Monday, September 29, 2008

Strategic Voting

I probably need to explain strategic voting to those people who don't have the "advantage" of living in a multiparty democracy. Strategic voting is where you deliberately vote for someone who is not your first choice in order to prevent another candidate from winning in your riding.

In the context of the current election, it means that a Liberal could vote for an NDP candidate if it was the NDP candidate who had the best chance of defeating the Conservative candidate in a particular riding. The idea being floated right now is that all Liberal, NDP, and Green Party supporters unite behind the candidate who has the best chance of defeating the Conservative candidate and preventing the Conservatives from getting a majority.

There are many good reasons for opposing strategic voting, not the least of which is that it's fundamentally dishonest.1 Jennifer Smith of Runesmith's Canadian Content has always been opposed to strategic voting but in today's posting she announces that she's changed her mind [By Any Means Necessary].

My name is Jennifer, and I support strategic voting.
I know other people who are going to hold their nose and vote Liberal even though they are dissatisfied with the Liberal Party and with their leader Stéphane Dion. They realize that by switching their vote to the NDP, Bloc, or Green Party, they will make it more likely that Stephen Harper could remain Primie Minister with a majority government.

I'm not there yet. I want to make absolutely sure that Stéphane Dion gets the message that he should resign on October 15th. I'm not sure he will get the message unless I vote for someone else. On the other hand, a majority Conservative government could be a disaster for Canada.

If a lot of Canadians vote strategically to elect Liberals and prevent a Conservative majority do you think Stéphane Dion will understand what happened and do the right thing?

1. Everyone with an I.Q. over 50 realizes that we need to change our voting system from first-past-the-post to some sort of proportional system. But that's not going to happen for many years. First, a lot of stupid people have to die. Meanwhile, we're stuck with the debate over strategic voting.


  1. I am in the happy position of not having to make the choice: the Tory incumbent, Gordon O'Connor, is likely to win with a clear majority (that's what happened last time, anyways).

    Come to think of it, maybe I'm not so happy after all.

    In the unlikely event that riding polls show O'Connor slipping, I may very well hold my nose and vote Liberal.

  2. Strategic voting has always made a lot of sense to me.

    I would much rather see the Conservatives out (or at least kept in a minority) than see any particular party win, whether in my riding or overall.

    Like the above commenter, the liberal candidate in my riding (Bob Rae, Toronto Centre) always wins by a landslide so I can happily vote for my first choice party without worrying to much.

    If the Liberals lose, especially if the Conservatives get a majority (but I think in either case), Dion will be out, there's no doubt in my mind.

  3. One Issue that may arise from Proportional representation is that fringe religious parties may gain a couple seats, and in minority governments have more influence than would otherwise be accorded to them. I've seen Israeli politics referred to as a case of this problem.

    Possibly preferential voting as in Australia could be a workable solution. Another option could be similar to France's system of two ballots. Here one can vote from conscience on the first ballot and for the most appealing of the two candidates who made it to the second ballot.

  4. Dion won't have to resign October 15th. If he doesn't somehow pull at least a Liberal minority out of his ass, he'll be handed his hat.

    My concern is that he really does represent a slow but perceptible shift back to the left for the Liberals. He is far more focused on social justice, the environment and tax reform than his immediate predecessors, or for that matter any of the main contenders waiting in the wings. This shift is being aided by the fact that the party is being forced to look to the grass roots now that their corporate funding has been cut off.

    The trouble is, when Dion goes, the party will not only be led by someone more like Martin than Trudeau, but it will also have its ranks swelled by a whole slew of ex-PC refugees who have finally gotten fed up with Harper and want a new party.

    All this can only drag the Liberal Party further to the right. And then... I don't know. A shift in the country's centre of gravity? Civil war? Whatever happens, I'm pretty sure I won't like it.

    BTW, I'm not sure that strategic voting is any more 'dishonest' than most of the other reasons people give for voting for somebody. I want to be represented by somebody who isn't consciously trying to wreck my country, and I will vote for the person who will help ensure that happens. Seems like a purer motive to me than "He seems nice", or "Whoever will save me the most money".

    As you said, it's a broken system. Until it's fixed, this is one work-around.

  5. I would reserve judgement on Dion until after the debate in English.

  6. crf says,

    I would reserve judgement on Dion until after the debate in English.

    Let me know what happens. Are you expecting miracles?

  7. jennifer smith says,

    The trouble is, when Dion goes, the party will not only be led by someone more like Martin than Trudeau, ...

    I disagree. I think Bob Rae is closer to Trudeau than to Martin.

  8. crf said...

    I would reserve judgement on Dion until after the debate in English.

    Dion will have to learn English first...

    I hate the liberals, the conservatives, the NDP and the greens. Who do I vote for?

    I think it says volumes about our political system when I (and I imagine, many Canadians) vote not for who they think will lead the country first, but rather vote for whoever makes them want to vomit the least.

    Options this year (I'll let you assign names):
    1) Religious nutjob who wants to rule like a tyrant.
    2) Incompetent boob heading up the most divisive party in Canada's history.
    3) Pseudo-communist who's party thinks money grows on trees.
    4) Hippie.
    5) Party of traitors (but only in Quebec)

    For all the fun we make of the American political system, at least they only have to choose between two groups of idiots instead of 5...

  9. I disagree. I think Bob Rae is closer to Trudeau than to Martin.

    True, but that would be a best case scenario. It's far more likely that they would portray Dion's failure as a failure of the left wing and use it an excuse to pick someone from the right wing of the party - probably Ignatieff. They were all gaga over his speech to the Economic Club, which frankly made me a little sick.

  10. Cancel what I said above about voting Liberal. I have found out that the candidate, Justin McKinnon, is president of a "nutraceuticals" company, and is probably opposed to Bill C-51.

    I can't hold my nose tight enough to endure the stench of that kind of snake-oil salesman. Looks like I'm down to the NDP or Greens.

  11. I'm fortunate enough to be in a riding that has a reasonable chance of going to either the Liberals, the Conservatives, or the NDP - I'm in Guelph. The Green party is also expected to do well here, though the odds of this riding actually electing a Green MP are less than for the other big parties.

    I'm basing my decision for who to vote for primarily on the details of the candidates I found on their webpages, rather than on either their party platforms (the bits that are distinct from the individual local candidates, anyways) or some sort of double-guessing strategic voting.

    Frankly, I'm not too concerned about the consequences of any particular government. A Conservative majority would presumably allow Harper and friends to show their true colours, and then become rather less popular than they are now as a result (I sincerely hope, anyways). Another Conservative minority seems like it would cause the least change, positive or negative, just more of the same not-much-happening. A Liberal minority or majority would be interesting, at least. My neighbour has a prominent sign on his lawn: "Layton for PM". Seems unlikely.

    Essentially, I'm tired of hearing all sorts of predictions about what will happen in any given situation. Can we actually run the experiment, and then see what happens?

    All this can only drag the Liberal Party further to the right. And then... I don't know. A shift in the country's centre of gravity? Civil war? Whatever happens, I'm pretty sure I won't like it.

    Well, yes, I suppose those are possibilities, but "a shift in the country's centre of gravity" is a nebulous and vague concept, so I'm not worried about that. And a civil war seems fantastically unlikely. When was the last time a prosperous, basically happy democracy suffered a civil war?

  12. I'm posting this after the debate.

    Dion did very well, as did most of the opposition leaders, particularly May, who was, I thought, the best speaker.

    But the criticisms that Dion couldn't communicate in English cannot now be so easily sustained, at least in the eyes people who were not already going to vote conservative (so this point was lost to near every pundit and pseudo-reporter at ctv news).