Sunday, April 15, 2012

Vote strategically, or vote your conscience?

With the way the Alberta provincial election seems to be shaping up, I’ve heard a lot of folks talking about possibly voting strategically for the Progressive Conservative Party in their ridings out of desperation to avoid having the Wildrose Party win. People are struggling with whether to vote for the candidates most likely to block the candidates they dread, or to vote for the candidate that would best represent them.

I’ll avoid, for the moment, discussing here the broken nature of our electoral system that leads to such choices…

Voting Your Conscience

It’s never a mistake to vote your conscience — to vote for the candidate who best represents your values — even if you expect them to “not have a chance”. Even if they don't win, showing support for those candidates shows which positions have support and does a couple things:

  1. It shows those elected which types of voters they need to appeal to more.

    When the Alberta Greens saw significant increases in percentage of vote (even though we didn’t win seats from those votes) there was a corresponding increase in some of the green policies being adopted by the provincial government — a prime example being the grizzly bear hunt ban. Subsequently, when the Alberta Greens were taken over and shut down (the takeover was led by a fellow who is now a Wildrose candidate, make of that what you will), there was a corresponding backtracking on those policies — in this example, the grizzly hunt ban was lifted.

    Even parties that don’t win can affect policies because the winning party wants to get some of those votes in the subsequent election.

  2. People who vote mostly vote for who they think can win. A party that receives increasing votes in an election stands a much better chance in the next election because more people will think they have a chance of winning. It’s not good that so many people vote that way, but it’s reality.

    So, we’re not just voting for this election, but for future elections, too, where there will hopefully be better chances of people we support winning.

Strategic Voting

All that said, there are times where a “hold your nose” strategic vote may be your best choice.

I once (just once) voted for a federal Progressive Conservative candidate, Joe Clark, in order to prevent the election of a Reform/Alliance candidate. Clark was definitely on the “Red Tory” side of that party (before it was taken over by Reform/Alliance), and even served as parade marshall for the Calgary Pride Parade one year — so it wasn’t an utterly heinous choice.

So, what should one do?

In the end, both the strategic and conscience votes have an impact — so neither can be dismissed out of hand as invalid choices in our current system. It’s up to you, as an individual citizen, to make the hard decision which of the possible outcomes is the better focus for your vote.

Even when it doesn’t seem like it, when the media and leading parties try to marginalize diverse opinions, all of our votes do actually make a difference.

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Enlightened Savage said...

Thanks for posting this, Grant.

It's a tough decision. I have faith, as always, that my fellow citizens will make an informed choice. In case that fails, I also have whisky. ;)

Unknown said...

Thanks Mr. Savage. Being a lifelong teetotaller, I’ll have to pass on your generous offer. But, I appreciate the sentiment :-)

GuyCybershy said...

Our riding has been Liberal the last two elections, and we are hoping to keep it that way. Perhaps a minority government will be more sensitive to the needs of Albertans than the present one. Until real politics replaces our present system of competing public relations campaigns we cannot expect much in the way of positive change.

Unknown said...

As a postscript, I’ll add that I’m personally not faced with this difficult choice in this election. My riding, Calgary-Buffalo, has a non-Conservative/Wildrose incumbent I respect, Kent Hehr, and no EverGreen candidate. So the candidate most aligned with my values is also the strategic vote.

Unknown said...

GuyCybershy: I think a minority government is the best possible outcome in this election. My unrealistic ideal would be an EverGreen-led minority, but even a PC-led minority (where the Alberta/Liberal/ND parties held the balance of power) would be a significant improvement for this province.

GuyCybershy said...

What we really need is proportional representation, however the dominant economic interests in this province would perhaps prefer to keep things as they are.

Unknown said...

GuyCybershy: I’m not a fan of a pure proportional representation system (though it would be an improvement over the current system). I prefer a mixed system that has at least some regional representation (“local” representatives — however regional locality might be defined), and some principle/ideological representation (party/proportional representatives).

