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Canada, Politics

How Strategic Voting Subverts Democracy

I've been participating in an interesting comment thread on Reddit's /r/Edmonton regarding a blog post encouraging people to vote strategically in the upcoming Alberta elections.  (If you go to read the post and the reddit discussion, you should know that the post originally had the Progressive Conservative video FUD "I never thought I'd vote PC" embedded)  While the author is obviously well intentioned in that he's trying to encourage people to get out and vote, I have serious problems with the fact that he's simultaneously promoting strategic voting.  I strongly believe that strategic voting subverts the democratic process and is hugely counter productive in the long run.

About Strategic Voting

So what is strategic voting then, exactly?  Well, the situation in Canada is this:  democracy is set up on the premise that people vote for a candidate, and the process relies voters acting that way.  Candidates win votes because people are voting for their platform.  If you vote strategically, however, you are voting against someone by way of voting for a candidate's strongest opponent.  However, the Canadian democratic system isn't set up to handle this kind of feedback.  There is no way for it to tell the difference between someone voting for a candidate because they believe they're the best person for the job, or because they simply don't want the frontrunner to win the election.

So while strategic voting seems like a good idea on the face of it ("I don't want some Wild Rose wanker getting into office!"), it generally backfires in the long run.  While it may result in a particular candidate not getting elected, it also distorts the political landscape by making it appear that there is more support for the second runner's party or policies.

Since party funding and perceived political clout are tied to election results, you wind up either showing more support for a party or platform than actually exists (if you don't have a candidate you want to vote for) or worse, actively supressing the views of the candiate or party you actually support.  If the polls don't show voters putting their money where their mouths are at the ballot box, the whole political landscape shifts.  If large numbers of people say they support NDP but wind up strategically voting Liberal in a riding, the NDP will concentrate less effort there in the future, overall support for the party itself is perceived as being less than it is, the media gives them less coverage, etc.  It's a vicious circle.

I also think it's personally dishonest for voters to try and game the system this way.  While some people may feel that it's worth any cost to keep a particular party out of power, I personally don't believe the ends justify the means – that's a disgusting, morally bankrupt ideology.  For the Canadian democratic system to work, however badly it might do so as it stands now, people need to vote for the candidates they believe in.

Other Talking Points

  • I've heard the rationale that strategic voting is equivalent to 'canceling a vote' for the frontrunner.  This would be true if there were just two candidates, but since there is more than one choice it's not.  It is instead a de facto public endorsement of a particular political viewpoint.
  • The type of fear mongering that the PC video is using in order to goad people to vote against their own convictions is revolting and beneath the dignity of the Canadian people.  "Vote against Wild Rose, they're baaaad people!  Even if it means voting for PC, at least you're not voting for them!"  Political ads shouldn't be promoting fear and division like that in Canada.
  • Strategic voting is one of the big reasons that the US is a two party system – everyone is afraid to vote for a third candidate, as that might mean the 'wrong guy' might get in.  The US political system is seriously broken, and having lived and voted in the US for ten years I most assuredly don't want to see Canada go down the same road.
  • While the video producers' website says that they're not pro-PC, that seems disingenuous at best given that no other party is mentioned by name in the video and the professional looking production values – I smell astroturf here.  At any rate they are de facto supporting the PCs via the video.  So let's think a moment about who's promoting the idea of strategic voting: the ever so moral Progressive Conservative Party.  The same party that has repeatedly demonstrated that they are willing to stoop to any low to gain power – legal (proroguing parliament), morally questionable (attack ads, undermining Stats Can by making the long form census optional), or even illegal (robocalling non-PC voters to tell them their polling stations have been changed, the in-and-out funding scandals).  Do you really think they'd be promoting this if it was a healthy for the democractic process?

In Conclusion: Get Out There And Vote FOR Somebody!

I hope that that's given people out there food for thought, and hopefully motivated them to vote their conscience when they do go out to vote.  Democracy shouldn't be ruled by fear, it should be motivated by the desire to change things for the better!

If the "I never thought I'd vote PC" video has been taken down, here's my copy.



  1. justin azevedo 2012-04-19 12:28

    the thing is, voting against someone and voting for someone still results in a ballot being filled out. I take issue with the fact that filling out a ballot is subverting democracy. would you say spoiling a ballot, which is also our democratic right, is subverting democracy as well?
    if you don't like the system, change the system. I'm pretty sick of everyone I've ever voted for save nenshi losing because I live in calgary and don't fit the stereotypical political slant.

    • Tyler Style 2012-04-19 12:38

      No, spoiling a ballot is not subverting the process in my opinion because the system allows for it. The problem is with gaming the system in ways that wind up defeating the actual purpose. I certainly agree that changing the system is a better way to go than trying to game it! Personally I think with today’s technology there’s no reason not to have a system that assigns wins to candidates more accurately than simple first past the post.

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