Why I LOATH Strategic Voting

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Hello Imaginary Friends,

In this post I’ll be talking a bunch about Canadian and Ontarian politics but I think it should apply to any form of democratic elections.

What am I talking about

Over the past few years I’ve noticed a big push towards movements like ABC (Anything but Conservative). At first I thought it was a cool idea and something that would get people interested in voting.

It took a few years before I realized why it bugged me. It wasn’t until someone told me not to vote for a certain party because it would be “wasting my vote”. In Canada and Ontario, each electoral district has multiple candidates from different parties. There are only four parties that run candidates in each area across the province of Ontario. If you vote for a party that doesn’t have much chance of winning people will tell you that your vote is wasted.

When that person told me not to vote for a certain party (It was the one I was going to vote for by the way) I was insulted. It wasn’t because I’m deeply partisan and was insulted for my party. I don’t belong to a party and I probably never will. I was insulted because the person was saying my opinions didn’t matter. That’s a form of strategic voting and I’ve come to loath it.

Voting in the Real World

In a perfect world, everyone who can vote reads the political agendas and plans and vote according to their belief system. We don’t live in that world. In Canada and Ontario, less than 40% of people voted in the last federal and provincial elections.

That means if you ask 10 people on the bus (And they tell you the truth) if they voted, 6 of them would not have voted. So the party that won with 30% of the vote actually won with about 13% of the population who could vote.

What’s Strategic Voting

So it makes sense that when you have a Party, who is disliked you’d try to make sure they don’t get elected right? So let’s say the Darth Party is in power and their strongest political rival is the Vulcan party. You don’t like the politics of either but you’ll vote for the Vulcan party because you really don’t want to get the Darth party elected. You really preferred the politics of the Browncoat party but were told that they would never be elected and you didn’t want to waste your vote.

Guess what happens? The Browncoats get less votes and a party you didn’t believe in was elected. Maybe the Darths don’t win and you feel validated or maybe they do and you feel you’ve at least done your duty in fighting the Empire. It’s a false sense of accomplishment. Next election, after some stupid moves on the Vulcan’s part you realize they’re all scum and decide to vote Darth to make sure the Vulcan’s don’t get elected.

Why I Loath Strategic Voting

What you did was vote negatively. You didn’t vote for what you believed in, you voted against something you didn’t like.

Let’s say out of the 40% of people who voted, 5% of the 40% voted strategically instead of voting for what they believe in, we could theoretically have a completely different election result.

With the exception of some rare elections, especially in Canada, the deciding outcome is decided by a staggeringly small number of votes. And even the elections that look like they were complete unalterably wins are decided by a less than a hundred votes.

What’s my Point

In the short term, strategic voting sounds like the best policy, get Vader out of power and deal with the rest later. But it encourages an unhealthy way of looking at politics.

If you look at what’s happened the past 3-5 Federal Elections you’ll see the true cost of Strategic Voting. The political parties have decided that it’s more effective to paint their opposition as horrible monsters, or completely incompetent, than it is to have a well thought out platform.

Strategic voting is the best way to screw up the electoral process. All we end up with is a party we hated less than another.

Is that what you want? To always get something you sort of are ok with?

Thomas Jefferson is credited with saying, “The government you elect is government you deserve.”

Change can only happen if we trust in ourselves and each other to do the right thing, not just the least objectionable.

Well My Imaginary Friends, I firmly believe that we deserve to vote with our hearts and that in the long run it will not only make for better politics but for a better world.

What do you think?

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17 thoughts on “Why I LOATH Strategic Voting”

  1. I think an improvement to the voting process in general would be a good first step. Whether it’s instant runoff, mixed-member proportional, or something else, it would go a long way to at least getting more people to feel like their vote means something.

    In the end, the “First Past the Post” vote method results in a two party system, if you wait long enough.

    Reply
    • I agree that first-past-the-post contributes to this mentality that there are only two options but so does strategic voting.

