Once again we are seeing call for “strategic voting” to block a Conservative phoney majority (they likely won’t even get 40% of the vote but could get around half the seats). And like past campaigns, these calls will probably do more harm than good.
In past elections, there is no evidence that negative/insincere (nothing “strategic” about it) voting does in fact work. There are several reasons for this:
1) riding by riding polls are based on very small sample sizes and are therefore very unreliable. They are also not done as frequently as national polls, making their information dated by the time election day rolls around – assuming voters actually wait and don’t vote prematurely in the advance polls.
2) Pareto’s law dictates that for every voter who actually researches the issue, there will be nine others who do little or no research and simply vote based on the national polls. As has been shown in previous elections, this has often turned NDP seats into Conservative ones.
3) Even among those who do research, the mistaken belief that the party with the most seats gets to form the government often leads them to vote Liberal anyway. Again, this has turned NDP seats into Conservative ones.
4) There are a number of financing arrangements, not least the per-vote subsidy, that require parties to make a significant showing in the ridings. Insincere voting disproportionally hurts the smaller national parties like the NDP and Greens while promoting the message that voters only have two choices – the Liberals or the Conservatives. This becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.
In short, negative voting, however well intentioned, is counterproductive both in the immediate term and even more so in the long term.
Our first past the post electoral system requires that the winning candidate get precisely one vote more than the second place finisher. Excess votes don’t increase his or her voting power while all other votes provide no voting power in Parliament. In a typical election between 2/3 and 3/4 of all votes are therefore ineffective.
What we need is a proportional system where all votes are effective in changing the seat counts in Parliament. Rather than promoting tactics that have already proved to be harmful, people should be calling for a democratic voting system for Canada.