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Home: Blog--Guide to the Pundits' Guide

BLOG -- Guide to the Pundits' Guide

Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Think Twice About Voting Strategically

The Pundits' Guide is a non-partisan site and does not endorse any political party, and tries by the selection and application of quantifiable criteria to treat all major parties the same. I've even tried to redress the situation faced by smaller parties by starting to add in their party affiliations on riding and candidate profile pages.

However there is one issue I'm going to weigh in on during this election, and that's the advocacy of so-called "strategic voting". It's based on faulty assumptions, is frequently clumsily calculated and executed, often by people with hidden but vested interests, and most seriously: it can lead to quite perverse outcomes.

Faulty Assumptions: Many of the strategic voting sites are based on the assumption that past performance can predict future outcomes. This is no more true in electoral politics in a multi-party system than it is in the stock market (say no more). Last February, struck by the tendency of the Hill Times to use "close races" in the last election as a proxy for "swing ridings", I decided to test that hypothesis. As it turns out -- and this is true for each of the last 3 elections -- more of the seats that changed hands in an election had previously been won by margins of more than 5%, than had been won with margins under 5%. Unfortunately, this "close contest" shorthand for determining what are the swing ridings was picked up and adopted in this campaign by no less than CTV, the Globe and Mail and their pollster the Strategic Counsel. The resulting polling numbers have been a mish-mash of Liberal-Conservative contests with Conservative-Bloc contests, Liberal-NDP contests, and NDP-Conservative contests. How can you possibly tell who's winning when you roll them all up together?

Clumsy execution: Consistent criteria are not applied, and incomplete data is used to determine the "likely" outcome in a riding or the "best" way to vote. This first came to my attention when folks were linking to riding profile pages on this website, to question how in the heck one of the strategic sites could have come up with the conclusion it did in a given constituency. In other cases, the site's authors were claiming it made no difference how a person voted since the race was so close between the two front-runners from the last election, completely ignoring the fact that the riding in question had been a 3-way race in the last campaign (that entry has since changed). Still further cases claimed that a party had no chance of victory, since it had no history of success in the seat, even though it had finished 2nd by just over 300 votes in a by-election within the last decade, but on the old boundaries.

There are some major limitations in using the current batch of previous results to predict future outcomes: first of all, most of us are only using data from 1997 forward, since that's all that's available in easily downloadable form from Elections Canada. But voting patterns completely changed in 1993, and with them the composition of Parliament. Ditto for 1984, and to a lesser extent 2006. Secondly, past voting behaviour is not a straight-forward indicator of future behaviour in elections where the government changes. Heck, polls two weeks out from Election Day can still swing widely. Incumbency matters, as does the absence of an incumbent, whether they are first-time incumbents, and whether they are on the government side or the opposition side going in (and perceived to be, going out). And candidate recruitment matters significantly (a point that pretty much makes itself in this campaign, to be sure).

Like it or lump it, the first-past-the-post system of parliamentary democracy is what we've got now, and it has to produce a number of contradictory outcomes in each election. First, it demands that voters consider and return the best representative for their community to send to the House of Commons. Second, it takes a collective reading of those constituency votes to select a Prime Minister and determine the composition of the Commons. And finally, it gives a "mandate" on one or more issues of the day to those elected representatives. All with one vote.

The mandate politicians are given, or believe they've been given, is paramount. The reelection of a government is taken by the members of that government as an endorsement of its policies. Holding an incumbent M.P. to a smaller margin of victory after their voters raised holy heck about a local issue is read very clearly by that M.P. as a signal to shift priorities. Public engagement on an issue during an election campaign is heard loud and clear by any candidate whose name is on the ballot.

I am sorry to say this, but people who claim to be "voting for the environment" are spending more time poring over past voting statistics (as prepackaged and interpreted for them by others) and daily rolling-polls, than they are actually spending poring over the environmental platforms and proposals of the political parties they are considering voting for. In the Skinnerian world of electoral mandates, these voters are unfortunately and unwittingly rewarding cynically manipulative electoral strategies, rather than thoughtful platform development, in our politicians. And afterwards they'll be more disappointed than ever.

If you really want to vote based on the environment, then get yourself informed on the issues, and vote for the policy you support. Do you believe climate change is a problem? If it exists, is it man-made or natural in origin, and if man-made can it be reversed. If reversal is possible and desirable, how much change is required and how quickly, and at what other cost. Which approach would be the most effective: a carbon tax (whether revenue neutral to individuals or to government), a cap-and-trade system of emission permits, carbon capture and storage, emission regulation, or something else. The answers you arrive at should determine your vote, because that's the message that will be received by the politicians you elect.

