Does strategic voting make a difference?
TORONTO -- With the Liberals and Conservatives in a dead heat ahead of Monday’s vote, discussions about minority governments and strategic voting have reached a fever pitch.
But can strategic voting truly impact the outcome of a federal election?
The practice of casting a ballot in favour of a party perceived as having the best chance of preventing an election outcome undesired by the voter is not uncommon in Canadian elections, at all levels of government.
But one expert says strategic voting can be “quite effective” only if there are three parties in the system. With multiple parties in the mix, a strategic vote may turn out to be a negated vote, said Kathy Brock, a professor at the School of Policy Studies at Queen’s Universityin Kingston, Ont.
“If you want to vote strategically, vote for the party you want to win,” Brock told CTVNews.ca in a telephone interview Friday. “Parties cannot afford to ignore the platforms of other parties if they have strong support” from the electorate, she noted.
She said the best thing voters can do is pick the local candidate they believe will best represent their interests, while keeping in mind what that candidate’s party stands for and what it has promised to Canadians.
“You want to choose the person who will be the most responsible decision maker,” but also be willing to make some compromises in that choice, Brock said.
Faron Ellis, research chair and political scientist at Lethbridge College in Alberta, said the vast majority of people vote with their hearts and minds. Strategic voting isn’t generally something most voters think about, he said, and in some cases it doesn’t make any difference.
“For most voters across the country, strategic voting is a non-issue,” he told CTVNews.ca in a telephone interview.
“For example, in Alberta you can vote as strategically as you want, but when the Conservatives are very likely to win more than 50 per cent of the vote in most ridings, it doesn’t matter what strategy you have in mind.”
Ellis also said that strategic voting needs some sort of organization to be effective.
“Every vote is important…but you need a lot of other people to be thinking the same way you are in your riding, in terms of strategy.”
Someone who dislikes a particular party but is still unsure how to vote to get their desired election outcome should look at national polling numbers first, then consider the provincial and local polling to understand whether choosing one candidate over another will really make a difference, Ellis said.
“My overall advice would be: vote your conscience and vote for whatever party you think would best serve your interests, your constituency and region,” he said.
Pollster Nik Nanos said strategic voting “does happen and it can work,” but usually in situations where one party is the frontrunner and some voters want to change that.
On Friday’s episode of CTV’s Trend Line podcast, Nanos used the example of Liberal Party supporters who are urging New Democrats to vote Liberal in this election.
“That would have more credibility if [Conservative Leader] Andrew Scheer was five percentage points ahead of [Liberal Leader] Justin Trudeau in terms of ballot support. But that's not the case. Right now, they're tied,” he said.
The latest Nanos nightly tracking numbers have the Conservatives at 31.6 per cent support and the Liberals at 31.5 per cent.
With the NDP in a distant third place, with 19 per cent support, leader Jagmeet Singh has spent a lot of time in recent days answering questions about strategic voting and possible minority government scenarios.
After initially saying that he would do “whatever it takes” to keep the Conservatives from forming government and opening the doors to the possibility of an NDP-Liberal coalition government, Singh pivoted to telling Canadians: “Vote for a New Democrat.”
He kept up with that message on Friday.
“People should know that we’re not going to work with putting in a Conservative government, we’re not going to do that the Liberals have let you down, and the more New Democrats you vote for in this election, you vote for enough of us, we’re going to form government,” he said at a campaign stop in B.C.
Whether they cast their ballots strategically or make up their minds in the early days of an election campaign, today’s voters are “much more fluid” than previous generations, Brock said.
“They’re no longer devoted to parties for life, or voting based on how their parents voted,” she said. That makes the outcome of polarized elections such as this one that much more unpredictable.