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Wednesday, 23 September 2015

Why strategic voting is no strategy at all

For the majority of Canadians hoping to unseat Stephen Harper, there is a temptation to vote ‘strategically’ – which is to say, to pick the riding candidate with the best chance of defeating the Conservative nominee.
Some people never learn

Bad idea.

Strategic voting is often presented as a pragmatic approach, but it makes a few false assumptions.
First, it assumes that Harper represents such a scourge that an Anyone But Harper (ABH) vote will result in a preferred outcome. Outside of Quebec, this would mean that the Liberal, NDP, or even Green vote represent a kind of non-Harper equivalency. But that isn’t the case. Your ABH candidate will be going to Parliament supporting a leader and a specific platform, and if you don’t support the person or the platform, you’re screwed.  

Second, it assumes that you are, in fact, acting on a strategy. You aren’t. The whole point of ‘one person, one vote’ is to discourage this kind of approach. An individuated electoral process, with a secret ballot, is designed to make just such a collective strategy ineffective. To assume that millions of voters can game the larger hive mind is laughable. If this were true, none of history’s great electoral upsets would have occurred. Think of it in organizational terms. Rather than operate with one strategic plan, a company’s employees devise their own second-guesses, and go to work. Failure would be a near certainty. Positional play in this scenario is, quite simply, an impossibility.  Perhaps the best analogy is kids playing soccer. They all chase the ball. That’s the point, right? You might be a right-winger, a left winger, a centrist, or a ‘rover’, but you have abandoned your position. Usually this occurs, as with the ABH vote, as part of a defensive strategy. It looks something like this.

And finally, strategic voting assumes that in a first-past-the-post, representational democracy like ours, your vote doesn’t count unless you win. Poppycock. All votes are counted, and those parties with a strong turnout gain influence. Look at the Greens. The rise in influence of this party is pushing the move from the Liberals and the NDP to bring in some form of proportional representation, and it is keeping them honest on environmental policy. Even if the Conservatives win, a strong Green showing will push the issue further up the electoral agenda. Germany’s renewables now represent over 30% of its output. This would not have happened without pressure from the Greens in a proportional system.

Look at the candidates, and more importantly the leaders and their platforms. Examine their plans for governance. Then make your choice. Any other ‘strategy’ is a self-defeating, wasted vote, the electoral equivalent of an “own goal”.

(TE Wilson is the author of Mezcalero, a Detective Sánchez novel.)

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