Tuesday, October 13, 2015

The Case Against Strategic Voting

The first thing I should say before I go forward is that there is no wrong way to vote. Strategic voting is an entirely fair way for citizens to make up their mind. If that's how you want to make your voting selection then that is totally fine. In my opinion though it is a flawed method to use. I'll also say that I may be too late for many of you as advanced polling closed yesterday at 8 P.M.

Strategic voting has taken hold much more strongly in this campaign than in previous elections. It has always been a part of the political calculation of the politically engaged in a first-past-the-post system. They have taken on a more formal role with websites dedicated to promoting strategic voting and advising voters to go a certain way.

Strategic voters rely heavily on accurate, timely information but in no way can guarantee that. Some of the organizations have been conducting riding-based polls, whose accuracy has been suspect in the past. Most rely on historic results and models based on provincial/regional polling. How does that work? Models work by determining how 30% support translates on the local level. It is at best an educated guess and rarely takes into account the local campaign and candidates.

The example I point to is Bramalea-Gore-Malton. In the 2011 federal election Jagmeet Singh (NDP) challenged Bal Gosal (Conservative) for the seat. If you asked anyone the smart strategic vote would be for the Liberal candidate, Gubrax Mahli. The NDP had never won in Brampton before, and the Liberals had controlled Brampton very recently. So off the strategic voters marched to the Liberal camp. Jagmeet Singh lost the seat by 600 votes and months later would be elected in the provincial election. This is clearly a sign that strategic voting failed. Now, despite an NDP MP, the previous results, strategic voting websites are still advocating voting Liberal in Brampton East, the successor of Bramalea-Gore-Malton. 

The power of strategic voting is only evident in the hypothetical math in the aftermath of any election. How many times have we heard, "If 5000 voters switched from the NDP to the Liberals they would have won Ottawa-Orleans," or substitute any number of other ridings. It presumes that all parties on the left are interchangeable. The Liberals have moved to the right during the Harper years in an effort to win back Blue Liberals/Red Tories. If you're on the hard left of the NDP there isn't a great deal of space between the Liberals and Conservatives. What of the Greens? Are their values interchangeable with the NDP? They tend to be more centrist.

This is my problem with strategic voting philosophically. Strategic voting masks the true opinion and intent of the voter. Often parties have very different philosophies and approaches to politics. Even if the votes do not translate to seats the parties and politicians take heed of where support is in their ridings. Parties can identify growing bases of support and build on them for the future.

I have met more than a few "Anyone But Conservative" voters, or Anti-Harper voters. To them they don't care who they vote for as long as they defeat the local Conservative candidate. It becomes more complicated if you're a voter who has objections to your alternative, or what if you want to stop the Liberals?

Another problem with strategic voting is that is often a simple ploy to buttress the traditional two main parties and suppress the vote of alternatives. People have the right to vote for the parties they like and strategic voting offers an intellectual fig leaf to marginalize them.

No one can tell you with any accuracy how people will vote on October 19th. Models and predictions can only tell you so much. The reality is though that a single vote rarely decides an election. With that being the case why not vote for the party/candidate you believe in? That's how democracy is supposed to work.

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