If all a politician has to do to get your vote is convince you they're more likely to win, just think what kind of Parliament you're going to get: an even scrappier place filled with people who've learned the only way to survive is to win at all costs.

What would have been really helpful is if, in urging voters to vote for the environment or any other issue, the authors of those websites had spent their time documenting the issues, and the past behaviour of politicians on them. Where were their records in presenting legislation, their speeches and other activites on environmental issues, or their voting records? The past behaviour of politicians is by far the more accurate predictor of their future behaviour, but is nowhere to be found amidst all the poll results.

If I were any kind of expert on any of these issues, that's the kind of website I would have produced. Unfortunately the only thing I'm qualified to do is crunch the historical voting numbers.

But I'm doing my reading, and I'm going to vote passionately and with conviction. That's my strategy for voting.



Blogger Chrystal Ocean said...

THANK YOU! I shall be writing a post on my blog and linking it to this article.

October 1, 2008 9:16 AM  
Blogger The Pundits' Guide said...

Thanks for the link Chrystal.

Meantime, I just had another note from a reader saying "The link to the "strategic" voting site for central nova says vote NDP. The site, as you know, is saying to vote green. Not your mistake, but it confuses your point."

I apologize if this was confusing. My intention in that case was merely to point out that this was the link from their site to mine which first drew my attention to the recommendation. But yes, I can see how linking to that particular comment entry may have confused the point.

The full treatment of the riding on their site can be found here. The Pundits' Guide page for the riding to which it linked can be found here.

October 1, 2008 1:08 PM  
Anonymous John said...

Point taken about the votenvironment website and the flawed methodology often followed for "strategic voting" (i.e. past election data). Of course, wouldn't election signage and riding-level polling (where it exists) that is *current* data be sufficient? In other words, is your point all about method and number-crunching, or are you advocating a another strategy that you personally believe in?

October 1, 2008 2:08 PM  
Blogger janfromthebruce said...

Like Chrystal, I also am concerned about the strategic voting sites, and particularly that if this is really about the environment, or just about beating Conservatives, or just about electing liberals.
I have also wrote a blog on strategic voting and particularly voting for the environment/voting for climate.
It appears that it is really about not electing Conservatives and trying to enhance the chances of liberals winning. I as a partisan New Democrat have problems with this, as the past records of the liberals has not environmentally friendly, although they play a good game.
As you have noted in this riding of Central Nova, they say vote May, however, we do use indicators of previous voting behaviour, and the Greens in this riding have only got less than a thousand votes. The NDP came close 2nd last time. I have also been to DemocraticSpace which shows that the Green candidate (May) is a distant third. I think that people need to know that and if the intent is to knock off the Conservative than "strategically" it would be better to vote NDP. I taken a page from EMay now, as she has publicly stated that Greens, with no chance of winning are better to switch their votes.
I have been going to there site and making postings as people coming don't know and should.
Link to my blog:

October 1, 2008 2:17 PM  
Blogger The Pundits' Guide said...

Hi john,

Signage is often on public property not on individuals' homes (also see the story today from Edmonton, where Elections Canada ruled that landlords can prevent tenants from putting election signs in their windows if that's in the lease). Riding-level polling is rarely done at a decent-enough sample size, and late enough in the game.

But what would such polling tell you if everyone was waiting for the poll to decide what to do anyway? They might all come to different conclusions based on the polling results.

No, to answer your question, it's not about the methodology and number-crunching for me, it's about the kind of mandate elected representatives in the next Parliament are being given. People who vote "strategically" aren't giving any more guidance than "don't be like person X or party Y". And, by the way, they're also saying "prove to me you can win", rather than "prove to me that you have a record on issue Z that makes me believe you would advocate positions on it that I agree with".

If you're voting on the environment, or any other issue, I'm just saying: know specifically what the parties are proposing, know what the experience and record of the candidates is on that issue, then vote with your head, your heart and your sixth sense, and you're going to have a much better result. And I also think our democracy will be much stronger that way.

Thank you for reading and commenting, john.

October 1, 2008 2:33 PM  
Blogger The Pundits' Guide said...

JanfromtheBruce, thanks for reading and for your contribution as well.

