Bryan Wall: Tactical Voting


From top: Voting in the General Election of 2016 at St Joseph’s NS in Cabra, Dublin; Bryan Wall

One of the issues worth expanding on with tomorrow’s elections is the idea of tactical voting. The simple fact is that Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael are cut from the same cloth. Civil War politics aside, at this stage their policies are one and the same.

The confidence and supply agreement all but confirms that they are essentially different wings of the same party: The business party. For both of them free markets take precedence over the average person.

Public spending on housing, health, and public transportation is anathema to both. And let’s not dare mention any kind of regulation when it comes to finance or housing.

Despite this, both parties will do quite well in the elections. Which of the two comes out on top will make no real difference. That leaves us with the rest of the parties and independents.

This ranges from Solidarity – People Before Profit to Renua, to everything and everyone in between. So the question is: If you want to ensure the most possible damage to Fianna Fáil/Fine Gael pact, and stop an incipient far right, how should you vote?

My own approach is to vote tactically.

My constituency in West Cork is in the heartland of establishment politics. But there is also a rise of far-right conspiratorial types who hate anyone non-Irish as much as they love talking about the dangers of chemtrails.

The combination of these two factors means I have a relatively easy decision to make. Vote against the establishment and at the same time ensure that the far right get nothing.

One aspect of tactical voting is figuring out who the establishment is. In my opinion that includes the Green Party and Labour. Both did untold damage to the country and the most vulnerable while in power. They might suggest that they are of the left but they simply aren’t. They have no political compass other than the quest for power once again.

Who does that leave?

To mention my own constituency again, that means voting for parties I have disagreements with, such as Solidarity – People Before Profit. This, along with voting for genuine outsiders who are of the people, — and don’t yearn for an all-white Ireland — ensures that the transfers will make a difference.

The outsiders running as independents in my own constituency understand the problems that we face and do legitimately want to do something about it. We don’t have a duty to vote but we do have a duty to fight hatred and inequality. And right now this means voting for people who believe in the same things.

Figuring out where Sinn Féin fit into this is, personally, tough. It makes the right sounds but so did Labour and the Greens. And like them, Sinn Féin has shown a willingness to cooperate with the establishment it so often criticises. The same can be said for the Social Democrats.

But it boils down to who do you hate more? Would you prefer a mix of Fianna Fáil and Fine Gael alongside members of the far right on your local councils and in Europe, or would Sinn Féin be a better alternative? For me the answer is self-evident.

In Dublin we have the appearance of Frances Fitzgerald on the ballot. Anyone remotely familiar with Maurice McCabe will know about her role in the scandal. The same calculus as above applies.

Do you want to reward dishonesty and at the same time allow a far-right victory? If not, then vote for candidates who understand racism, inequality, and injustice and will fight against them.

They might not change anything in the long-term, but it will terrify the establishment and its defenders. And it will undermine the political aspirations of the far right.

When it comes down to it, we’re in a situation where business as usual is creating more and more havoc. I don’t mean that people should go and vote for whoever claims to be against this arrangement. Many claim to want change and that they want to end corruption. In reality they’re far-right ideologues salivating at the chance of attaining power.

No matter what you think about voting and its effectiveness – and my own cynicism of it is well documented – there is a real chance to at the very least temporarily block the far right’s rise.

Along the way it might scare the establishment to witness a left-wing surge in the elections. Voting tactically will achieve this.

Bryan Wall is an independent journalist based in Cork. This is an election special. Bryan’s regular column appears here every Monday. Read more of Bryan’s work here and follow on Twitter:  @Bryan_Wall


69 thoughts on “Bryan Wall: Tactical Voting

  1. b

    when complaining about everything and everyone leaves you with no choices……

    seems the only thing SF have going for them is that they haven’t been in government in near memory (unless you turn a blind eye to the north)

      1. GiggidyGoo

        You do know why of course? Cash For Ash. Yep FG’s mates the DUP caused it. No problem for FG to invite the DUP to its little FG get togethers and to address them.
        So what you get actually is a party (SF) which won’t support irregularities in government, and another party (DUP) which has to be dragged kicking and screaming to be held to account.

        Stark contrast with FFG eh?

        Put that in your pipe (wood pellet stove) and smoke it.

        1. Rob_G

          Sinn Fén actually lobbied for the RHI scheme to be extended; this is just one of many issues with this particular post hoc ergo propter hoc.

    1. GiggidyGoo

      So would you rather a continuation of FFGLAB? Is that the offering that you accept. Well done. (Literally)

      1. Cian

        We are talking Europe and MEP elections. The parochial parties of FF, FG, (and to a lesser extent) Labour are not relevant.

