Friday, March 25, 2011

Too early for a post on strategic voting?

In a historic vote today, the Canadian government was found in contempt of Parliament. It's a shame they couldn't have also been found in contempt of the Canadian people, of logic, of sound policy-making and in contempt of a host of other principles that I hold dear. But I digress.

Unfortunately, the polls show that a sizeable proportion of the Canadian electorate doesn't care what Prime Minister Lego-Hair does, they still plan to vote for him. This means that we're likely to see a variant of the 2008 election, with nailbiter races across the country. It'll be particularly bad in my neck of the woods, southwestern Ontario, where Canada's Action Plan signs have proliferated in an effort to win votes for the Conservative contemptuous government.

So what is a left-of-centre voter to do? Is it even possible to vote strategically? Should you vote for the best party, or the least objectionable of your non-Conservative options? Do you vote for the well-intentioned local candidate or the party? Do you try to read the proverbial tea leaves and cast your ballot for the candidate who might be best positioned to beat the local Conservative?

There will be better-informed posts on the issue of strategic voting as the campaign unfolds. But here's my two cents. In many ridings across the country, your preferred non-Conservative candidate might well be a complete no-hoper to win. In many cases, an opposition party might have won a squeaker race in your riding the last time around, beating the local Conservative, but it might not have been your preferred party. In those cases, I would urge you to vote for the opposition party that is best positioned to beat the Conservatives, whether they be a NDP or Liberal incumbent MP, or the Green, NDP or Liberal challenger who stands the best chance of unseating the local Conservative. Inform yourself before you vote - look at the results of past elections in your riding to see how the parties have historically fared. Strategic voting, to my mind, means voting a certain way only if there is a high probability that one party's candidate is the only one likely to defeat a certain candidate.

So if your riding is usually a toss-up between the Liberals and the NDP, with a Conservative no-hoper, then vote your conscience! If all the opposition parties fared equally well last time around in your riding, then pick the one you like best and hope they come out on top. But if the last race was a nail-biter between the Conservative and a candidate from another party, and your top priority is to defeat Harper, then I'd urge you to hold your nose and vote for that party, even if it's not your absolute favorite. For me, this means I'll probably be voting Liberal here in Guelph, even though I haven't voted for the federal Liberals since 2000. (I probably would have in 2004 if I had been living anywhere other than Outremont - but Jean Lapierre was simply too horrible to contemplate supporting.) If I lived in another part of the country, say Edmonton-Strathcona, I'd be urging my Liberal friends to vote NDP. It's only in the really close races that I'm urging this type of voting strategy. But to my mind, any of the parties outside of Quebec are better than Harper.

Fingers crossed, we won't be in this same mess six weeks from now, or at least, the mess won't be any worse.

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At 2:39 pm, Anonymous one of your ungrad students said...

"Inform yourself before you vote - look at the results of past elections in your riding to see how the parties have historically fared."

This form of politics has always made me cringe. In a perfect world, informing ones self before a vote would be looking at a parties platform before heading to the voting booth. As this is by no means a perfect world, I suppose your version of strategic voting, which tosses each parties platform to the wind is the best option we can hope for.

It is just too bad that the 60-percent-and-change portion of the population who do vote will either not have an informed decision and simply cast their ballot to who their family has generally voted for in the past, vote for the first on the list of candidates, or like myself during my first experience of voting in a federal election when I was in secondary school, vote for who your girlfriend voted for (I shit you not and it has haunted me since, though I did marry her so was it a total loss?).

At 3:25 pm, Blogger Matt said...

I would never tell someone not to consult the party platforms, although given the propensity of many parties to abandon key planks of their platform or to suddenly introduce disastrous policies that were excluded from the platform (like cancelling the long-form census), this can sometimes only be of limited use. I also recommend going to the local all-candidates debates to get a sense of your local options.

But in some ridings, and I would argue that Guelph is one of them this year, there are only two candidates with a viable chance of winning, and so each voter has to decide what matters most to them - keeping someone out of power, or helping to get someone else in. Sometimes the two are compatible with the same ballot option, but sometimes they are not, and that's when strategic voting might be your best option.

At 12:30 pm, Anonymous E. Dawson said...

I received this from an unknown source, but I agree with it completely. I'd be willing to wait until the late pre-election polls to determine which opposition candidate has the most votes, and vote for that candidate.
"Mathematically, Mr. Harper can actually win a majority without having to win one more vote than he did in the last election. It all depends on how votes for opposition candidates are split.

If the opposition parties continue to try to defeat each other, Mr. Harper could pick up seats in ridings now held by other parties just by having them split the votes more evenly. Opposition parties which target ridings already held by another opposition party or in which another opposition candidate ran a close second are feeding right into Mr. Harper's game plan.

On the other hand, if the voters were to vote for the strongest opposition party in each riding in the last election, Mr. Harper would be out, we would probably have a Liberal minority with the NDP picking up many seats, perhaps even official opposition status, and the Green party actually having one or two seats in Parliament. Mr. Harper would still hold many seats where the candidate had an absolute majority of the votes, but not enough to hold power.

To me, that sounds like a pretty good outcome. Certainly a lot better that a Harper majority without having to gain much support. If we don’t get a grass roots plan going for voters unhappy with Mr. Harper, nothing will change. Too many people do not wish to see their party, Liberal, NDP or Green, destroyed. This plan helps all of them, and can be a one shot deal if it causes Mr. Harper to step down. No coalition required… just a combined action of voters for the good of the country.

If there is anyone out there who has the where-with-all to start a grass roots internet campaign for that, I’d be happy to send support. I’d even stick a hand made sign on my lawn. The opposition parties will never do it themselves. They would be targeted by Conservative attack ads. Also, they are too focussed on their own campaigns; don’t see that they all could benefit from this, and that even more vote splitting could be VERY destructive to our democracy.


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