October 1, 2008 2:34 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

"It's based on faulty assumptions, is frequently clumsily calculated and executed, often by people with hidden but vested interests, and most seriously: it can lead to quite perverse outcomes."

The same may be said about the kind of voting you advocate:

- it can lead to quite perverse outcomes (i.e. green voters helping to elect a conservative)

- advocated by vested interests (i.e. the people advocating you vote your heart are often establishment figures who want to split the opposition. There have been cases of the Republicans funding green candidates in the U.S. Or they are partisans who value their party more than their cause.)

- clumsily executed (i.e. anything in politics)

- based on faulty assumptions (i.e. your whole argument! ;-)

October 1, 2008 3:18 PM  
Blogger The Pundits' Guide said...

Hi Anon 3:18PM,

OK, I'll kibbitz with you a little (but we'll keep it friendly) ...

To your point that "The same may be said about the kind of voting you advocate: - it can lead to quite perverse outcomes (i.e. green voters helping to elect a conservative)", I would probably have to say that green voters help to increase the vote for the party they support and conservative voters help elect conservatives. You've missed the whole point about having an election CAMPAIGN between the calling of the election and the holding of the vote. You're assuming that conservative voters aren't voting for the option they support, and/or that differences between any other parties' supporters are insignificant. The campaign gives every party a chance to make their case to voters, and every voter a chance to consider those cases before they cast a ballot. Does limiting the choices ahead of time improve democracy? Does voting on the basis of perceived winnability, either?

To your point that "the people advocating you vote your heart are often establishment figures who want to split the opposition. There have been cases of the Republicans funding green candidates in the U.S.", I would add that, indeed, there have been cases of that in Canada too (see, for example, one case that was investigated by a Royal Commission in Manitoba). Anecdotally I would say that some folks might even hope it happened more frequently here, but there's no evidence this is an influence on any of the major 5 or 6 parties being tracked at the P.G., for example.

But when you continue "Or they are partisans who value their party more than their cause", I gotta say "hold on..." ... I have the highest respect for people who participate in electoral politics for any political party or as independents (which is a harder row to hoe under our electoral system). They put their lives on hold, their names on the ballot, and their reputations on the line. When I was younger, political parties were the place where people from varying but similar points of view and different parts of the country, tried to come together to hammer out a common position. Now it's spun off into a lot of single issue advocacy groups, social movements, and registered tier II lobbyists. Most people who are active in political parties in their local riding associations or even at higher levels have given a lot of thought to how they believe the country should be run though, and put a lot of effort into advocating that point of view.

But it's a competitive system (by design), and most partisans ironically are pretty comfortable with that, and do admire the effort and commitment of their competitors. It's also why, I believe and hope, people from all parties have come to my website and managed not to leave very partisan comments, but make a lot of constructive suggestions for improvement.

When you say "- clumsily executed (i.e. anything in politics)", ok I gotta say "touché" there. ;-)

But, honestly, when you close with "- based on faulty assumptions (i.e. your whole argument)", Anonymous, you didn't get the job done with that argument! ;-)

So, com'on back and try again. I think I made a pretty reasonable case.

Thanks for reading, Anon, and thanks for a bit of push-back. It's the healthiest part of democracy.

October 1, 2008 4:31 PM  
Blogger janfromthebruce said...

Your response Pundit was excellent. Like Chrystal is passionate about the Green Party, I am a passionate New Democrat.
I actually don't support strategic voting and it bothers me immensely when people in positions of power and influence advocate for such; this includes both media and political types.
That said, I also know that some people do vote for what they don't want, and hence the fear card is often played for self-interested ends. I understand that it is politics and that is strategy but it is disheartening.
I agree that folks should become more engaged and really find out but alas many folk don't.
I remember the first time I voted and my dad took me, and on the way to the voting booth, I asked him who I should vote for cause I didn't have a clue. He said well you are in school for social service type work, so you should probably vote liberal. That was interesting cause he was a business guy but he realized (but I didn't) that what I would like in a party would not Prog conservative.
Anyway, it wasn't till later in my life that close friends of mine said, you know you might vote liberal but you talk and think like a new democrat. That actually lead me on an enlightening journey of reading (beyond the norm) and I found my political home. Sure the NDP isn't perfect, but well nor am I. Cheers, Jan

October 1, 2008 5:28 PM  
Blogger The Pundits' Guide said...

