Strategic voting: What has it done for you lately?

Once again, opposition supporters are discussing strategic voting in the next election to keep Stephen Harper’s Conservatives out of government. The “Catch 22” theory advanced this time in the Georgia Strait follows the same logic that failed to defeat the Tories in 2008 and, in fact, left them with a strengthened minority government.

While the principle is sound, in reality, it doesn’t work.

The “Anyone But Conservatives” (ABC) campaign got oodles of ink last time, but voters didn’t buy in, as per this analysis I did on election night in 2008 (using the Mother of All Excel Spreasheets Paired With Live Data that I Couldn’t Get Working Until 9:30 p.m. And Nearly Died of Stress As the Votes Poured In).

The reason I think it doesn’t work is simply that Canadians take their votes seriously. They prefer to vote for someone they believe in, but who they know will lose, rather than hold their nose and vote for the winner.

Sort of admirable, that.

Calls to vote anyone-but-Tory fail dismally; Green vote enough to give Conservatives 16 seats, study shows

The Ottawa Citizen
Wed Oct 15 2008 
Page: A5 
Section: News
Byline: Glen McGregor
Source: The Ottawa Citizen

Despite calls to vote strategically against Conservatives, Canadian electors yesterday failed to cluster their support behind the candidates best positioned to defeat Tories, a Citizen analysis of voting results shows.

Fewer voters coalesced around the single strongest NDP, Bloc, Liberal or independent candidate in a riding than they did in the 2006 vote, helping pave the way to the Conservative victory, election returns show.

The splitting of votes among parties to the ideological left of the Tories was a factor in dozens of ridings, as the Liberals dropped 14 of the most closely contested seats they won in 2006.

The Green party again cleaved votes away from the NDP and Liberals and were on pace to take away enough votes to help elect Conservatives in 19 ridings.

Throughout this campaign, environmentalists called on voters to choose the candidate in their ridings with the best chance of beating the Conservative candidate. To protest the Harper government’s treatment of Atlantic Canada, Newfoundland and Labrador Premier Danny Williams exhorted Canadians to vote ABC — “Anyone But Conservatives.” On Facebook and other Internet sites, groups sprang up that allowed users to agree to swap their votes with people in other ridings in effort to block the Tories.

To measure the effectiveness of this strategic voting campaign, the Citizen calculated the concentration of the non-Conservative vote. If voters are split in a riding, the NDP, Liberals, Bloc and Green will share smaller chunks of votes not cast for Tories. But if the “ABC” vote is concentrated behind a single candidate, he or she would stand a better chance of winning.

In 2006, these candidates averaged 61 per cent of the non-Tory votes cast in their ridings. But that figure dropped to 58 per cent last night, suggesting voters never got behind the idea of pooling their votes strategically. Rather than stick to together, anti-Conservative voters scattered.

Even in ridings expected to be close, voters showed little signs of gathering behind one candidate.

In the last election, there were 48 ridings where the margin of victory was less than five per cent of valid votes. Environmental groups targeted these key ridings as ripe for strategic voting. In those ridings in 2006, the concentration of non-Tory votes ran at 57 per cent. Last night, that number fell to 56 per cent.

The result: the Tories were on course to pick up 27 of these seats, better than the 16 of the closely-contested ridings they won last time. The Liberals had won 23 of these seats last time, but staggered away with only 10.

Among these key ridings was that of Conservative Health Minister Tony Clement, who won his Parry Sound - Muskoka seat in 2006 by the slimmest of margins, only 48 votes. Last night, however, he was re-elected easily as the opposition votes were scattered between the NDP, Green and Liberal candidates.

Just as U.S. Democrats blamed Ralph Nader siphoning enough votes away from Al Gore to cost him Florida, the loss of “progressive” votes to the Green party was also a factor last night.

In 19 ridings last night, Tories were on their way to victory with margins lower than the number of votes cast for Green candidates. If all these Green voters had strategically voted for their NDP, Bloc or Liberal candidate, the Tories would have lost these ridings.

The loss of left-of-centre votes to the Greens will doubtless have some blaming the party for helping elect Conservatives.

But if the Greens had elected to not run candidates, it is unclear where their voters would have gone.

An EKOS Research poll conducted over three days ending Oct. 13 found that Green voters were by no means unanimous in their second choice of parties.

The NDP and Liberals were tied for second choice of 28 per cent of those intending to vote Green followed by the Bloc at eight per cent nationally — or about 41 per cent in Quebec — and the Conservatives at a surprisingly high 17 per cent.

By redistributing Green votes to the other parties in those proportions, a different picture emerges. This “Green shift” last night was projected to swing only six ridings away from the Tories to other parties.