I’d like to present the argument that both phrases are wrong. In the context they are used, both fail to grasp the full spectrum of activities that such voters participate in. I argue that both phrases should be used to describe the two major aspects of such activity.
Take the case of the most recent Canadian election. Many NDP voters voted Liberal to stop the Tories from winning. This ended up costing the NDP some seats that they could have otherwise won, seats that, in some cases, went to the Conservatives.
This is strategic voting. It is national-level voting based on topline poll numbers where one entire party is facing off against another entire party.
At the same time, we’ve seen clear historical cases where voters are far more precise in using their ballots to achieve such ends. Joe Clark’s win in Calgary Centre comes to mind. Voters banded together to defeat the Canadian Alliance candidate, and voted for Joe Clark in order to do this. They did not, however, band together to vote PC across the country to defeat CA candidates. This applied to one candidate in one riding. This vote was tactical.
The UK tends to see more tactical voting than Canada does, in part, because one party in particular, the Liberal Democrats, plays up the value of tactical voting. Infamous are the LibDem ads declaring that “only the Liberal Democrats can defeat X” even when the math does not support such claims.
So, why am I bringing this up in relation to Labour and the current election? It is my belief that the current boost Labour is getting from the LibDems (of about a raw 2%-3% of the total national vote) is a strategic vote. This comes from voters who do not want the Tories to win the election, and, regardless of local factors, are switching their support to Labour to prevent this from happening.
This could cost the LibDems seats. That being said, the party is still polling ahead of their result last time, 11% at the lowest vs 8% in 2017, and thus are very likely to gain seats. The cost, instead, will be that their seat gains will not be as broad as they’d otherwise expected.
We are seeing strategic voting for Labour and the question remains if more and more voters will decide to opt to vote the same way. If so, such momentum could cause “Leave-Labour” voters who are currently backing the Tories to switch back to Labour. There, however, may not be enough time for this to play out prior to the election next Thursday.