Say we have three candidates: A, B, and C.

Say, a voter wants to vote for C. However, he knows that C can’t win and hence choose A instead. Hence, in a sense, the voter is “dishonest”. He doesn’t pick his most preferred candidate but strategically chooses the preferred outcome.

What would be the term for that? I looked for voters dishonesty on Google and couldn’t find it.

  • 1
    It depends on the voting system. Where I live we have preferential voting. If my preferred candidate gets too few votes to progress, my second choice is promoted and so on until only two candidates remain. The one with the majority of the preferential votes is elected. I don't like any of the candidates and I know in advance which two will be the final two. So I put them last, knowing my vote will still reach one of them. This is a form of protest vote. I know my first eight preferences won't count, only numbers nine and ten. In this system it is not dishonest behaviour.
    – CJ Dennis
    Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 2:41
  • 1
    There are a lot of comments and answers about tactical voting but there's another issue that you might want to consider. In the US where there are primary votes to determine which two candidates will go forward there is a possibility that I would consider fittingly labelled dishonest which hopefully is not widespread. A voter who fully supports party A and will vote for party A in the main election registers (if necessary) as a member of party B and in the primary votes for the candidate they think will lose to the party A candidate.
    – Eric Nolan
    Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 10:50
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    "I looked for voters dishonesty on Google and couldn’t find it." It's simple strategic voting, isn't it. Nothing really dishonest about it. Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 16:43
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    Dishonest voting would be fraudulent, such as voting in an election you're not entitled to vote in, or voting for another person. Simply picking a candidate based on criteria other people might not agree with is not and cannot be dishonest.
    – barbecue
    Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 16:55
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    Calling that dishonest would even be a somewhat evil since it puts the blame on the voter while it's often the voting system that practically forces voters to do that: in many of them your vote is simply lost if you vote for an unlikely candidate. Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 5:13

4 Answers 4


It’s called tactical voting.

From Wikipedia:

In voting methods, tactical voting (or strategic voting or sophisticated voting or insincere voting) occurs, in elections with more than two candidates, when a voter supports another candidate more strongly than their sincere preference in order to prevent an undesirable outcome.

  • Comments deleted. Discussing linguistic differences outside of the context of politics is off-topic.
    – Philipp
    Commented Mar 22, 2019 at 20:55

As Andrew Grimm correctly pointed out it is tactical voting you are looking for. However, I would avoid harsh terms such as dishonest since Wikipedia also mentioned that:

It has been shown by the Gibbard–Satterthwaite theorem that any single-winner ranked voting method which is not dictatorial must be susceptible to tactical voting

More details are provided by the dedicated Wikipedia page:

(..) with deterministic ordinal electoral systems that choose a single winner. It states that for every voting rule, one of the following three things must hold:

  • The rule is dictatorial, i.e. there exists a distinguished voter who can choose the winner; or
  • The rule limits the possible outcomes to two alternatives only; or
  • The rule is susceptible to tactical voting: in certain conditions some voter's sincere ballot may not defend their opinion best.
  • 14
    @BlueRaja-DannyPflughoeft Two-round systems certainly are susceptible to tactical voting. See French presidential elections, where the left has so many different parties that two right-wing candidates (far-right and centre-right) make it to the second round. So in the first round, people may tactically support the leftist candidate most likely to reach the second round, even if they support another leftist candidate.
    – gerrit
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 9:37
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    @BlueRaja-DannyPflughoeft Two-round systems are even worse. People may vote for a candidate they really dislike, and not only for a lesser evil. To take the example of French presidential elections people may vote e.g. for a far left candidate in the first round, hoping to ensure a victory for the candidate they support by having an "easier opponent" in the second round. Similarly people might vote for a bad candidate in open primaries in the US (I believe there were some such accusations last time). Obviously this tactic might backfire spectacularly. Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 12:44
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    @BlueRaja-DannyPflughoeft Two-round systems are even worse than FPTP because they mislead people into thinking it's safe to vote honestly for your favorite in the first round, which then suffers terribly from vote-splitting and leads to unrepresentative outcomes. Having a runoff does guarantee that the worst candidate won't be elected, but that doesn't mean much, since they can still elect the second-worst candidate.
    – endolith
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 15:05
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    I'd add that, at least to some ethicists, non-tactical voting is immoral: “The purpose of voting is not to express your fidelity to a worldview. It’s not to wave a flag or paint your face in team colors; it’s to produce outcomes,” Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 17:30
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    Full preferential voting is by far the best choice. Each round eliminating the least popular candidate until only one remains. This way people get their "best choice" candidate at every stage. The French election problem wouldn't have happened with full preferential voting, because presumably the small number of votes for each left wing candidate would eventually have rolled up into a large number of votes or one or two left wing candidates.
    – Stephen
    Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 1:24

Dishonesty isn't really the best term. More like 'choosing the lesser of two evils'.

It happens all the time. No candidate is likely to meet all of an individual's criteria, so they choose the one that meets the most.

On the other hand, if more people would choose candidate C, they might win. Or, they might draw enough attention to mount a serious challenge in the next election.

  • 6
    This is an opinion, and does not answer the question.
    – MSalters
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 16:54
  • en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lesser_of_two_evils_principle
    – Alexan
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 18:31
  • 1
    @MSalters Not necessarily... Here is Politics.SE not Math.SE. A lot of answers here somehow depend on opinion of people. Nothing can be proved 100% for sure. If you are saying this answer doesn't have any reference, that's something else. But, how many answers in this particular question have reference? Commented Dec 17, 2019 at 20:56

In a game theory context, this is kingmaking. The player's goal is to elect C, but once the player starts to lose, the voter influences the outcome of the game (in this case the election).

This is a common problem with three-player and beyond games. For example, if I were playing UNO and I was losing badly (I had maybe half the deck in my hand), I could start to always change the color to, say, red.

The problem arises when players' ability to influence the game does not vary directly with their distance from their goals. In some games, the closer you are to losing, the less ability to affect the eventual winner you have, like Monopoly (which has a whole host of other problems of its own, but we'll ignore that).

Another example would be in many kinds of online games, where you might realise your character doesn't have enough time left to reach some checkpoint, so you go try to knock other characters around and prevent them from reaching the checkpoint.

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    I'd only call it kingmaking if the votes that would have gone to C actually decide the election. If C-voters all vote for A, and A still loses, they haven't done any kingmaking, likewise if A wins and would have won without the C votes. I don't follow your Uno example of kingmaking, as you're not making any decision about which other player you'd like to win (unless you know that someone's last card is not red). Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 12:57
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    @NuclearWang Actually, I meant if maybe you knew that someone's last card was red.
    – user45266
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 15:01
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    @NuclearWang An attempt at kingmaking is still kingmaking (it describes the activity, not the outcome).
    – Polygnome
    Commented Mar 18, 2019 at 22:18
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    It's not really kingmaking if the voter has a second choice. To say voting for your second choice is kingmaking is a contradiction in terms.
    – djechlin
    Commented Mar 19, 2019 at 0:48

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