Warm feelings, strategic voting - Macleans.ca

Warm feelings, strategic voting


How much strategic voting will go on come Oct. 14?

It’s an increasingly pressing question. Polls tells us a lot of traditionally Liberal voters are now leaning toward the NDP. In the remaining 17 days of the campaign, Stéphane Dion must persuade them either them to change their minds—a tall order once impressions have taken hold—or to stifle their favourable view of the NDP, and vote Liberal anyway.

In other words: vote strategically in order to block the Conservatives from winning a majority.

(Warning: much ivory-tower-eggheadishness ahead, which is almost as bad as rich-gala-going-artsy-elitism. Everyday common-sense folk, avert your eyes.)

I looked up the 2007 paper “Strategic Voting in Canada: A Cross Time Analysis,” by the political science professors Jennifer L. Merolla, of Claremont Graduate University in Claremont, California, and Laura B. Stephenson, of University of Western Ontario, from the journal Electoral Studies.

Merollo and Stephenson look at how many voters voting cast a ballot for someone other than the candidate of the party and leader to whom they feel most attracted. They relied on data from the Canadian Elections Study surveys, which employed what’s called a “feeling thermometer,” asking respondents how warmly they felt toward the various parties and leaders.

The proportion of Canadians who intended to not to vote for the party and leader they felt most warmly about was pegged at 13.3 per cent in 1988, 10.7 per cent in 1993, 15.5 per cent in 1997, and 13.3 per cent in 2000.

That’s a pretty big chunk of the electorate voting head rather than heart. Obviously, the Liberals, who aren’t generating a lot of warm feelings just now, will want to push that number up in the stretch run of this campaign.

To do so they’ll need to shore up the rapidly eroding perception that this is mainly a Tory-Liberal contest.

Here’s why. Strategic voting is far more prevalent among those who believe their first preference has a less chance of winning than their second preference. It’s not surprising: if your instinct is to like the NDP best, Liberals second, and Tories third, you’re more likely to vote Liberal if you don’t think the NDP stands much chance of winning.

So, based on the voters’ own predictions (again from the survey) of what percentage of the vote they thought the various parties would get, how many planned—if they didn’t think their first choice was really in the race—to vote for their second choice?

In these cases, Merollo and Stephenson report the percentage of those who didn’t intend to vote for the party they liked best was much higher: 34.3 per cent in 1988, 24.5 per cent in 1993, 26.2 per cent in 1997, and 34.8 per cent in 2000.

When the real race is between your second and third preferences, then you’re likely to drop your first preference and go with second best. But if your first and second choices look to be about equally likely to knock off your third choice, why not just stick with your first choice? Get it?

It basically means that among left-of-centre voters, the key is for the NDP is to limit strategic voting by emphasizing the rather novel—but, according to polls, increasingly plausible—notion that Layton stands as good a chance as Dion of preventing Tories from winning.

The way I read these numbers: a sizable minority of voters (maybe somewhere in the low teens) are willing to pass over the party and leader they feel most warmly about, and an even more sizeable minority (maybe a whopping third of voters) are willing to do so if the strategic case for doing so is compelling.


Warm feelings, strategic voting

  1. “How much strategic voting will go on come Oct. 14?”

    Some statistician out there might use your numbers to postulate a scenario. That would be fun to see.

    I am actively making people I know aware of new tools available that help them decide HOW to vote strategically. Some may choose to exercise their strategic vote to bolster Conservative party chances–but more are prepared to hold their noses and vote ABC.

    They do find the case compelling because they feel they are denied representation by our first-past-the-post, five-party system.

  2. I have a feeling that most strategic voting cancels itself out – e.g. Candidate C is leading – and to stop him strategically: a supporter for candidate A votes for candidate B, and a supporter for candidate B votes for candidate A (based upon their personal view of the game).

    Add in a third party alternate contender and it gets rather confusing to the average Joe (like me).

    Is there any evidence, in the four elections that form the basis of the referenced study, that “strategic voting” played any role in their outcomes? All the ones cited were majority govts (seems unlikely given the study numbers).

    And since in Canada we have only one vote – for the local candidate, shouldn’t it be more properly referred to as “tactical” voting (I’m trying to make a point and be diplomatic to J. McCain’s narrative). Ie riding by riding?

    Without national co-ordination, how does one vote “strategically”? I could give examples whee one candidate from the left is not running – Central Nova and Saanich-Gulf Islands come to mind.

  3. The NDP’s great surge in the polls is now – wait for it – still LOWER than their number on election night from 2006. So, yes the Liberals have slipped, but the numbers show their votes bleeding as much to the right at the moment as they are to the left.