      My message isn’t that we have the best system but that we should be voting for what we want instead of what’s most likely to win.

      Reply
      • I agree with you, but the problem comes from the fact that what we want isn’t always cut and dried.

        Kristen and I had a huge talk about this during “Election Eve”. We were discussing who we wanted to vote for, and why, as well as barriers that would prevent people like us from voting for one party vs. another.

        One point that was discussed was what to do if you really like a rep for one party (Grand Moff Tarkin is a good guy who really keep the rebels in check in my riding, while the Darth’s “Dark Side of the Force” Plan seems kinda sketch) but really like the platform for another (the Vulcan “Pro-Logic” Platform really appeals to me, but we got stuck with Sybok the crazy Vulcan in my riding.)

        Do you vote on principle and stick with the party, even if it means you’ll be stuck Spock’s wild half-brother who won’t get anything done for you? Or do you want to ensure you put someone in office that you actually like, even if you’re not gung-ho on the whole “Force Choke All Dissidents” thing?

        Both options aren’t ideal, especially since you like a little bit of what both parties have to offer. Voting for what you want becomes a tough proposition.

        If it’s a close race between the Browncoats and the Vulcans, you at least know what the Vulcans have to offer, one might be inclined to vote Vulcan, since the other, equally appealing option is voting for Darth, but they haven’t been doing well in the polls since the whole “No, really, it’s just a moon” scandal.

        On the other hand, if it’s a tight race between the Darth and Browncoats, you may want to vote for Grand Moff Tarkin, since you’ve met the guy before and he’s a good person with a good work ethic.

        It technically falls under strategic voting, since you’re basing your final decision on what your parties are doing relative to the other parties, with hopes that your least-liked party doesn’t get into office, even though you’re ALSO voting in parallel with your beliefs for a party and/or representative you like.

        You can say, “Vote for the platform, since it’s the overarching plan for the party!” but because people are people, and the way the election system is run, there is no way to differentiate the who the a given voter is actually voting for… the person or the platform.

        Let’s just say in the above example, I voted Vulcan for the overall platform of Logic and Reason. Some may interpret it as a vote for the plan, while others may read that as a vote for Sybok, even though really don’t find him appealing. Will the Vulcan party in the future field more reps like Sybok? They voted for him, so he must be doing something right!

        If more people were interested in politics, they would write to the party and say, “I voted for the platform, but I hate that crazy Sybok!” or “I voted for Grand Moff Tarkin with Darth, but I really liked your platform, get someone less wild!” but how much of that happens?

        Anyways, to summarize:
        – Strategic voting? Bad.
        – Necessary evil? Maybe.
        – Strategic vote difficult to actually determine? Maybe.
        – Is Ed reading too much into this? Yes.

        Reply
        • I think I agree with you on all points except the last bullet.

          Or system is less then ideal. And needs updating.

          In theory your representative should be the only one you think of when you vote but in reality you have to pay attention to the party. Of your choice is split because you like one candidate but not his party, you have to make a tough choice.

          However, you are still thinking about what you want and balancing the pros and cons. You’re not ignoring what you want in order to defeat an opponent. There’s a difference there… I think.

          Reply
      • I think you’re right about there being a difference. Blocking an opponent without regard to the actual party/platform/rep, etc. is not good, while voting FOR someone/something that just coincidentally blocks another party, is different.

        BTW, because of our discussion, I’ve been reading about all sorts of other voting methods, like Single Transferrable Vote, Alternative Vote, Mixed-Member Proportional Rep, Proportional Rep, etc. I don’t think I’ve even been this interested and involved in politics and voting ever…

        Reply
  2. I think an improvement to the voting process in general would be a good first step. Whether it’s instant runoff, mixed-member proportional, or something else, it would go a long way to at least getting more people to feel like their vote means something.

    In the end, the “First Past the Post” vote method results in a two party system, if you wait long enough.

    Reply
    • I agree that first-past-the-post contributes to this mentality that there are only two options but so does strategic voting.

