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Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Don's guide to intelligent tactical voting

Regular and long-time readers know I hate talking about polls. Other blogs have the topic well-covered. For me, the further away from the horse race coverage I can stay, the happier I am.

The results of this poll, though, are worth talking about. Jack Layton certainly sat up and took notice of it, judging by his messaging this week on the trail: New Democrats who want the party to do well need to vote NDP. That's certainly true, in places like Windsor and Oshawa, where he's taken that message. But I live in Edmonton Centre. What's a vote for the local NDP candidate going to do? How will it change the results of the election one way or another?

I refuse to feel guilty about casting a tactical vote in Edmonton Centre. Why shouldn't I cast one? The New Democrat is not going to win the riding.

I wrote my original post on tactical voting a few days before the last federal election. It was a much simplified version of what I have here. Basically it consisted of (a) determine which candidates in your riding have a chance to win, and if there's any sort of contest, then (b) select your preference between or among those candidates.

Let's consider those points before moving on to advanced strategic voting for the real political hacks among us.

Which candidates have a chance of winning the riding? There are three-hundred and eight separate elections, all scheduled for January 23. If you're confounded because you can't find Jack Layton on your ballot, strategic voting might not be for you. If you think every candidate has an equal chance, or only think in terms of the national parties' chance of forming a government, strategic voting is also not for you - don't do it.

If you're certain there's only one candidate that has a chance, a guaranteed winner, don't bother with a tactical vote there, either. Give your favourite party a buck and a half, and feel good about the decision.

But what if it's a real race? Take my own riding as an example. Going by previous elections, there are two candidates with a chance: the incumbent Liberal, Anne McClellan, and the Conservative candidate, Laurie Hawn. (Jack Layton hates strategic voting, because casual voters presume this is the race in every English-speaking riding, but in mine, it happens to be true.) Now, part of me wants to vote Liberal, because I really don't care for the social conservatives among the Tories at all, and from the sounds of things, they're just biding their time. And part of me wants to vote Tory because I'd really like to see the Liberal party spend some time on the bench (in the hockey sense, not the "Court of Queen's" sense), which they've more than earned. Then again, it's nice having at least one little island, even of red, in the Alberta sea of Tory blue. In other words, I could see myself voting Liberal or Conservative come election day. What I can't see myself doing, despite knowing, liking, and respecting the local NDP candidate, is spending a ballot on a candidate who I know can't win, when that ballot could be used to tilt the seat one way or the other.

Let's add another level of complexity to the mix: vote trading. It was suggested by one Tory resident of Trinity-Spadina that I might offer my vote to help defeat a Liberal, in exchange for his vote to help defeat Tony Ianno by voting for Olivia Chow. That's an exchange I'd be interested in. Likewise, I could happily move my vote to Regina Qu'Appele, if some Liberal there wanted to help put my man Lorne Nystrom back in the House, while saving the skin of the deputy PM. These are two places off the top of my head where an NDP vote is a strategic choice, and one of the two potential governing parties is a wasted vote. Why shouldn't I use the leverage I have as a resident in a very close riding to help get another New Democrat into the House of Commons? There are many, many other ridings that likewise are close races between the New Democrats and someone else - I'm certain Bear could recommend a few in the Lower Mainland, for instance.

Likewise, I've heard you hard-core New Democrats at conventions, claiming there's no difference between Tories and Liberals. Some of you live in unwinnable ridings, and you know it. Put your vote where your mouth is, and transfer it to a winnable riding, in exchange for casting a vote for a potential winner in your own.

If I had the disposable income today, I'd register tradeyourvote.ca and offer up a place where those savvy enough among us could get our votes to places they matter. If the interest exists, I'll set up a page for it in this domain. But in the meantime, be encouraged to use this discussion thread to offer up those otherwise wasted votes. While we wait for proportional representation, let's use the system we've got to elect the members we want.

Update, Thursday early evening: Based on the first few comments, a couple of things deserve to be pointed out.

First, Idealistic Pragmatist wrote a good piece back when Hargrove was yipping his yap about straegic voting. One very important point stressed there: if your riding is a true three-way race, don't try to overthink it. Vote your favourite if you think s/he has any chance to win.

Second, is vote trading really illegal? I could imagine a law against trying to sell your vote, but I can't imagine this. If commenter "Bryan" is correct, I look forward to being a test case. What an exciting opportunity to be a spokesperson for electoral reform. Please, make me a vote trade offer in a close NDP race.

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