Well, Jan, thanks again. Allow me to just correct you on one tiny point ... I'm no Pundit here, just the Guide. I leave the punditry to all my readers ! ;-)

October 1, 2008 5:41 PM  
Anonymous John said...

I'm proud to not be a member of any political party or "punditocracy". I'm not even looking to necessary advocate for strategic voting (or even voting at all, for that matter) - this article was drawn to my attention and I found the argument on method intriguing and initially quite compelling. I still find the dialogue on that interesting.

I will say that the comments from Jan objecting to strategic voting as a "partisan New Democrat" do not resonate with me. Nor does her implication that the only "progressive" electoral choice is the NDP. And finally, nor does the idea that the NDP are even especially different than other parties when in power. It's brokerage politics and party hackery in the NDP all the way, as far as I can see, and I've been observing them for a good 20 years on that front. Brad Lavigne's comments about excluding Elizabeth May from the debate were more of the same self-serving, pseudo-progressive small-l liberal nonsense. Even those paid flacks, hacks and spinmeisters who traffic in the big-l Liberal nonsense didn't come out nearly as crassly, but I digress...

I do have some sympathy for the ABC thing, though, even if just to send a message to all of the political polyarchy that we the public may not always agree on what we are for, but enough of us may sometimes agree on what we are against. And I think most Canadians are against the right-wing conservative politics of the CPC.

October 1, 2008 7:54 PM  
Blogger The Pundits' Guide said...

John, I confess I'm not as cynical about political parties or electoral politics. It's been trendy to be cynical about politics for awhile now, but that's getting old for me.

Also, I would gently encourage people not to give up so easily by just settling for figuring out what they're against. Go the next step and figure out what you're for.

However, I should take this opportunity to point out that the sign in the window story from Edmonton has had another development, where Elections Canada headquarters had to straighten out their regional spokesperson, and clarify that it's a violation of the Elections Act to prevent a citizen from placing a sign in their window. I must say I'm glad, because I always thought that had been the rule (h/t Stephen Taylor and his commenters).

Anyways, although we'll probably agree to disagree about some aspects of the electoral process, John, I do thank you for commmenting.

October 1, 2008 11:35 PM  
Anonymous John said...

Guide/Pundit (I think anyone who has a blog these days – and, mea culpa, perhaps anyone who comments on one - can be considered a pundit, in fairness),

Apologies for the lengthiness (and in some places bluntness) of my response in advance.

I'm not a cynic, I'm a realist who has his own sense (and experience) of where and how social change is made (and not made). Dismissing my point of view as "trendy" is an interesting approach to refuting my fairly reasonable (and I feel accurate) observations. (Which stand. Actually, your comment also could be read as a backhanded compliment, which I'm not sure was your intent.)

However, I'm interested in exploring further your critique of the practicality or workability of strategic voting. You make some important points, such as class biases in rights to political expression re. landlords and tenants and an interesting point about method in strategic voting (specifically, how do you rely on applicable polling data relevant at the riding level if everybody follows a strategy of waiting to see whom everybody else is planning on voting for). I'd like to offer a comment on each of these, but it's my second comment which I think is a bit more relevant to your article. (The first one I have to get off my chest in response to your fairly dismissive comment describing me as "cynical" and "trendy".)

We should all agree that the fact that landlords hold leases prohibiting tenants from displaying window signs during elections is a pretty crass limitation on the most basic freedom of expression in the Canadian constitution. No doubt some of these same landlords put up a big Conservative sign on their property lawns. To my mind, this is practically a call to civil disobedience, such as putting up window signage anyway and encouraging your (voting) neighbours and fellow citizens to do the same, forcing a confrontation over the issue between the tenants and the landlord in order to embarrass the latter and/or the party that they support in the election-time media, or in order to create a precedent for a court challenge. There are probably other forms of non-voting resistance that can make the costs for landlords and politicians of continuing with the status quo exceed the benefits of cooperating with the demand. Some people might even suggest that in the present corrupt “representative” system, this might be both a more effective and even more democratic option in changing public policy, given the prevailing lack of confidence in the existing political system. Let’s not even consider the fact that political parties in office (and in the last 20 years, the increasingly central role of the office of the Leader of the party in power) preside over the Canadian state (be it at the provincial or the federal level) in strangely similar ways. The best that we can hope for in the present system are minority governments and voting against incumbent regimes that are vastly out of step with a significant amount of public opinion (such as the CPC on the war on Afghanistan and on environmental policy). But as you probably disagree with most of this and that’s OK, let's move on.