      My message isn’t that we have the best system but that we should be voting for what we want instead of what’s most likely to win.

      Reply
      • I agree with you, but the problem comes from the fact that what we want isn’t always cut and dried.

        Kristen and I had a huge talk about this during “Election Eve”. We were discussing who we wanted to vote for, and why, as well as barriers that would prevent people like us from voting for one party vs. another.

        One point that was discussed was what to do if you really like a rep for one party (Grand Moff Tarkin is a good guy who really keep the rebels in check in my riding, while the Darth’s “Dark Side of the Force” Plan seems kinda sketch) but really like the platform for another (the Vulcan “Pro-Logic” Platform really appeals to me, but we got stuck with Sybok the crazy Vulcan in my riding.)

        Do you vote on principle and stick with the party, even if it means you’ll be stuck Spock’s wild half-brother who won’t get anything done for you? Or do you want to ensure you put someone in office that you actually like, even if you’re not gung-ho on the whole “Force Choke All Dissidents” thing?

        Both options aren’t ideal, especially since you like a little bit of what both parties have to offer. Voting for what you want becomes a tough proposition.

        If it’s a close race between the Browncoats and the Vulcans, you at least know what the Vulcans have to offer, one might be inclined to vote Vulcan, since the other, equally appealing option is voting for Darth, but they haven’t been doing well in the polls since the whole “No, really, it’s just a moon” scandal.

        On the other hand, if it’s a tight race between the Darth and Browncoats, you may want to vote for Grand Moff Tarkin, since you’ve met the guy before and he’s a good person with a good work ethic.

        It technically falls under strategic voting, since you’re basing your final decision on what your parties are doing relative to the other parties, with hopes that your least-liked party doesn’t get into office, even though you’re ALSO voting in parallel with your beliefs for a party and/or representative you like.

        You can say, “Vote for the platform, since it’s the overarching plan for the party!” but because people are people, and the way the election system is run, there is no way to differentiate the who the a given voter is actually voting for… the person or the platform.

        Let’s just say in the above example, I voted Vulcan for the overall platform of Logic and Reason. Some may interpret it as a vote for the plan, while others may read that as a vote for Sybok, even though really don’t find him appealing. Will the Vulcan party in the future field more reps like Sybok? They voted for him, so he must be doing something right!

        If more people were interested in politics, they would write to the party and say, “I voted for the platform, but I hate that crazy Sybok!” or “I voted for Grand Moff Tarkin with Darth, but I really liked your platform, get someone less wild!” but how much of that happens?

        Anyways, to summarize:
        – Strategic voting? Bad.
        – Necessary evil? Maybe.
        – Strategic vote difficult to actually determine? Maybe.
        – Is Ed reading too much into this? Yes.

        Reply
        • I think I agree with you on all points except the last bullet.

          Or system is less then ideal. And needs updating.

          In theory your representative should be the only one you think of when you vote but in reality you have to pay attention to the party. Of your choice is split because you like one candidate but not his party, you have to make a tough choice.

          However, you are still thinking about what you want and balancing the pros and cons. You’re not ignoring what you want in order to defeat an opponent. There’s a difference there… I think.

          Reply
      • I think you’re right about there being a difference. Blocking an opponent without regard to the actual party/platform/rep, etc. is not good, while voting FOR someone/something that just coincidentally blocks another party, is different.

        BTW, because of our discussion, I’ve been reading about all sorts of other voting methods, like Single Transferrable Vote, Alternative Vote, Mixed-Member Proportional Rep, Proportional Rep, etc. I don’t think I’ve even been this interested and involved in politics and voting ever…

        Reply
  3. I agree. I used to vote strategically until I started thinking about it the way you think about it and while I felt a little guilty going with an honest vote rather than a strategic vote this election, I don’t regret it.

    Reply
  4. I agree. I used to vote strategically until I started thinking about it the way you think about it and while I felt a little guilty going with an honest vote rather than a strategic vote this election, I don’t regret it.

    Reply
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    Reply

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