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The perils of 'strategic' voting

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Several Toronto Star and Globe and Mail columnists have suggested that the Conservative majority resulted from too little strategic voting for the Liberals. In every federal election that I can remember, the Liberals have appealed for progressive votes to stop the Conservatives (or their Reform-Alliance predecessors).

A major flaw in this logic is that relatively few ridings are close Liberal-Conservative races. (Non)strategically voting Liberal is counterproductive in ridings that any party wins by a wide margin and in NDP-Conservative races. Such misplaced votes divert public funding away from the NDP and can help elect Conservatives.

Honest proponents of strategic voting have tried to focus on ridings that they believe will be close Liberal-Conservative races. Even if national advocacy of strategic voting could be effectively confined to targeted ridings, does anyone know which ridings to target?

It is easy to wring hands over ridings that Liberals narrowly lost to Conservatives. However, proficient strategic voting would require identifying and targeting those ridings before election day.

Among progressives, the Canadian Auto Workers union has probably been the most prominent and consistent advocate of strategic voting. Outside of Quebec, it has been endorsing NDP incumbents and NDP candidates deemed to have a sufficient chance of winning. But two days before the vote, the Auto Workers also reaffirmed "supporting 34 Liberal candidates in identified close ridings, where they have the best chance of defeating the Conservative."

In fact, many of these ridings were not especially close and six were actually NDP-Conservative races: Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca, Bramalea-Gore-Malton, Brant, Kenora, Miramichi and Saint John (where PEF-member Rob Moir doubled the NDP vote!)

Fortunately, the NDP won Esquimalt-Juan de Fuca. Unfortunately, the Conservative defeated the New Democrat by just 538 votes in Bramalea-Gore-Malton.

Another anti-Conservative effort, Catch 22, advised voting Liberal or Bloc in Brant, Huron-Bruce, Simcoe-Grey, Montmagny-L'Islet-Kamouraska-Rivière-du-Loup, Roberval-Lac-Saint-Jean, Fredericton, Miramichi and Saint John, all of which ended up being NDP-Conservative races. (It also advised voting for the Liberal incumbent in Newton-North Delta, where the NDP won.)

Of course, this election was extremely volatile, so some incorrect projections are no surprise. But that's the point: electoral politics are inherently unpredictable. Uncertainty about when and where a breakthrough might occur was, or should have been, a strategic rationale for progressive organizations to support the NDP.

The good news is that there should be much less confusion next time. In the great majority of ridings, the NDP will be both the most progressive option and the strategic anti-Conservative choice. Building a left majority is now clearly a matter of rallying progressives around the NDP and chipping away at Conservative support through effective opposition.

This article was first posted on The Progressive Economics Forum.

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