The first “practicality” objection you raised was the over-reliance on past polling data in the methods used by advocates of strategic voting. That is an important corrective to the pro-SV side of the debate. Your second objection seems to conflate polling and voting, quite separate stages in time in the electoral process. In response, I would suggest that those who believe in voting (strategically or not) when contacted by a pollster should tell the pollster in answer to the question "Who will you be voting for on election day?" answer with the political party that they most support the program of at that point in time (as opposed to supporting the party on the basis that X party's leader will be a "great PM" or "strong leader"). Then, the information generated will still be relevant even with 100% participation in strategic voting. There's no necessary concordance between what someone tells pollsters and how they actually vote, is there?

On a related question, what are your thoughts on vote-swapping websites? In terms of practicability, I guess it would depend on what data sources they rely upon - although information can be readily shared.

October 2, 2008 7:37 AM  
Anonymous John said...

Mea culpa, again. I just read the story in the link you provided and noted that the Federal Elections Act upholds the right of tenants to express themselves politically with candidate signage in their windows. ( I suppose that the proposed civil disobedience tactics can be put on hold LOL.) It's too bad the tenant didn't simply refuse to comply with the landlord, especially when she had a legal basis for not doing so. I'm curious what the Canada Elections Act specifies as penalties in cases like this. (Maybe when I get a chance, I'll look that up.)

October 2, 2008 8:05 AM  
Anonymous John said...

LOL this must be one of those days - I just noted that the article does mention fines of up to $1,000 or up to three months in prison for this violation. I wonder what's next on this front for that landlord...

October 2, 2008 8:09 AM  
Anonymous catherine said...

I agree with the comments about strategic voting and the pitfalls.

A site like voteforenvironment is upfront about their goal, which is to encourage voting which will see a change in government so that Harper is not Prime Minsiter. They give the seat counts one could expect if enough people voted according to their recommendations. Some, like janfrombruce, may not like the result, which at the moment shows a 35% increase in NDP seats and a 43% increase in Liberal seats, from the predicted non-strategic voting scenario. But, at least it is out in the open.

Democratic Space makes different recommendations and they don't show the net result. I suspect their recommendations would lead to a Conservative government, since their recommendations to Conservatives to knock off Liberals would likely tilt the balance toward Harper having more seats. Their recommendations obviously speak to a different audience.

I think having the total seats before/after strategic voting at least lets people see what the overall impact of the site;s recommendations is. I would encourage this for all strategic voting sites (even the ones saying they don't endorse strategic vote, while providing recommendations to do just that), just for the sake of transparency and openness.

October 2, 2008 8:18 AM  
Blogger janfromthebruce said...

The woman put her Linda Duncan sign back into her window - win for the little folk.

October 2, 2008 8:31 AM  
Blogger janfromthebruce said...

I think strategic voting sites are about manipulating the public, and past consequences have shown, as the guide suggests, have unforeseen outcomes.
As Dobbin suggests, "You don’t have to change people’s values if you can convince them their values are impractical."
We will never get the actual progressive government we yearn for, if we are convinced, once again, that our CHOICES are "impractical" and buy into the TINA mentality.
I take special note that liberal supporters love strategic voting sites and keep promoting them? There is no guess why.
To me it is the same old, same old, dressed up in fashionable technology.
Like Chrystal, she does not think her choice is impractical and nor should she feel demeaned for voting her true intent.
I will say this. It looks like Harper will get in (at this point), and no, I know the world will not end. I don't believe he will get a majority govt and that is good.
It does mean that the opposition parties have an opportunity to work together and I hope they do. The liberals will have a choice, whether or not they are the OP, to show how oppositional they are to Harper's agenda.
I have my doubts as the best predictor of future behaviour is past behaviour. And here, I am not just reminiscing since 2006, but going back to at least, 1993.

Georgia Straight provides some background food for thought Federal election

October 2, 2008 8:57 AM  
Blogger The Pundits' Guide said...

John, I now regret responding to your earlier comment at 2 in the morning, because that response very clearly conveyed something that was not my intention at all on re-reading it. I agree that the word cynical is incorrect when used to describe your views. I do think it's been trendy to be cynical these days. But perhaps it's fairer to say you're sceptical of the motives of folks who participate in political parties. Whatever. I should let you describe your own views, and not let myself get caught up in yet another boo-boo.