        1. GiggidyGoo

          Really? You’re wrote about the NI government didn’t you? I didn’t see a mention of the Euros in your reply.

  2. The Old Boy

    Mr Wall has apprised us of his own ideological purity and how it makes voting for anyone at all difficult. Good for him. Voting for who you consider to be the least-bad option is not tactical voting. It’s just regular voting.

    Remember, in a PRSTV election, number the candidates in order of your preference. If you reach a stage when you find all remaining candidates to be equally repugnant, cease numbering. It’s not difficult.

    1. martco

      @The Old Boy pls see the discussion on the article “Nervous?”

      I want to vote tomorrow. If Frances Fitzgerald was on fire I wouldn’t p___ on her to put it out. I don’t want her getting any benefit whatsoever from any ballot paper I complete. I know several in my family circle feel same.

      what is your take on filling out the ballot to ensure that?

      (I was going to say that it was just make sure her box is left blank, amirite?)

      1. Cian

        If Frances Fitzgerald is the only person on the ballot you explicitly don’t want to get voted, then vote 1…18 [in the order you want] – leaving Frances Fitzgerald blank (or 19).

      2. The Old Boy

        I’ve had a look at that discussion and my answer is the same – If there are, say, three candidates on the ballot paper for whom you could not countenance a preference, leave them all blank. Giving a preference to the Blackshorts Party because you want to keep Fitzgerald out won’t keep her out any more than leaving the last three blank, unless you actually think that the Blackshorts candidate is preferable to Fitzgerald.

        If you have a preference, even a marginal one, for all other candidates apart for Fitzgerald, then by all means vote right the way down the ballot, leaving only her box blank.

        1. TheQ47

          The way I saw it explained was this:

          It’s almost definite that no candidate will have 100% the same political ideals as you (unless you are actually running yourself!)
          Therefore, you should look for those candidates where you agree with more than 50% of their policies, ideals, etc. Vote for these candidates in order of preference, from the person closest to 100% getting your no. 1 vote, to the person closest to 50% getting your lowest number vote, and the others (higher than 50%) in between. If you don’t agree with most of a candidates policies, don’t give them a number at all. Then you will not be in any way involved in helping them get elected.
          If enough people do this, that candidate will not get elected.
          For example, in Midlands-North-West there are 17 candidates. There are nine people that I would agree with less than half of their policies, so I will leave those 9 people blank, and I will only vote from 1 to 8 for the remaining candidates.
          (Edited for clarity)

          1. GiggidyGoo

            Say for example, there are 10 candidates. Say 50% of the electorate decide to pick just one candidate.
            50% of the ballot papers are now defunct for second and subsequent counts. Which means that the preferences of the other 50% only are counted then.
            The first 50% of the votes may give just 5% to each candidate (keeping it simple for Cian)
            The preferences of the second 50% decide who gets elected.
            By giving all a vote, and keeping your least preferred as last preference, then you’re blocking him or her from availing of transfers as the various distributions occur.

          2. Rob_G

            I don’t think that you actually have a clue what you are purporting to explain, that didn’t make any sense…

          3. Owen C

            @ GiggidyGoo

            “50% of the ballot papers are now defunct for second and subsequent counts”

            I am genuinely mortified for you, your parents and all of your ancestors.

          4. Owen C

            @ GiggidyGoo

            Sorry, my bad. 50% pick one candidate as first preference and give no preferences to any other candidate.

          5. TheQ47

            @GiggidyGoo, if you put a number beside a candidate, there is a possibility of that vote helping him or her get elected at some later point. Yes, it’s possible that giving them a number nearer the bottom won’t be used, but there’s a possibility it will be used too.

            If I extrapolate from your example, and say there were 100,000 ballots cast, and the first 50,000 pick one candidate only, while ballots 50,001 to 100,000 have more than one preference on them.

            All 100,000 ballots are counted in the first count. Let’s assume Candidate A has been elected in the first count. That candidate’s extra votes (surplus) are distributed according to the second preference on each of those 100,000 ballots. By the law of averages, let’s assume half of the first preference votes for Candidate A have no number two on them, they remain with their preferred candidate. They will not be used for any other candidate at all. Therefore, they can’t help elect anyone else. The remaining votes are distributed according to the 2nd preference, and will continue down through the counts until all seats are filled.

            The surest way of making sure that your vote does not count for a specific candidate is to not give him or her a number at all.
            It’s very simple really.

          6. Nigel

            You put your first preference in. Your second prefernce out. Your third preference in, and you shake the ballot about. You do the votey-votey numbers up and down, and that’s what it’s all about.

