Updated date:

Strategic Voting in Canada: Electing the Opposite of What You Want

With political policies changing drastically as of late, it appears I have transformed into a political junkie simply to stay informed.

Parliament Hill

Parliament Hill

What Is Strategic Voting, and When Should You Do It?

Strategic voting occurs when a person chooses to vote against their preferred candidate in an attempt to keep a less desirable choice from attaining office. People participate because they feel it will increase the odds of a party with preferred principles and policies winning that seat. Does it work? Sometimes, but not always. It depends on the actual likelihood of a specific candidate being elected to that seat and what influence they will hold in Parliament once elected.

In recent years, there has been a wave of encouragement for people to participate in strategic voting. Some of this is legitimate, but it is important to realize that a great deal of this noise is also propaganda. Those ads, articles, and memes encouraging you to vote strategically may actually be attempting to do nothing more than to sway your vote in their favor.

For those who truly want to make their vote count, all that noise can make it difficult to know what to do on election day. When voting strategically, it is important to visualize the likelihood of each candidate achieving the winning seat and what degree of power that seat will give their party. It is generally the leading party and its main opposition who are most likely to enact the principles and policies that will affect you. So what should you do? Let's take a look at the facts as well as some of the misinformation. Then we'll try to figure out the answer.

It's All in the Odds

In most countries, there are two or three main political parties. In the U.S., these are the Republican and the Democrat parties. In Canada, it is the Liberals, Conservatives, and the New Democrat Party (NDP). In Federal elections, it is generally the Liberal or Conservative parties who form the governing party and the bulk of their opposition. This is an indication that odds favor one of these two parties winning the next election. Thus, you would logically vote for one of the two leading parties to ensure that your vote would have an overall greater influence on the outcome of the election.

This is especially true if your first choice was for a fringe party or for one with fewer than three seats in the house. It is, however, quite important to also take into account the candidate running in the riding you are voting in, and this is where strategic voting comes into play. Party leaders and high-profile candidates are much more likely to win their seat than a lesser-known candidate, meaning that your vote could make a difference in this circumstance, even if it were for a minor party candidate.

What About the NDP?

Your choice becomes a little more difficult if it is for the NDP, which is the third main party. They have a very low chance of gaining the most votes in a federal election, but there is always the hope that, under the correct circumstances, they would be able to. It is up to you to decide if the stars are lining up in conditions favorable enough for them to pull off a win.

Overall, the odds are against it, so if you threw your vote that direction, it would likely not win this party the leadership role. It could, however, elect your candidate to a seat in parliament if the person you are voting for is highly charismatic, a party leader, or another highly recognized / respected figure. It can be confusing to decide what to do, as in the case of Elizabeth May from the Green Party of Canada.

An exception to this comes into play when a highly charismatic leader emerges onto the political scene. In Canada, that person would be someone like Jack Layton, and in the U.S., Bernie Sanders is a good example. These leaders have the personality and drive to pull a third-place horse into a winning position. They dramatically change the odds of their party achieving a political win.

Who are you really helping to elect with a strategic vote?

Who are you really helping to elect with a strategic vote?

It's a Propaganda Game With a Huge Payoff

Ah but in all high stakes games there comes an underhanded element to sway your vote in a not necessarily accountable way. A split vote can change an election dramatically and there can be ways and means to encourage a voter to place their vote in such a way as to bring this factor into play.

Anyone who uses social media has likely been exposed to some degree of political propaganda. For the past couple of years it has rained down on participants of Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and Youtube despite numerous attempts by these networks to get it under control. The misinformation shows up as memes, doctored images, shared articles, tweets, and comments. It can spread like wildfire.

Some of the propaganda is initiated out of country but much is coming directly from those who's political fortunes or monetary interests are at stake. It's an advertising campaign with high dollar stakes and those who are posting these items will use misinformation if it increases their odds of a win.

A split vote for a minor party left or right can have quite the influence to the end goal of an election so propaganda is frequently used to encourage voters to vote strategically. Often these requests will come with links to further information or polls that are designed to sway you to a specific candidate. The end result is generally that the vote will split to insure a favourable result for the propagandist's preferred candidate.

The misinformation can be difficult to wade through as propaganda and polls can be easily manipulated. The main rule of thumb is that if you seriously want your vote to count then ignore the propaganda and focus on the big picture. It is best to toss your vote for one or the other of the two main political parties if you want principles and policies that are similar to your own to come into play.