I believe we would be well served by changing both the structure of representation (currently just electing individual local MLAs), and the mechanism of voting (the first-past-the-post ballot).

For balloting, first-past-the post is the second worst balloting mechanism in use amongst the so-called Western democracies (the U.S. Electoral College being even less representative). Even just a relatively simple change to one of the many better options for conducting a ballot could lead to significant improvements in the quality of representation.

For example, an Instant Run-Off ballot would eliminate the whole question posed by this blog post, by allowing voters to put their conscience choice(s) first without losing the impact of a strategic vote.

GuyCybershy said...

"I believe we would be well served by changing both the structure of representation (currently just electing individual local MLAs), and the mechanism of voting (the first-past-the-post ballot)."

Yes, something along these lines might potentially inspire the non-voting majority in this province to take a greater interest in politics. However, as long as the corporate media maintains their near monopoly on information, we can expect that the public will remain disconnected from the vital issues of the day. At my job, I have yet to hear a single person even mention the election.

Karen said...

Thanks for this Grant - very much appreciated! I have always gone with my conscience, but I have to admit that this time the decision is a difficult one! I SO do not want the Wild Rose Party to be elected - on the other hand, I believe strongly in the principles of the EverGreens and would love to see us make a tiny dent in the conservative armour that seems to rule this province.

Unknown said...

GuyCybershy: Is there a circumstance that makes it difficult for you to be that “single person” to “mention the election”? :-)

Karen: It really is a difficult decision. In your position, I’d be asking the questions: Will a strategic vote in my riding be important enough to set aside the benefits of a conscience vote in this election? Will a strategic vote help avert what I consider to be the worst-case possible election outcome? Will a strategic vote now cost the opportunities for better outcomes in future elections?

There are costs and possibly benefits to both a strategic and a conscience vote. There will be long-term costs if the worst-case election outcome occurs, but there will also be long-term costs in diminished opportunity in future elections in the absence of a strong conscience vote.

Then there’s the point that for “progressives”, there are also many cases of strategic votes for a centre/left party that isn’t your first choice.

It’s by no means an easy decision. The biggest danger I see in this is the human tendency to ‘freeze up’ when faced with such a dilemma. I worry that many could end up not voting out of indecisiveness. If it comes down to it, flip a coin or something, but be sure to vote. Even if you don’t make the “right choice” (whatever that could be) between strategic and conscience vote — both push for something better and are a step forward.

GuyCybershy said...

"Is there a circumstance that makes it difficult for you to be that “single person” to “mention the election”?

The General public here are generally tuned out of politics, probably because they sense that it is largely a meaningless charade. When I attempt to raise the subject, generally I get a confused reply, followed by an attempt to change the subject.

The party line this morning is that Liberal and ND supporters must "vote strategically" to prevent a WR majority. Their agenda is clear: To eliminate even the token opposition offered by these two parties, and to broaden the base of the new "inclusive" PC party.

birdheat said...

Very well said, Grant. As is often the case when trying to make a difficult decision between two things, the answer turns out to be in the gray area between them. I'll still vote my conscience, but I think I'll feel a little less venom towards strategic voters thanks to your post.

K Blair said...

I just read some commentary (not here) that made me reconsider my plan to vote strategically for the PCs in a riding where i have no idea how it will go and think it could quite likely go WR.

That is, if there is a minority government, it could be very easy for the WR to convince some PCs to cross the floor to the WR and sway a majority their way (whether the minority was PC or WR, and maybe if it was a very close majority for the PCs). Given the whole controversy over party funds being transferred to recent converts and the potential of promising cabinet positions, and the possibility that there are many PC candidates who may feel more politically aligned to WR than Redford and the direction she takes the PCs ... that is a very scary thought. If I vote strategically, succeed in getting a PC MLA for my riding, but then enough PC MLAs cross to WR that they have a majority government, in my opinion that will certainly not have been worth not voting my conscience.

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