rabble blogs are the personal pages of some of Canada's most insightful progressive activists and commentators. All opinions belong to the writer; however, writers are expected to adhere to our guidelines. We welcome new bloggers -- contact us for details.

The perils of 'strategic' voting

Please chip in to support more articles like this. Support rabble.ca today for as little as $1 per month!

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.

Thank you for reading this story…

More people are reading rabble.ca than ever and unlike many news organizations, we have never put up a paywall – at rabble we’ve always believed in making our reporting and analysis free to all, while striving to make it sustainable as well. Media isn’t free to produce. rabble’s total budget is likely less than what big corporate media spend on photocopying (we kid you not!) and we do not have any major foundation, sponsor or angel investor. Our main supporters are people and organizations -- like you. This is why we need your help. You are what keep us sustainable.

rabble.ca has staked its existence on you. We live or die on community support -- your support! We get hundreds of thousands of visitors and we believe in them. We believe in you. We believe people will put in what they can for the greater good. We call that sustainable.

So what is the easy answer for us? Depend on a community of visitors who care passionately about media that amplifies the voices of people struggling for change and justice. It really is that simple. When the people who visit rabble care enough to contribute a bit then it works for everyone.

And so we’re asking you if you could make a donation, right now, to help us carry forward on our mission. Make a donation today.


We welcome your comments! rabble.ca embraces a pro-human rights, pro-feminist, anti-racist, queer-positive, anti-imperialist and pro-labour stance, and encourages discussions which develop progressive thought. Our full comment policy can be found here. Learn more about Disqus on rabble.ca and your privacy here. Please keep in mind:


  • Tell the truth and avoid rumours.
  • Add context and background.
  • Report typos and logical fallacies.
  • Be respectful.
  • Respect copyright - link to articles.
  • Stay focused. Bring in-depth commentary to our discussion forum, babble.


  • Use oppressive/offensive language.
  • Libel or defame.
  • Bully or troll.
  • Post spam.
  • Engage trolls. Flag suspect activity instead.