On June 7 in Ontario, people who vote will go to their polling stations and do one of two things.
They’ll either vote sincerely for the party they want to lead the province, or they’ll vote strategically against the one they don’t want to lead.
Advance polling in the province right now has the New Democrats tied with the Progressive Conservatives for votes, and an IPSOS poll has found that about half of NDP voters polled said their vote was intended to keep the Liberal and PC parties from winning.
“They’re voting against two things instead of voting for one thing,” political strategist Jim Warren said. “They want to throw the government out and they don’t like the personality of Doug Ford so they’re going to vote NDP even though they don’t know much about the leader or the politics.”
Strategic voting — making a single vote ‘count’ by casting it not in the hopes that a preferred party will win, but in the hopes that an unpopular party won’t — is an appealing option to voters in a situation where there isn’t a single exceptional candidate or a candidate is particularly divisive.
But Warren warns there are situations where voting strategically can have unintended consequences.
For example, Warren said, the effectiveness of a strategic vote depends on the behaviour of other voters, and that behaviour can be hard to predict. Polls can paint a different picture from one week to the next as parties jockey for popularity and voters change their minds.
“You don’t know because you can’t tell ahead of time what everyone else is doing. It’s not really a concerted effort,” Warren said. “And when you get unintended consequences is when you vote against somebody rather than voting for somebody.”
For example, strategic voter might choose to cast her ballot with the party she believes will defeat the one she doesn’t want to win, only to have a third party gain popularity and throw her predictions off. He said strategic voting also has a limited impact in elections where one candidate or party is the clear leader in polls.
“It also depends on the popularity of the candidates,” he said, comparing this year’s election to past federal elections where certain candidates, like the NDP’s Jack Layton and the Liberals’ Justin Trudeau, rode on tides of popularity.
“When these tides happen, it’s pretty hard to defeat them,” he said. “In those situations you’re better off to vote for your favourite candidate, in the true, traditional thoughtful way of voting, because it’s pretty hard for you to stem a tide with strategic voting.”
Fortunately for strategic voters, Warren said the 2018 provincial election is an example of a situation where strategic voting might make a difference, since no one candidate is considered exceptionally popular.
“This year, the NDP has been very effective at running a campaign that they’re the way to stop the conservatives from winning the election,” he said.
“People are voting against parties instead of voting for them, and in this case it can have more of an impact.”
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