I don't disagree at all with what you say about the informal constraints being brought to bear in many cases by landlords against their tenants exercising political expression (you could even add employers vs. their employees). In fact I've witnessed many cases of this up close. I might be a little bit of a pollyanna about what electoral democracy can become, but that's in spite of some of what I've seen, not that I've been blind to it.

Your point about my possibly conflating polling and voting is interesting. I'd probably go for the Occam's razor response (the simplest answer, all other things being equal, is the most likely to be true), which seems to me to be that respondents in polls when asked how they're going to vote will answer by saying who they're going to vote for, not who they might have liked to vote for if not for all the calculations involved with "strategic" voting. I guess that's why I conflated them, but that doesn't prevent pollsters from asking different questions to tease that sort of thing out.

I'm sorry but I have pretty much the same feelings about vote swapping as about strategic voting. The first part in all this is to make a strategic assessment about the state of the race .... now in 2 different ridings, so the source of error is suddenly doubled. The second part is to find someone you hardly know, but want to "trust" in order to swap these votes. It's a very Politics 2.0 solution, and perhaps I'm really old-fashioned, but again I would just ask what kind of electoral/policy mandate is being given to the politicians in either of those 2 ridings?

I think all the strategic voting / vote swapping folks, without realizing it, are probably looking for some kind of simpler electoral reform solution like a run-off vote, such as they have in France. It's not my personal fave in the arsenal of democratic reform solutions, but it's easy to understand and seems to get at the underlying interests of what those folks believe ... namely that there are a lot of different alternate approaches to the one current approach that we don't like at this moment in time, we want to express our first point of view first, but we still want a second kick at the can to ensure our least worst choice doesn't get in by mistake. Of course, since political parties will have to agree on the terms and conditions of any electoral reform, you can be sure that at any moment in time, the only two parties who would agree to such a system would be the top 2. Other attempts at changing the first-past-the-post system, whatever I think of it personally, have failed so far ... among other reasons because the alternatives seem hard to understand and appear to dilute the personal accountability of an elected member to her/his constituency (vote-swapping notwithstanding).

Finally, pundit/shmundit. The reason I try to make a distinction between others' punditry and my web database, to which the blog has usually been a methodological reference and data update log, is that I want it to be of equal use to all political actors, which it won't be if I start spouting my opinions. The fact that you've guessed some of them wrongly hopefully proves that I'm not doing too a bad job in that regard. Also, I may be on a leave of absence, but I'm still a public servant, and as such have a different role to play now than I used to when I was a partisan activist.

I appreciate your interest in continuing the discussion, particuarly in spite of some badly chosen words on my part late into the night.

October 2, 2008 10:02 AM  
Blogger The Pundits' Guide said...

Hi catherine, and thanks for your comment. You make an interesting point about the significance of reporting totals. That may be easier or harder to do for a website author, depending on the technology they used to build the website with. If it's a database, then a query that sums the latest totals live-on-request is easy to do. If it's via some other method, then that might require an additional step for the web author ... who is probably already quite harried by this stage in the campaign (well, if they're anything like me, they are!).

Thanks for reading!

October 2, 2008 10:07 AM  
Blogger The Pundits' Guide said...

Janfromthebruce, thanks for the link to the Georgia Straight. I need my west coast news fix, so it was good timing!

October 2, 2008 10:08 AM  
Anonymous John said...

Well, in fairness, I probably could be described as "cynical" in relation to political parties and the political process. The kind of observations I sometimes get my back up about is when people spout trite garbage like "if you don't vote, you don't have a right to complain" or assume that just because somebody votes every four years they're doing their democratic duty. I've identified at least the beginnings of another road that's more likely (in my view) to get one to one's destination.

I have also noticed that among the professional partisans, many actually have more in common with their opponents (and more respect for same) than they do with their constituents or base. (A casual glance at the many election/party industry blogs confirms this.) After all, they work in the same industry and have pretty distinct interests from the rest of us. Like many politicians, they easily move from one party to another. Their logic is the logic of securing and maintaining political power as a first priority, not in making policy change. They share a culture and a language all their own. And like most of the public, I don't hold them in high regard.

