voters who chose to back the person who had spoken up for what they cared about, or was it Al Gore who didn't move enough to embrace the aspirations and concerns of the electorate? Gore, who had built a reputation for caring about the environment, didn't do enough to convince Nader's supporters – had he taken a more care and shown more respect for their views he could have become President.

But as a supporter of the Pirate Party I suppose I would say all this, wouldn't I? And the Pirate Party principles are clearly stated on our web site at

And what can you do?

Firstly, make sure you are registered to vote. Then, if you get the chance, #votePirate. If you want to have the opportunity of voting Pirate, then support the party financially with a donation or by volunteering your time. Better still, if you want others to have the chance to vote for the Pirate Party then #beThePirate and stand for election yourself.