          7. Ron

            Is it any wonder this country is in the trouble it’s in when the electorate don’t even know how their vote works. Jaw dropped reading this thread and it now makes sense to me how these inept incompetent inexperienced clowns are elected.

            When you read a menu in a restaurant with lines of dishes, you don’t select every option of it in order of your preference… the ones you don’t want you just don’t select at all. Simple.

    2. spudnick

      Yes, exactly. Tactical voting is necessary in England with FPTP, but here STV takes care of the ‘keep the illuminati/don quixote cohort down the bottom’ case.

  3. Termagant

    I’m voting Sinn Fein because I have no faith in their competence and I believe that sometimes it’s better for something to be completely broken so you have reason fix it properly and do a good job instead of it not really working but just well enough that you don’t actually have to do anything about it, even if they thing is a country.

    And of course I’m willing to be pleasantly surprised.

      1. Yep

        Not really. A nihilistic way of thinking wouldn’t include the belief that this tactic would inevitably improve the situation.

        1. Rob_G

          You’re right. It’s more like a kind of high-stakes, risky game theory way of voting.

      2. bisted

        ‘…sometimes it’s better for something to be completely broken so you have reason to fix it’…classical Trotskyite way of thinking…back to YFG shillcamp…

        1. Termagant

          Me and Trotsky have one very important thing in common and one very important thing in contrast:

          The first, we were both blessed with a beautiful head of hair

          The second, everything else

  4. Cian

    Public spending on housing, health, and public transportation is anathema to both.”
    Yes…If you ignore the €20,000,000,000+ that we spend on housing, health and public transport each year.

    “And let’s not dare mention any kind of regulation when it comes to finance or housing.”
    Yes…if you ignore all the legislation that has been passed on these two areas in the last few years.

  5. Stephen

    Yeah not really sure what he is talking about is tactical voting.

    In my mind, and maybe I’m wrong, tactical voting is voting not necessarily fully according to your preferences.
    Eg. Jim and Joe are running in my constituency, I like both but prefer Jim.
    Jim is more or less guaranteed to get in where as Joe might not.
    Instead of putting Jim 1st, I put Joe 1st as that way I know he will get my vote.
    Where as had I put Jim 1st Joe might not get my vote as may be eliminated before Jim gets in or Jim’s surplus may not include my vote.
    If Joe gets eliminated my vote will pass to Jim, if he gets elected well Jim should have got elected first anyway.
    That to my mind is tactical voting, or at least some variation of it.

    Whats is described above, voting according to your preferences, isn’t tactical its just normal voting.

    1. TheQ47

      But leaving some candidates with no number is tactically ensuring that they do not benefit from your vote in any way, isn’t it?

      1. Donal

        Yes, they do not benefit from your vote. But if you really really hate X and only really hate Y then giving your last preference to Y could ensure they do get elected at the expense of X

        1. TheQ47

          I don’t understand what you’re saying. You say yes they do benefit, and then show how they don’t benefit.

          If you gave no number to X, as you said, your vote will never be used for X, so they cannot benefit from your vote.

      2. GiggidyGoo

        But then you’re not in control. You’re allowing the 2nd, 3rd etc. preferences of others decide for you.

      3. Vanessa the Holy Face of Frilly Keane


        In one way what ever you do with your vote is tactical

        I was only describing the traditional method of ensuring your vote goes all the way to the last count
        And gets counted everytime

        If you decide not to support any particular candidate you will omit them from any preference
        Or if you decide to use your vote to make a protest – spoil it

        What I do in locals is give them the preference in the order they knocked on the door
        No knock no preference

        For the Euros I’ll be going
        And stop there

        Referendum Yes
        And spoil my elected Mayor vote

    2. Donal

      You reply seems to misunderstand the nature of the distribution of a surplus when Jim gets elected.
      Say Jim needs 1000 votes to be elected, and get 1200 number 1’s. He has a surplus of 200 votes for distribution. This surplus is allocated by examining all 1200 papers and assigning each paper to whomever gets the number 2 on each, or to a redundant pile if there is no number 2 marked. If a candidate marked number 2 has previously been eliminated then the number 3 is used, and so on until the paper is either allocated or redundant.
      The surplus of 200 is then allocated based on the % of number 2’s on the entire 1200 papers. EG: Mick gets 300 number 2’s on Jims 1200 number1’s, so Mick get 50 votes from the surplus

      At least, I’m pretty sure that’s how it works, and I’ve worked on the count in the past, but I’m doubting myself as I type this!!

