By Kelly Chia, Staff Writer
Strategic voting is what happens when people vote to prevent parties they don’t want elected coming into power, rather than voting by preference. Brock University labour studies professor Larry Savage wrote, “For many anti-Conservative voters with NDP sympathies, that has traditionally meant voting Liberal in districts where the Liberals and Conservatives are competitive, but New Democrats are weak.” Social media promoting this line of thinking influenced me to vote this way in the 2019 election. But in reality, this isn’t very effective. And now, as we approach a snap federal election, it’s time to ditch this practice.
Strategic voting is harmful because parties like the Green Party or the New Democratic Party (NDP) often lose support as people fear they’re wasting their vote by choosing them. This may resonate with young voters who have viewpoints which align more with these parties, but feel as though they shouldn’t vote for them as they won’t get elected anyway.
A poll conducted after the last election showed that one-third of Canadians voted strategically rather than for their desired candidate. The National Observer also states that, “of the respondents who had voted Liberal, 46% said they had considered voting for the NDP at some point in the campaign.”
Historically, strategic voting hasn’t proven to be very effective. During the federal elections of 2008, the Canadian Autoworkers Union (CAW) ran a campaign to defeat the Conservative party. Although the CAW targeted 40 districts and encouraged people to vote for Liberal, NDP, and Green candidates in them, few of these candidates won and the Conservatives ended up winning 32 districts.
There isn’t a guarantee that voting according to who you think has the most chance of winning will work. After all, your neighbours might have a different idea about candidates’ prospects of victory, which would undermine your choice.
This strategy relies on every riding to make the same and most calculative choice. But your perception of how you think your riding will vote based on shared values may not be correct. For example, the Port Moody-Coquitlam riding elected a Conservative MP in 2019, and an NDP MP in 2015. The swing from NDP to Conservative — two very different parties — in just four years proves how difficult it is to predict how your community might vote. This change proves that agreeing on who to vote as a community is very difficult.
A more productive strategy would be to research what each party’s candidates are promising voters in their riding. For example, in the Coquitlam-Port Coquitlam riding, NDP candidate Laura Dupont specifically emphasizes her work in advocating for climate action, and her history on the Metro Vancouver’s Climate Action Committee.
While Liberals are considered the safer choice over the Conservatives in my riding, the climate crisis is an important issue to me, so I’m watching to see which candidate’s platforms align most with my values. I can assess Dupont’s history and the actions she has outlined working in that committee to make my decision. This way, I can at least be assured my vote can make a difference, and add my voice among the polls in my riding. After all, voting for the “safest” candidates gives you less of a chance to have an MP that truly represents your values.
It’s tempting to vote strategically with campaigns seemingly emphasizing they are your best bet for defeating the party you don’t want. What I’ve found important over the last few years is to vote for an MP you believe will follow through on their promises. Now more than ever, we need MPs to fight on our behalf for climate change, Indigenous issues, and the homelessness crisis.
I helped elect Liberals in 2015 because I was afraid of a Conservative win, and chose to vote for the NDP in 2019 instead of the Green Party because I was more confident in the NDP party winning. In both situations, I chose to gamble on the potential of a victory. I was scared by the statistics that showed Conservatives were popular in my riding with a narrow 0.7% difference in popularity compared to the Liberals.
In our last provincial election, I voted for Green party elect Sonia Furstenau because I believed in her platform. While John Horgan took premier in that election, I don’t feel that I’ve wasted my vote. I’ve realized I would rather have my vote reflect the things I care about, than play a game of statistics with plainly unpredictable factors.