It used to be so simple.
Assess the policies, judge the personalities… then vote for the party you’d like to govern the UK.
But, in this strange and uncertain election, a straightforward voting decision may not be possible for millions.
There’s no firm evidence for this, but I suspect that tactical voting will play a bigger role than ever before.
Neither of the two biggest parties seems likely to surge into a clear winning position. The smaller parties – Lib Dems, UKIP, SNP, DUP and Greens – could all feature in the post-election mix.
Not only do voters have to identify their preferences (at a local or national level) but they also have to think about how a boost for one party might affect what could become horribly complex negotiations beginning on the 8th May.
Game Theory is the branch of mathematics concerned with strategies for competitive situations where the outcome of one participant’s choice depends critically on the actions of other participants.
How would Game Theory even begin to make sense of a contest involving at least seven separate organisations and over 40 million individual participants?
So you might favour the Conservatives. But where you are the real contest might be between the Liberal Democrats and Labour. Voting for the Liberal Democrats might help deny Labour outright power, but could also mean another coalition rather than Tory only government.
You might want Labour to win. But where you are, the Greens may be able to steal just enough votes from the Lib Dems to deny Nick Clegg’s party the seat.
A Scottish Tory might even find themselves voting for Labour simply to stop the SNP in a given constituency.
A vote for the Lib Dems could help enable either a Conservative or a Labour-led government.
Support for the SNP, rather than handing the Downing Street keys to Ed Miliband, might paradoxically drive the Lib Dems back into the arms of the Tories.
In a world of multi-party politics, the manifestos aren’t programmes for government, they’re negotiating positions.
Nick Clegg is campaigning for coalition, with his party as a restraining force. But, by taking such a position, he’s inevitably defining himself by what he’s not (ie not pure Labour, not pure Conservative) rather than by a positive vision of what he IS.
In the Game Theory Election, it’s possibly easier to decide what you’re against then work back accordingly. Even the Telegraph’s tactical voting predictor
is based on who you’d like to STOP being Prime Minister, rather than who you WANT to be Prime Minister.
No wonder the campaign has been tetchy and negative even by modern standards. Good luck with your decision!