      1. Stephen

        I had thought it worked that it was just a sample that was taken, i.e. 200 surplus, 200 ballot papers taken (lets assume they all have a next preference) and they were distributed, it always seemed a bit odd to me but someone knowledgeable had told me so I trusted it was right.
        On further looking into you are right.
        However that doesn’t change the fact that Joe might get eliminated before Jim gets elected and so that vote won’t transfer.
        Also I’m not really claiming that this is a great example of tactical voting, rather just that what is claimed are tactical voting in the original article is in my eyes just voting by preference.

    3. Spaghetti Hoop

      If Jim is, as you predict ‘more or less guaranteed to get in’ and voters like you decide therefore to vote for Joe…then Jim won’t get in will he?

      But the head-scratching is fun to watch so do go on.

      1. Stephen

        But they won’t, a lot of people don’t understand PR at all, never mind trying to vote tactically (I don’t have a great grasp of it myself, and my main point is I don’t think the author does either) the vast majority will just vote by preference so it is reasonably predictable Jim will get in, not guaranteed mind but that is still the case without tactical voting.

  6. Spaghetti Hoop

    Prefer one candidate to win a seat? Vote for that one.
    Prefer a number of candidates to have a chance at the seat(s)? Vote in order of preference.
    Prefer to deny a candidate a chance at the seat(s)? Don’t vote for that candidate.


    1. Rob_G

      I am hesitant to confuse the issue, as a surprisingly large number of people seem to find the whole voting thing tricky, but an addendum is: if you have any long-shots who are unlikely to be elected but whom you would like to keep their deposits, put them down first, and then your sure-things afterwards.

  7. Jake38

    Thanks, BS, for cutting this weekly dollop of dreck down to a more easily disposable size.

  8. Cian

    One of the interesting thing about the European elections is how parochial we are. We are all voting for our national parties, but these are part of bigger EU parties.

    A vote for a FG candidate is actually a vote for the European People’s Party group. (currently the largest party 217 of 750)
    A vote for a FF candidate is actually a vote for the Alliance of Liberals and Democrats for Europe group. (68/750)
    A vote for SF (or Ming Flanagan) is actually a vote for the European United Left–Nordic Green Left (52/750).
    A vote for Labour (or Nessa Childers) is actually a vote for the Progressive Alliance of Socialists and Democrats (186/750)
    A vote for the Greens is actually, oh wait, Greens are Greens. :) (52/750)

    1. Boj

      More layers of hydraulix to bore and suck any enthusiasm or interest in politics out of a voter.
      I’m still of the thinking that voting really doesn’t matter anymore.

  9. won't you join too

    Lynn Boylan, Clare Daly, Éilis Ryan, Rita Harrold, Gillian Brien, Alice Mary Higgins….. Gary Gannon.

  10. BS

    I’m looking for an independent, pro choice, centre left, gender critical, anti establishment candidate.

    Am I out of luck?

  11. Ronan

    I take tactical voting to be more along the lines of, I don’t want Casey to get in or come in any way close. If he has a hope it’s in picking up the last seat. So the tactical thing to do would be to look at the three or four other candidates vying for that last seat and vote for them. The top three seats are a done deal. it looks like unless polls are way off.

    The 4 are all awful candidates but at worst they will only spawn more clones of themselves. Casey doing well could encourage someone charismatic or even just more competent then Casey running the next time. Thats the risk I see in Casey. If I have to hold my nose and vote for a worthless FG/FF clone, than I will do it if it tactically means Casey is more likely to come in 6th in a race instead of 4th.

    1. Boj

      +1 expenses form
      How will a vote for any candidate in this election do anything for anyone. This ‘game’ is so rigged it’s laughable (cryable really).

  12. Dr.Fart MD

    3 of the main 4 parties have had a crack of the whip and between them have destroyed the country, so why not give the 1 main party left a go? Vote SF, if for nothing other than ‘FuppItism’ .. although i think Mary Lou would be the best leader we’ve had in years.

  13. Ciuncainteach

    The Green Party are the establishment?

    You may need to outline your definition of what the establishment is then, because that doesn’t fit with the common understanding of the term.

