Strategic voting depends on your ridings poll numbers.
Apr 12, 2011

Strategic voting depends on your ridings poll numbers.

The majority of ridings are essentially a lock before the election even happens. A minority have a good competition and a small number end up being too close for poll aggregates to predict the day before the election. There is thus a reasonable case for adjusting ones voting strategy depending on which of these cases ones riding is in. I look at why this is and then consider a rough voting strategy for the left in the coming Canadian election.

For the close races, there is going to be an immediate and direct difference in who gets elected depending on the outcome. The "lesser evil" strategy is where one votes for the better of the leading candidates and not perhaps the third candidate one really identifies with most closely. It is an acknowledgment of the realpolitik and making a decision not from principle but for accomplishing utilitarian objectives. I don't begrudge those who take an ideological stand voting for a candidate who will not win for this has value as well - as we shall see more in a moment - but I think it is a less effective strategy at implementing change.

For the races which are very well established who the winner will be, the situation is quite different. Namely, there is no immediate utilitarian value in terms of changing who gets into office. The value in voting shifts to issues of framing the political debate, to bringing certain causes and priorities into the debate and to work on longer term multi-election goals. Voting for third party candidates and independents has significant value because it demonstrates to the political class what the issues are that people care about and prioritizes those issues both in the inter-election politics and for subsequent election campaigns. The leading parties may move in the direction of the third parties when there is a strong show of support for that. I elaborated at more length on the value of voting for third parties here. Note that this value remains in close races; however, while important, it is perhaps dwarfed by the value that comes from changing which actual politician takes office.

Of course, if your preferred candidate genuinely is one of the leading candidates and the third parties are not raising issues you particularly care about then it is perfectly fine to vote for leading candidate in ridings where that candidate is the clear winner. Indeed, when a candidate is a particularly good one - breaking the conventional party wisdom in a way one agrees with, say - it benefits the political discourse by having a strong show of support. That the policies of this politician turn out to be very successful provides pressure for others to follow due to political arbitrage.

In Canada, if you lean right there really is only one established choice - much like the US. There are a few fringe parties which, if they suit your ideological beliefs, may have value in the sense described above. However for the left we actually have three established choices: Liberals, NDP and Greens. Depending on the riding and ones subjective preferences, I can see a strong case for all three of these parties to a generic left leaning individual. This 2011 election projections indicate is between a conservative minority or, less likely, a conservative majority with a liberal minority quite remote. Under this assumption, to someone who does not want the conservatives to have a majority - as I do not - the difference between a Liberal or NDP winning a seat is perhaps less important; what matters is Conservatives losing races. In races close between a Conservative and any second party, voting for the second party regardless is probably the most effective strategy. In close races between the NDP and the Liberals with no real Conservative challenger whichever one prefers of these two is reasonable. It still makes a big difference in who goes to office so there is value to making this choice. In races that are not close, the third party candidates like the NDP and in particular the Green party take value. If one wants to prioritize the issues of global warming and environmentalism, voting for the Green party is an excellent way to frame the debate and give credibility to the issues as electable issues. I can even see a case that this value even trumps in the close NDP vs Liberal case but the close Conservative vs other case makes too large of an immediate direct difference in my mind to be trumped by the indirect framing values from voting Green.

There are many reasons to vote and many different ways value can arise from it and I have certainly not covered them all. To some ideologues, my entire framing in terms of utilitarian consequences is not as important as the principled stand. This post hopes at best to provide incentives to consider the polling numbers and the realpolitik in each riding as one factor in the decision and offered some suggestions on what that might mean.

Thoughts on this post? Comment below!

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