Tactical voting? Not in this election

I must admit to being a little surprised by the reaction to what Adam Price said over the weekend when he urged Dafydd Elis-Thomas's supporters to give their second preference votes to Leanne Wood, and vice versa.

The first and most important thing to stress is that there is no such thing as tactical voting in an election where we can place the candidates in order of preference. Tactical voting can only apply in voting systems where each voter only has one choice. Specifically, tactical voting is where someone votes for a candidate that they think is second or third best because they will have a better chance of beating another candidate that they definitely do not want to see elected. In this election for the leadership of Plaid Cymru each one of us will be able to list the candidates in order of preference by putting a 1, 2 and 3 in the boxes beside their names ... although we could, if we wanted to, just put a 1 and a 2 leaving the third box blank, or even just a 1 leaving two boxes blank. It's entirely up to us.

That's why it's so misguided to accuse Adam Price of making a plea for Plaid Cymru members to use tactical voting. It shows a basic misunderstanding of how a fairer voting system than first-past-the-post works. All we need to do is rank the candidates in order of preference, we don't need to make any other calculation.

So at the most basic level, if Adam Price or anyone else thinks Elin Jones is only the third best of the candidates in the race, what on earth is wrong with him expressing that opinion and urging fellow members of Plaid Cymru to vote accordingly? I certainly disagree with Adam about who will get my second preference, but we're all entitled to our opinions.


But that said, it's probably right to say that second preferences are going to be the decisive factor in this election. When all the first preference votes have been counted the candidate with the fewest first preferences will be eliminated, and his or her second preferences will then be added to the first preference votes the other two already have to determine the winner.

So the big question is which of the three is most likely to be knocked out in the first round. Most people think that Dafydd is going to be eliminated first, and I would imagine that Adam Price is one of them. But I'm not so sure about that. I think Dafydd will get quite a lot of first preference support based on two factors:

The first is his geographical location. When I looked at the numbers a month or two ago more than a quarter of Plaid's members were in Gwynedd, and nearly half were in north Wales. Perhaps that will now have changed because of the recent increase in membership, with many joining specifically in order to support Leanne, but many members in north Wales as a whole and Gwynedd in particular will support Dafydd purely because they see him as their local candidate.

The second factor is familiarity. We have to bear in mind that not all Plaid members are as actively involved in the party as others. Not all of them will have kept track of the policy positions of the three candidates or, frankly, be that interested in them. Dafydd has been around for a very long time, and in the earlier part of his career did a lot for the party. So some will give him their first preference vote simply because of that, or because they think he is a more recognizable public figure than the other two. For these reasons I have an uneasy feeling that Dafydd might just survive round one.


I don't expect Leanne to be eliminated in the first round. On top of her wide support from longer standing party members, I think it's clear that a very large part of the increase in membership over the past few months has been due to people joining specifically in order to support Leanne. She more than anyone has galvanized this election.

If Leanne has any problem, it's not any lack of enthusiastic supporters who will give her their first preference votes. It's that she is likely to be seen as too radical a leader by the more conservative (with a small c) members of the party.

So in a sense both Leanne and Dafydd are "Marmite" candidates. People tend to either enthusiastically support them or think that it would be a mistake to elect them as leader. Elin doesn't quite fall into that category. Of course she will have a good few enthusiastic supporters of her own but, in general terms, I think she is most likely to be seen as the candidate with the "safe pair of hands". For that reason, I would say that she is likely to get a higher percentage of second preference votes than either of the other candidates.


So let's run through the permutations. If Dafydd is eliminated in the first round, the second preferences of those who put him first will come into play. I think most of those would be likely to go to Elin, so Adam's intervention to try and get Dafydd's supporters to put Leanne second makes perfect sense from his perspective. It's not an appeal that I could make, for I've made it perfectly clear that I think Dafydd is totally unsuitable as a leader and therefore his supporters are not very likely to listen to someone like me urging them to put Leanne second ... though I hope they will.

I think we can safely rule out Leanne coming third, so the other possibility is that Elin is knocked out in the first round. If that happens, the second preferences of her supporters will be the ones that matter.