  14. Vanessa the Holy Face of Frilly Keane

    Tactical Voting
    In the traditional sense
    Was a way to ensure your ballot got counted in every count
    Till the last seat was filled

    The most likely to be eliminated 1st 2nd 3rd should get your no. 1, 2 3
    And so on
    After elimination it get back into the hands of the count staff to bundle for the No. 2s in the second count
    Next elimination and into the 3rd count etc

    It doesn’t really work in local elections because the quotas are so low so strong candidates get deemed elected in early-ish counts
    And their surpluses get distributed before anyone else is eliminated
    And it’s not worth your while

    But far be it from me to contradict one’ve the lads around here

    Not with the company this one keeps anyway

  15. Owen C

    “To mention my own constituency again, that means voting for parties I have disagreements with, such as Solidarity – People Before Profit….Figuring out where Sinn Féin fit into this is, personally, tough. It makes the right sounds but so did Labour and the Greens. And like them, Sinn Féin has shown a willingness to cooperate with the establishment it so often criticises. The same can be said for the Social Democrats”

    So Bryan appears to have significant issues with pretty much the entire organised Left Wing in Ireland, having previously bigged up the merits of GO’D before realising that wasn’t a great idea. Not entirely sure he’s the guy to give advice on how tactically vote.

    1. Vanessa the Holy Face of Frilly Keane

      And people wonder why the voters are flocking back to the main parties

      In the main
      And this will be proved over the next 4 days
      The Irish voter wants stability and assurance that they know who and what they’re getting

      I don’t like it either but that’s what’ll be the outcome

      This constant u-turning and mixed messages from unknown Candidates and Independents and their supporters is the cause
      and then there’s the splits and arguements and falling out amongst the left
      Voters don’t know who is who or what party / grouping a candidate is from one week to the next

      This is why FFFG are still so dominant

    2. Spaghetti Hoop

      Playing out voting options in your head is not tactical voting. An election is not the Grand National.

  16. McVitty

    SocDems are a disgraceful bunch of social justice panderers. Both them and the Greens are importing their policy ideas from the American left and imposing them on the Irish, and presuming that Ireland has the same social challenges. Talk about lazy, inarticulate, crap encased in cultural marxism. SF are a halfway house on the road to hell – imagine a Europhile-nationalist party, is there a higher contradiction imaginable? Labour have zero authenticity – betraying core values for ministerial pensions. JobBridge happened under Labour – try saying that out loud a couple of times. Don’t get me started on the soft fascism that underlies most of the fringe parties that dress themselves up in lofty liberal lefty values that cannot be delivered on – not here on earth at least. These parties are a motley crew but they have some things in common; no love for Ireland, our history, our culture, our values or appreciating us as being different from everyone else – no sense of place, nothing to commemorate, nothing to celebrate, just a vision of a grey homogeneous future with everyone holding hands across the world, with absolutely nothing tangible to bind them. So we end up voting FF/FG who are basically two boxes of cheap St Patrick’s Day badges that we are sometimes sentimental about – two lousy products made by the same manufacturer. Makes you wonder if they are all on some overlord’s payroll.

    If we’ve learned anything, it’s time to vote independent….if we want a better EU and a better Ireland. We shouldn’t have needed to squander EUR64bn to learn this. We’ve a deep history of corruption and mismanagement here. And we’ve learned nothing…and the young emigrate, go figure.

    1. Vanessa the Holy Face of Frilly Keane

      Well if that doesn’t hang ya
      To the Broadsheet Illuminati
      Nothing will

      But fair play you managed to keep your mask pretty tight for wha’
      Eight ish months

      I knew you wouldn’t be able to help yerself
      But TBF
      You got a fair bitta help covering your tracks

      Well done

      1. Lilly

        I dunno, makes sense to me. I can’t vote tomorrow but if I could, it would be independents all the way. Although I’d probably give Ciaran Cuffe a tick too.

          1. Vanessa the Holy Face of Frilly Keane


            Ah Ron (and friends)

            You can put away the dustpan and brush now
            Tis all over

            I always knew he’d be found out for the cowardly hypocrite he is
            No matter how much Broadsheet and lads like yourself
            Cover up and clean up for him and his Candidate
            Like the writer of this column

            With moderating
            and trolling and sucide bomber single use log ins

            There was nothing ye could do about it
            The more permission and free air they get
            This type of person just gets thicker
            And more outrageous

            I suspect ye’ll all see some twitter and Facebook accounts go deep to silent today
            If they haven’t already
            You’ll most definitely see a name or two fall off that contributers wall

            And incidentally, I know I remarked recently about having never received an apology or a correction or a retraction from the lies and slander this man and his cohorts said and posted about me

            D’ye know what
            I don’t want one

            Not from the likes of this man
            And his butties and enablers

          2. McVitty

            I genuinely have no idea what you are saying or what Nigel is suggesting. Are you insinuating that my views lead somewhere unwholesome or that I have been deceptive in my previous comments? I might just be another person commenting on the depressing state of Irish politics….sometimes I make comments about social issues but I can assure you, I am merely speaking my own mind. And for the record, I’ve been visiting this site and occasionally commenting for nearly 10 years. But thank you.

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