Following on that, one thing that hasn't been discussed yet on the merits of strategic voting is that it undercuts (in a small but significant way) the power base of these professional party elites. Another reason for supporting strategic voting that should be flagged is that in most circumstances, especially as the number of electable candidates among a greater number of political parties increases, you get more minority governments. Many people (especially campaigners in political parties) don't like minority governments, but they have the potential of mitigating the worst of what might be done with majority governments. Many people, including me, are far more comfortable with a minority government. (Hell, I'd be far more comfortable if we paid them on the condition that they didn't show up for "work", but I digress.)

As for guessing some of your views wrongly, I first should say that I didn't know that I was guessing about your views. However, if that's your way of saying that you agree with much of what I have to say about the political process in this country, thanks! :)

However, my original interest in this topic has to do with issues of method and the assertion by many people (including yourself) that strategic voting is not viable. I still think that it may be, and I'd like to explore this question further, so please point out any flaws that you see in my logic.

I diverted away from the point your were originally making about signage; namely, that signage may be a poor indicator of support, especially in rented buildings. Similarly, we could say the same about local town hall debates where candidates may have different levels of success in mobilizing for / stacking the meetings. There are probably other forms of problematic, anecdotal data which on their own are next-to-useless, but when all is put together they begin to tell a more statistically-valid story about who's ahead and who's behind. Also, historical data does matter - I'm not talking about the data from the immediately past election, but longer-term historical trends within specific ridings. Finally, the parties themselves strategize about "swing ridings" and close calls all the time, because that's where they'll typically focus their resources. Mostly, this becomes common knowledge among all of the parties and this information is spread through political reportage.

All of this exists even where the preferred option, i.e. current small-area polling data with a reasonable sample size and appropriate sampling method, doesn't exist. And that should be sufficient in terms of meeting the data quality threshold needed for strategic voting to work.

When you add online vote-swapping systems ("Politics 2.0" as you put it) into the mix, you can at least in theory leverage this information significantly, especially in close ridings.

I'd like to clarify my point about voice in "polling" and in "voting". To be sure, for most people who aren't participants in strategic voting, the answers will be the same for each stage. Your point is applicable to the general population, but it is vitally important for those engaging in strategic voting to be conscious of the distinction and to "complexify" somewhat their responses/voice. To the extent that's a doable corrective, strategic voting should be much more successful, and withstand many of the more qualitative (non-methodological) criticisms that it's received in the commentary on this blog.

Certainly thus far, strategic voting has had a pretty poor record in practice within Canada's first-past-the-post system. However, even if it was necessarily the case that strategic voting involved compromising one's preferences and values for an electable anyone-but-X candidate, I don't really see a huge problem. Engaging in the electoral process is itself a form of compromise. I don't think that the supposed issue about compromising on one's values in selecting the strongest non-Conservative candidate where the information is known and reliable is really all that big a deal when you look at how much "compromise" (the cynic in me would probably say "sleight-of-hand" is a more accurate phrase) happens by those leaders and political parties themselves, both when in office and even on the campaign trail. (In a certain sense, to play the game is to lose.)

October 2, 2008 12:12 PM  
Blogger Caroline Lightowler said...

Great post. I don't often put political commentary on my blog but I felt that this was an important one to link to. Very useful.

October 2, 2008 9:30 PM  
Blogger The Pundits' Guide said...

Thanks for the follow-up comment, John, and thanks Caroline for the link from your blog (cute kid, by the way!).

I may get a chance this weekend to respond in a bit more detail, John, but our grandbunny is in town for a visit, and certain things just take priority!

October 3, 2008 7:48 AM  
Blogger Skinny Dipper said...

There are some problems with strategic voting in that in the last election, the Liberals asked NDP voters to switch to them to stop the Conservatives. In some cases NDP voters switched from potentially leading NDP candidates to 3rd place Liberals thereby letting a couple of Conservative candidates win.

The next problem with strategic voting, especially in this election, is the assumption that all centre and left voters are ABC (anybody but Conservative) voters. While I won't be voting Conservative this time, if my party of choice did not exist, the Conservatives wouldn't necessarily be my last choice. Even when the former Reform/Alliance and Progressive Conservatives campaigned as separate parties, I would sometimes choose the PCs as my first choice; Reform would not be my second.

Finally, even if my vote doesn't count under our First-Past-the-Post voting system, the party that I am supporting will get about $1.90 in government funding based on my vote.

October 5, 2008 3:31 PM  
Anonymous Two Hats said...

Please turn this post into a newspaper column and try to get it published on an op-ed page before e-day. It is a great treatment of this topic, well expressed.

October 6, 2008 7:59 AM  

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