I hope it will be clear from what I've written in previous posts that I think Elin would make a good leader of Plaid Cymru. I think Leanne is a better choice, but Elin is certainly a close second. So just as Adam—who evidently has more affinity with Dafydd's supporters than he has with Elin's—can rightly appeal to Dafydd's supporters to give their second preferences to Leanne rather than Elin, I would in turn like to appeal to Elin's supporters to give their second preferences to Leanne rather than Dafydd.


It's hard to imagine that your first preference candidate isn't going to win, but I would urge each of Elin's supporters to at least face that possibility. If Elin were to be knocked out in the first round, who do you think would be the better leader: Leanne or Dafydd? That's the stark choice you need to face.

I was impressed by a comment from Aled GJ in my previous post, who crystalized things perfectly when he said:

We all knew that Leanne would be fiery for independence from more of a leftist perspective but it's been great to see Elin more than matching her here, albeit more from a centrist perspective. We've also had the Lord providing some entertainment for members, putting the case for a completely different sort of independence, i.e. his right to follow his own line completely on all matters, whatever party policy may be on a range of issues.

I cannot think of one issue of policy on which Leanne differs from Elin. Both of them are equally committed to party's democratically decided position on policy issues, Dafydd isn't. Both of them have an equally consistent record on independence for Wales, Dafydd doesn't. For these reasons alone I would urge Elin's supporters to make sure they give their second preferences to Leanne.

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Afan Bach said...

Another well thought through post. My problem is that Elin's campaign is beginning to look so much like a nice little Cardiff Bay stitch-up that it's difficult to see how things will change if she wins.
There's a hell of a lot of unhappiness among the grass roots, mainly that they are not being listened to. All that has happened with Elin over the past two weeks suggests that she'll carry on with a little cabal of the unhearing and all-powerful. And Plaid will go nowhere but backwards with the "we know better" brigade who performed so disastrously in the last election.
If you want Plaid to really change, then it has to be Leanne.

Unknown said...

After a lot of soul-searching, eventually I cast my second preference vote (which I wasn't going to use) for Elin, largely to block DET should Leanne get knocked out in the first round. Much as I respect her and like her, she does not have the qualities that I would expect from a leader. Leanne has those in spades, and I expect her to win in round 1.

Bethan said...

I fail to see how you cannot vote tactically. If you think Dafydd will be knocked out first, then you could devise a strategy around this. I am not saying that this is what is happening here, as it appears to me as if Adam Price is speaking from the heart...

There was a tactical in my area in the last internal election, in my humble opinion, whereby most of the other female candidate supporters( who came 3rd) did in fact vote the other male candidate 2nd, so you work out what happened on the transfers...

It is very different to first past the post, but I believe that tactics can come in to it- you may end up being totally off mark in the end, but it doesn't mean that people don't try it.....

maen_tramgwydd said...

It's not a method of election that I favour, although better than FPTP.

I hope that the breakdown of the voting figures are published, so that the membership can see for themselves should no candidate win outright.

It would be more democratic to have a second ballot after a third candidate was eliminated, so that we could have a straight choice.

I can forsee an outcome where, for example, Leanne gains a very high number of first preference votes but just insufficient to win outright. Elin is way behind on first preference but gains enough of DET's second preference votes to win very narrowly. That would not be good for the party.

In that outcome we might find Elin as leader, with Simon Thomas (whose support was not tested electorally) as her deputy (a majority of Plaid's AMs have come out in support of Elin, and they're the ones who choose the deputy).

The trouble is when it comes to weighing up a candidate's suitability. A member might consider one candidate his favourite and score her at 9/10, but his second as only 3/10. Yet that second preference vote could end up deciding the contest.

In effect you could get a mediocre candidate elected.

Should the scenario I outlined be realised, I would have to admit to being deeply disappointed if not disillusioned, and would find it difficult to continue to be as active in the party thereafter.

I think Afan Bach makes a valid point regarding a possible 'Cardiff Bay stitch-up' which will be the worst of all outcomes for the party. The AMs who have come out in support of Elin haven't galvanised me in the past.

In not giving Leanne her support as second choice, it indicates to me that Elin might equally prefer DET or Leanne to be elected. I find that disconcerting.

I fear that during the past decade Plaid's leadership (including its AMs and MPs) have lost touch with the grassroots of the party - it could be that it will continue for the foreseeable future.

I voted for Leanne, leaving the other two boxes blank.

Anonymous said...