  4. Dot:

    Here is an example of a strategic vote in say Rob Nicholson’s Niagara Falls riding…

    Poll Numbers

    Conservative 24,073
    Liberal 16,666
    NDP 11,327
    Green 6,106

    If you want to PREVENT a Conservative win more than you want to vote your favourite party, the strategic choice in this case is Liberal.

    In other Rahim Jaffer’s riding, your vote would be NDP based on these numbers:

    Conservative 19,671
    NDP 17,425
    Liberal 9,232
    Green 5,860
    Other 580

    Doesn’t take national coordination, simply access to websites or Facebook entries with polling numbers.

  5. Thx. I presume those are based upon 2006 results, no?

    And if “all politics is local”, wouldn’t the first and second choice of any given voter be affected by the quality of the local candidate, irrespective of how the national party is doing in the polls?

    I doubt most voters have current polling results available for their local candidates (apart from the historical numbers I presume you provided), and to expect them to know how “to websites or Facebook entries with polling numbers” to influence their vote, collectively, to make a difference seems tenuous at best.

  6. It will be interesting to see how vote swapping will impact strategic voting this time around. The internet has really made it possible for people to organize strategic voting in a very efficient way. Someone can help can block the Conservatives in their riding while helping their preferred party in another riding. Consider that the Hill Times said that just 15,000 candidates in a dozen or so ridings decided the last election. With 10,000 people already signed up to vote-swap against Harper this could really change the voting picture, making the progressive vote extremely efficient this time around.

  7. What everyone seems to be forgetting are those “Red Tory’s” that have stuck with Dion until now, but would never ever vote NDP.

    The rise of the NDP creates a dynamic that makes the previous “vote splitting” calculus obsolete.

    Right leaning liberals were never faced with the prospect of choosing between the Cons and an NDP poised to take the helm of opposition.

    There’s a segment that will break towards the Cons over the Ndp any day of the week.

    Which makes a CPC majority MORE likely with talk of “strategic voting.”

    You can take that one to the bank.

  8. Kody:

    Good point as far as it goes, except I expect Conservative polling numbers already include “hard” red Tories and the rest want a minority government–believing still that the NDP can never attain power and that a “new” Conservative majority would be disaster.

  9. PS Kody, truth be told, I consider myself a red Tory philosophically. Living through the Mike Harris years in Ontario convinced me that a “reform” approach does not constitute good government.

    It’s nothing personal. Mike Harris was and is a decent man, his policies were (expletive deleted).

    People here in Ontario are still enduring the fallout from that toxic administration five years later.

    The U.S. is now enjoying the harvest yielded by the policies of a president who’s party Mike Harris and Stephen Harper emulate.

  10. You missed one aspect of strategic voting that may occur; conservatives in ridings where the Conservative candidate has no chance of winning voting NDP in order to push the Liberals out. Pappy Steve even mentioned it in a don’t do this because it would be bad, wink-wink, nudge-nudge sort of way.

  11. The Red-Tory vote will swing to where the most socially progressive yet fiscal restraint is observed. Yet they may also be the group that least wants to rock the boat (i.e. conservative) given that Canada has a works of social networks already in place that are mostly in need of good management not full scale overhauls. NDP would be hard to swallow based on leaders for this group but a good local candidate could make the difference.

  12. Apropos Richard’s comment, it seemss that the Liberals can’t keep the message straight.

    On one side of the mouth, they want to shout out loudly that they are the ‘progressive’ vehicle of the centre-left. Read: NDP supporters and prospective NDP voters should park their vote with them.

    On the other side of the mouth, when the going gets tough and the NDP is surging, they react by claiming that many Liberals are more likely to shift their votes to the Conservatives.

  13. I am a former Red Tory who also voted Liberal in the more distant past. Currently, I live in a semi-rural riding where a Conservative is bound to win. It is not possible for me to vote strategically, so I decided to vote Green–the most congenial Party to me at this time. Obviously, strategic voting can be useful but often is problematic. If Canada had proportional representation, which actually works well with the exception of perhaps Italy and Israel, there would be no need for strategic voting and no votes would be wasted. (The wasted vote in contemporaty Canada is estimated at about 7 million.)

  14. Before Elizabeth May’s train from Vancouver pulled into Toronto The other night, she called for a form of strategic voting !
    May urged Canadians to do all they can to throw Prime Minister Stephen Harper out of office, including strongly suggesting they shouldn’t vote Green if another candidate has a better chance at defeating a Conservative.
    It’s a gutsy move that shows she has passion for people ad for the Earth!
    In Parry Sound Muskoka Jamie Mcgarvey Libera would be a good vote , and yes I am an NDP supporter !