Of course there are always exceptions to this rule and as stated earlier if your local candidate is the leader of a minor party or a highly regarded charismatic figure then your vote will likely elect them into a seat in Ottawa. They are the most likely candidates to win their seat.

Another factor that can dramatically affect the vote lies in regional sentiment. Some areas of the country have an extremely strong sentiment toward a specific candidate and this not reliant on whether or not they are of a main political party affiliation. It is up to you to realistically judge if this is occurring in your area. If it is then the likelihood of a main party winning the vote is not realistic so voting for the minor party candidate could elect them to office.

Have You Shared a Social Media Meme That Was Not Factual?

Canadian Political Parties Most Likely to Be Elected Via a Split Vote

  • New Democrat Party (NDP): Being the third largest party, this is where vote splitting can have the greatest influence. Generally, votes here would take away from the Liberal vote and increase the likelihood of a Conservative leadership.
  • Green Party: Although this party does maintain a seat in Ottawa, it is still a minor party and, due its restrictive agenda, likely to remain one. Green votes will most likely be taken away from the NDP and Liberals, thereby benefitting the Conservative Party. In this case, a Green Party vote could actually put into office the exact opposite of what most environmentalists look for in political policy.
  • People's Party: This is a new party but one that is attracting those with more extremist views and those who are disappointed in the current status quo. Can Maxime Bernier influence this election? If so it would likely be to split the Conservative vote and thereby increase the likelihood of a Liberal win. If elected his party would be more likely to lean Conservative than Liberal in house votes.
Don't be fooled by propaganda!

Don't be fooled by propaganda!

My Advice Is to Fact-Check Everything

Justin Trudeau has predicted that the 2019 Canadian election will be one of the dirtiest and thus far into it he is being proven quite accurate in his assumption. The rhetoric is heating up to almost the same degree as that which occurred in the 2016 U.S. election. It is a battle of mistruth versus fact, deceptive manipulation of propaganda, and school yard bully taunts.

My advice is that you fact check every piece of information that comes your direction. Don't let the propaganda sway you into strategic voting. Fact check who the information comes from and who it benefits, and don't share anything that may not be the gospel truth. If you decide to participate in a strategic vote visualize the likelihood of that candidate achieving the winning seat and what degree of power that seat will give the party itself. It is the leading party and its main opposition who are most likely to enact the principles and policies that will affect you.

Strategic voting and splitting the vote will be key words in our upcoming elections. Learn what they mean, how they work, and how they could affect you. We are blessed to live in a democracy which means that we each get a vote in deciding how our country will be run. Make sure yours counts.

Have You Voted Strategically?

This content reflects the personal opinions of the author. It is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and should not be substituted for impartial fact or advice in legal, political, or personal matters.

© 2019 Lorelei Cohen

How do You Decide Your Vote?

FlourishAnyway from USA on February 19, 2019:

I get very frustrated with people who voted for third party candidates (effectively throwing away their vote) or those who didn’t vote at all in 2016 yet moan about how terrible politics have become under Trump. They threw their vote away with a third party vote. Yes, they had every right but I have no need to hear them complain now. They’re part of this “strategic” mess. They were hoodwinked. It was an either/or choice.

Barbara Tremblay Cipak from Toronto, Canada on February 19, 2019:

Excellent article Lorelei. Bang on too. Whenever I see negative attacks from a party as the majority of their approach to getting elected, I know right off the bat, they cannot run on their issues because they'd lose. They're going majority negative instead of majority issues for a reason. The have something to hide about their policies that the public as a whole won't agree with. Privatize everything and gut services doesn't sell well, so distract, divide, distract, create fear, divide becomes the business model.

Lorelei Cohen (author) from Canada on February 18, 2019:

The political game has indeed changed and not for the better. Our elections are now like a knife and sword fight where anything goes rather than an honest sharing of party principles. We have a party here in Canada using Trump's tactics and it is very disappointing to see so many people influenced and emboldened by these actions. I personally am both angered and terrified that people with so little moral value could be viewed as viable leaders.

Bill Holland from Olympia, WA on February 18, 2019:

Be careful what you wish for . .. it's getting, in the U.S., where we are afraid to go to the polls and vote. It's almost frightening to think of who we might unleash on the world. It couldn't be worse than it is right now, could it? :(

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on February 18, 2019:

I really didn't know much about Canadian politics, so I found this article to be very interesting. Propoganda is awful and everywhere I think. Fact checking is very important. We don't good news reporting here anymore. Look at what is being done, not what is being said. That is my latest conclusion. Somehow, I am glad to know we are not alone in the propoganda issue.