The notion of strategic voting has been gaining momentum in the lead up to the October 19th election among voters against the “first past the post” system who want to see electoral reform before the next federal election in 2019.
With the Conservatives vowing to maintain the current voting system, the NDP — who promise to legislate an end to first past the post if elected — are being touted as the party in the Kootenay-Columbia to vote for, based on polls that give them the strongest chance of winning what’s traditionally been a Conservative riding — a perceived advantage that NDP candidate Wayne Stetski has been campaigning on.
In the September 11th Black Press Q&A question on proportional representation, Stetski asked voters in the Kootenay-Columbia “to vote together for the NDP to stop Stephen Harper.”
“My promise to traditional Green and Liberal voters in this area is that once the NDP brings in proportional representation, you will never have to vote strategically again,” he said.
But according to Bill Green and Don Johnston, the two MP candidates who stand to lose votes if Kootenay-Columbia voters turn to strategic voting, the “anything but Harper” route isn’t the answer. They both encourage people to cast a “positive vote.”
“Political scientists have shown why strategic voting doesn’t work,” said Green Party candidate Bill Green. “There are two reasons. Firstly, it is unlikely that you can convince the necessary number of voters to vote for the same ‘second choice’ party. Everyone has different voting preferences. Secondly, people have to guess which party has the best chance based on some combination of past election results and current polling. Both provide very poor guidance. Candidates, campaigns and issues change from election to election, and polls, particularly at the riding level, are usually wrong.”
Liberal Party candidate Don Johnston echoed Green’s opinion on how misleading polls can be.
“The real shame with these polls is that they paint a false picture. Leadnow (one of the strategic voting websites) doesn’t review the momentum shift or the impact of national support, and it won’t conduct a second poll without crowdfunding.”
He added the local NDP are unlikely to fund a new poll because if it shows erosion of their support, their platform collapses.
“As someone wrote to the editor of the Nelson Star, when your primary debate message is to vote strategically against Mr. Harper, it says, ‘don’t look too closely at my policies, my leader, or our candidate’,” said Johnston. “Mr. Stetski tells every audience that he is a ‘fiscally responsible green NDPer,’ that three progressive parties really don’t have many differences, and that polls show he is the only one who can beat our MP. The first line doesn’t tell me much about his political commitment. The second is a distortion of Green and Liberal policy. The third point is simply false.”
“The fact is there are very substantial and important policy differences among the non-Conservative parties,” agrees Green. “Electoral co-operation, through agreements negotiated between parties at the national level, could be a powerful and effective way to address vote-splitting. But an electoral cooperation strategy requires agreement among the parties well before the campaign begins. Both the Liberals and NDP rejected Green Party attempts at co-operation.
“There was a huge push for strategic voting during the 2011 election campaign. It failed miserably, with the Conservative Party obtaining its first majority since the mid-1990s,” he said.
“Strategic voting is a bad strategy,” said Johnston. “It shifts votes in different directions and, by the end of the election, nobody knows what people really wanted to vote for.”