Does Strategic Voting Work?

Here on Vancouver Island there is a lot of talk about the “need for strategic voting” in order to prevent any Conservatives from winning seats.

Even though it is rather obvious that on the national stage it is the NDP and Liberals who are splitting the non-Conservative vote, here on Vancouver Island many NDP’ers are again (falsely) accusing Greens of doing so. Their anti-Harper cause is being boosted by third-party organisations using questionable polling results to encourage all but those in Elizabeth May’s riding to vote for the NDP.

In some ridings the NDP are even using election data from four years ago to boost their fear-campaign. Back then they and the Conservatives received over 80% of the vote. By ignoring the surging Greens (and improving Liberal support) their strategy intends to sway voters into believing that one has to vote NDP in order to stop the Conservatives.

(Using old data to suppress or sway the voters of another Party is, frankly, manipulative, dirty politics. It invokes fear. As the Conservatives know, fear is a very strong motivator.)
There is another problem with voting “strategically.” It is only as valid as are the polls. Obviously old polling data is unreliable. But can current polling data be ‘counted’ on?

In ridings featuring strong Green Party candidates, the answer is, “Nope.” Which is true everywhere on Vancouver Island, and likely beyond.

Why is this?

To start with, election polls in general have become less reliable in an age of cellphones and telemarketing. Read, for example, this National Post article. In brief it reveals that nearly all cell phone users hang up or refuse a call from a polling company, in large part because they don’t want to use up their minutes. Such folk are most likely to be younger -the least likely to vote.

If pollsters admit that over 90% of those who are phoned (including to landlines!) cannot, or do not, participate in their surveys, how “random” are their samples? Questionable, at best. Even worse, when it comes to predicting the likely vote of those using only cell phones, pollsters are virtually dead in the water.

This demographic is not small potatoes. There are more of these voters than there are who voted for any one Party in the last election!

The more these younger voters participate in the election, the less certain polling predictions become.

What happens when they do?

Not long before the last federal election (in 2011) a reliable polling company predicted that Elizabeth May would lose to the long-term incumbent Conservative candidate. They were accurate in the vast majority of ridings across Canada. Why did they mess up in this particular situation? Answer: The youth vote turned up! No pollster could predict that the vote would swing like this. Green Party Elizabeth May won with 46% of the vote, the Conservative came in second with 36%, and the NDP fell to third with just 11%. (You can view that voting prediction here by referring to British Columbia and Saanich-Gulf Islands.)

Part of this win can be attributed to voters switching from Liberal and NDP to support the surging Greens. They would not have done this, however, if these voters hadn’t become aware of the surging interest in Elizabeth May by the undecided voter and the otherwise non-voter. In fact the voter turnout would be huge, tied with an east coast riding for the highest rate in all of Canada.

Engaging the disenfranchised is also how Andrew Weaver won in the provincial election in the same region two years later. The voter turn-out rate in his riding was the highest anywhere in British Columbia that year.

Since 1988 the Conservative vote in British Columbia has remained about the same. It’s only when the voter turnout is down that they are able to improve their seat count. No wonder the Conservatives actively attempt to suppress the vote!

So if pollsters cannot predict what will happen if many of the younger voters turn up on voting day then what happens to the “strategic voting” idea? It falls flat on its face. Certainly, out of fear, many who prefer to vote Green will either vote NDP or else not bother at all. But if there is enough momentum from the usually disenfranchised voter the “strategic vote” fails to secure the traditional party candidate.

Currently Elections Canada is watching for voter suppression tactics, including those that have been practised by many Conservatives (and some Liberals). Elections Canada is aware, too, that one form of voter suppression can occur in order to "consolidate power in the larger, more well financed political parties" at the expense of smaller ones. They call this tactic a form of “micro-targeting.”

I believe that attempting to convince supporters of another Party that there is no hope their desired candidate can win (and so should instead vote for their party!) is a form of micro-targeting.

So how will more Green candidates win? When the general population, especially the disaffected and the unsure, realise that the Greens offer a positive vision for improving the economy AND the planet at the same time, of how we can better care for each other and reclaim the Canada of which we once felt proud.

The best example I have seen of a voter’s imagination becoming inspired by the Green vision is a blog post by an excellent local writer, Goody Niosi.

This is a Green Vision
What motivates people to vote Green is hope. Hope for more good-paying local green jobs. Hope for better health outcomes. Hope for eliminating poverty. Hope for democracy. Hope for a planet that will continue to sustain life.

Green candidates are thus tasked not only with capturing the imaginations of those who otherwise might not vote but in the much harder task of overcoming the fear-based messaging of the Conservatives, the NDP and the well-intentioned (but misguided) “strategic voting” machine.

As hope is ultimately stronger than fear it is only a matter of time before Vancouver Island and the rest of Canada elects a Green government. But we don't have to wait that long. If enough Greens are elected this year, which is altogether possible, then they will hold the balance of power in a minority government led by either the NDP or the Liberals.

Now this is something to hope for!
 p.s. In just over two years, since I ran for the B.C. Green Party, Greens have become a house-hold name. After knocking on many doors in my home riding of Nanaimo-Ladysmith I recently noticed that more Conservatives are now planning on voting Green. More importantly I noticed a strong trend: many undecided voters are looking more than interested in the Green Party. Paul Manly's campaign has raised more money than any other in Nanaimo's history, has more volunteers than any other campaign, and has tremendous momentum. I will not be surprised when he wins on October 19th. 
Despite what the pollsters are predicting.


  1. I will NOT buy into the strategy "Vote Green - Elect Blue", I think it is terribly flawed. Vote for the Candidate who has integrity, and can represent your values....but MOST importantly VOTE!!!! I want someone who understands my community issues and has enough courage to fight FOR the right solutions. It has been said we get what we deserve when we do not vote, I want honesty and sustainability...I have voted already.

  2. Thank You, Ian, for your very positive message! I totally agree and we need all voters, especially on the west coast, to realize that "The West Coast is going Green."
    Why? The Greens are the only party taking a strong stand to defend our beautiful coast from pipelines and tankers. (Watch on-line "tankers in a storm" !)
    Secondly, my #1 issue is Democracy and Elizabeth is in the best position to influence a minority government with her extensive knowledge of how Parliament works. All Greens will have their own voice and will not be silenced by any PMO.

  3. good points Ian,can you send this blog to the local papers to get more exposure of your points
    ps it also needs to be mentioned that the conservatives have been in power for so long in part due to the fact that the liberals and ndp refuse to work together ,it is the greens that have the capacity to work with all the parties and are not bound by party whips


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