Strategic voting revisited

Strategic voting means choosing to cast your ballot for the candidate who has the best chance of beating a candidate whom you either dislike or whose party or party leader you most definitely do not want in power rather than for the candidate you would actually prefer to elect. Because you’re voting against rather than for a party or candidate, it’s an essentially negative act but one which many deem necessary in order to minimize the risk of a greater harm.

Effective strategic voting is difficult because candidates are elected on a riding-by-riding basis and there is frequently insufficient firm polling evidence to support a truly reliable choice. In any given election, local factors such as the respective qualities, name recognition and track records of the candidates can and frequently do outweigh the broader voting trends captured by national and regional polls. Every riding is unique in that manner. In a close race, those broader polls are useless because the sample size in each riding is much too small to support statistically meaningful predictions (i.e., when the margin of error in each candidate’s percentage support exceeds the differences among those candidates).

One of the dangers of strategic voting is what I would term the bandwagon effect which occurs when individual voters attempt to make strategic voting decisions based on those national and regional polls. If that results in their voting for the candidate of the party riding high in those polls, they may end up weakening another strong candidate who in their particular riding actually stands a better chance of defeating the candidate of the party they hope will not win the election. The results of such a vote might therefore end up being contrary to their intentions.

Because the candidates’ campaign teams require a fairly good understanding of how voters’ intentions are changing as the campaign unfolds in order to fine-tune their advertising, they frequently commission private paid polling within their own ridings for that purpose. But even those can be problematic. Voters may give different answers later in the campaign, when they have a better understanding of the issues, than those which they gave earlier. The answers also vary depending on how the questions are asked. For example, when asked which party they are supporting, they often name a particular party; but when the names of the candidates are listed in a different question, they choose a favoured candidate from a different party.

In the current election, I originally advocated for strategic voting for two reasons. First, I believe that Doug Ford is manifestly unsuited to serve as a majority Premier for the next four years and truly fear the consequences for our province and its people. That, coupled with the PC party’s huge lead in the polls constituted good reason for me to seek to minimize the PC candidate’s chances given that, in a close election, one seat could make the difference between a majority and a minority. Second, the private polling data which I saw showed Gary Bennett (the PC candidate) in first place, Sophie Kiwala (the incumbent Liberal MPP) in second and Ian Arthur (the NDP candidate) in third. Hence, the strategically logical path for progressive voters was to vote for Sophie.

That situation has changed over the second and third week of the campaign and, most recently, with Kathleen Wynne’s June 2 statement acknowledging that she won’t be Premier after June 7.  The optimum outcome for Ontario is now clearly a Legislature in which neither the PCs nor the NDP enjoy a majority.  Province-wide, the Conservatives and the NDP are now virtually tied.  Here in Kingston and the Islands, however, the most recent private polling results which I have seen show a true three-way race in which the differences between the PC, Liberal and NDP candidates are less than the margin of error for those numbers. What is definitive from the numbers is that there is essentially no chance that Robert Kiley (the Green candidate) will win. That leaves undecided voters who wish to have a meaningful say in who forms the next government the choice of voting for either Sophie Kiwala or Ian Arthur.

Those who are very much hoping for an NDP majority will undoubtedly vote for Mr. Arthur. For the rest of us, Sophie represents our best choice. She is an MPP to be proud of, one who has earned our votes by the way she has comported herself, her proven effectiveness in her role and all that she has done for our community and fellow Kingstonians.  In particular, Sophie’s proven ability to work well with MPPs of all parties in order to get things done will be invaluable in the fractious Legislature which is likely to result from this election.  If you are still unsure of which one you will support, I would recommend that you study their respective campaign websites very carefully to satisfy yourself which of the two would have the most to offer as our MPP.

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