On Strategic Voting

Posted on March 29, 2011


How many registered political campaigns are going on in Canada right now. If you said four, then you forgot the Greens, and if you said five, then you haven’t heard of the Catch 22 campaign, which is officially registered as a third (sixth?) party in this election. These guys are pretty awesome. Their FAQ explains their strategy:

“1. What is ‘Catch 22 Harper Conservatives’?

Catch 22 is a grassroots campaign organized and carried out by individual Canadians to prevent the Harper Conservatives from being re-elected to government in the next federal election.

2. What is Catch 22’s campaign strategy? (Under review)

Our strategy is to work in a limited number of ridings (about 30 to 40) where the Conservatives are vulnerable enough to be defeated. As the campaign progresses, we will continuously assess the relative strength of the opposition candidates in our target ridings. Once an election is called, we will ask voters in each target riding to support the candidate (Liberal, New Democrat, Bloc or Green) that we believe has the best chance of defeating the Conservative incumbent.”

Strategic voting will inevitably be proposed by any  fragmented wing of the political spectrum facing a united opposition, but it has not been enthusiastically accepted. Is it acceptable, or even obligatory, to hold your nose and vote for the lesser of two evils rather than voting for the platform you really believe in?

While I won’t go so far as to call it obligatory, I am going to say that practice is entirely acceptable and even laudable in a first past the post system such as our own. The usual argument goes that it is an exercise in futility to split the vote by voting for your favourite, but otherwise unpopular candidate. The pollsters’ evidence for this argument continues to be pretty strong-it is increasingly clear that no opposition party will have the means to form a government when the smoke clears. If you find a Harper Government to be preferable to voting for your second favourite party, then by all means give your two dollar subsidy to your party of choice. Otherwise, read on.

For just a second, forget about your vote. Forget about your riding entirely, and give some thought to another riding. If, for example you are an NDP supporter living in a riding with a weak NDP vote, then imagine a conversation with a hypothetical Liberal in Edmonton-Strathcona, where the Conservatives only trail the NDP by four points, and the Liberals are nearly thirty points behind. Surely you would try and convince that voter to vote NDP. You would probably start by trying to persuade them that the NDP has the best policy, but if they remained committed to their party then you would probably eventually throw up your hands, tell them that the Liberal candidate will never win, and that if they vote Liberal then they will be assisting the Conservatives. And you would be right.

Liberals can run this same thought-experiment with the riding of Moncton-Riverview-Dieppe, which the Conservatives are just 0.2 points away from stealing from the Liberals. The NDP are in the single digits. Surely any Liberal would encourage an NDP supporter there to put aside their differences with the Liberals and vote Red to defeat the common enemy. Greens, meanwhile, can obviously consider Saanich-Gulf Islands and how badly they would like the Liberal and NDP supporters there to vote for Elizabeth May. Cooperation is much easier to stomach when you consider what is being offered to you, rather than what is being demanded of you.

I propose that, in voting strategically against your favourite party to unseat Shrill Harper, you think of somebody in another riding who is making the same choice against their favourite party in favour of your party. Think of it as a vote exchange. If enough people are willing to pledge to vote strategically, then all the of the opposition parties will increase their number of seats and a possible coalition will be that much more possible. The country’s interests will be better served and, if you think of it as a reciprocal arrangement, then it is actually in the best interests of your party for you to vote against them in a riding where they are weak. Of course, there is no way to know for sure that your vote will have a corresponding vote in the other direction, so this approach requires a little bit of trust. But let’s face it, our electoral system sucks and it will continue to suck for at least a little while longer. If we continue to vote the way we have been, then we will continue to get governments that do not represent us. We divided Lefties should be willing to cooperate for a change when the direction of our country is at stake.


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