Adam Price knows that if DET wins that he himself will be party leader within 12 months.

Penderyn said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Penderyn said...

I think there's a fair bit to consider in the analysis here. To begin with the basic conclusion that both Elin and Leanne will be strong leaders of Plaid Cymru is one I agree with. My preference is for Elin, but Leanne has performed strongly too during the campaign.

My view on DET has shifted somewhat during the campaign. His clear, direct and principled comments in favour of wind energy and nuclear energy have certainly livened up debates. Straight talking politicians are clearly to be welcomed in this era, and if that could be married with consistency, I think there is far less to fear in a DET leadership than most.

The best advice for anyone voting is to ignore tactical considerations (there are some at the margins) and vote in your genuine order of preference, knowing that your second votes will only be counted if your first choice candidates is eliminated.

All in all a contest that has enlivened debate with Plaid Cymru, and I am totally convinced will have changed the Party forever and for good.

Anonymous said...

In an ideal world this contest would have been better with a run-off after round 1.

But that would have been too expensive even with all the new members joining up!

What swung my choice was Jonathan Edwards running Leanne's campaign. A fantastic politician which a future ahead of him. And he has done very well with this campaign whatever the result.

Anonymous said...

Elin will keep Plaid in the ever decreasing Welsh speaking comfort blanket of the past.The party will not advance nor break new ground with her in charge.
Dafydd is a loose cannon and a gobshite. He will do all of the above that Elin will do, plus say daft things and appear to prefer being part of the UK.
Leanne will take the party to uncharted territories. Yes she will polarise opinion and probably piss a few people off, but which politician doesn't. For Plaid to PROPERLY move on, she is the only answer (at the moment)
I voted one vote only for Leanne, no 2nd or 3rd preferences

Anonymous said...

I've thought long and hard about this, and I genuinely do not believe that Elin Jones will be a good leader for Plaid. She won't take the party back, but crucially I don't think she can bring the party forward - particularly if Simon Thomas is her deputy.

For this reason I will place Leanne Wood at #1 and that is all.

Anonymous said...

I have got reports that their will not be a second vote and Leanne will get more than 50% of the vote, of the first preferences.

Aled GJ said...

I have just completed a telephone canvass of Plaid Cymru members in my village here in Arfon, in my role as branch secretary.

It's a strong Welsh-speaking area and safe Plaid Cymru territory, and the canvass is therefore fairly indicative of how the heartlands are going to vote in this election.

Admittedly, it's not a huge sample (around 30 members), but nevertheless it is quite remarkable.

First Vote:

Leanne Wood 62%

Elin Jones 25%

Dafydd Elis Thomas 13%

I think we are about to witness a changing of the guard moment...

maen_tramgwydd said...


Very encouraging... Ardderchog!

Anonymous said...


The only man I know who behaves sensibly is my tailor; he takes my measurements anew each time he sees me. The rest go on with their old measurements and expect me to fit them. ~George Bernard Shaw

Unknown said...

Aled GJ - a very encouraging result. I found the same in Neath the other day, asking even elderly Welsh speakers, I found the support for Leanne was nearly overwhelming. A few for Elin, - I didn't meet one who preferred DET.

It could well be the dawning of a new age for Plaid and for Wales!

Anonymous said...

Re 11.28
Very iinteresting down in the South West the activists tend to be equally split between LW and EJ, where as the non active members tend to favour DET. From my friends in Cardiff as I understand DET is ahead, which then makes this election totally open, any one could win.

Personaly I would prefer DET with LW as his deputy. The dream team.

Anonymous said...

DET would be a nightmare

Anonymous said...

No offence to Leanne but a few years ago who would have thought she would make it this far? Over the past 2 to 3 years her time has really come. The things she is saying are making more sense and if expressed through a nationalist way, would make a very positive contribution to Wales' development.

If she does win I would like to see Elin Jones or Rhodri Glyn Thomas nominated as deputy.

Anonymous said...

Anon: no-one would have thought, even when the leadership election was announced, that Leanne would be in with a chance (not even her). But a month down the line she was the front-runner. There is an appetite for change, and whether it comes via Leanne or by someone challenging Elin (Adam?) change is coming.. putting the "safe pair of hands" in there will just be shown up for what it is (look at Carwyn. Safe pair of hands, but BOOOORING and next-to-useless).

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