The Strategic Voting Dilemma

April 17, 2011

I despise strategic voting. It sticks in the craw of my heart. No good can ultimately come of it.

Or can it?

Strategic voting is the unnatural outcome of an ill-fitting electoral system that no longer functions properly. Negative campaigning and voter apathy are its bastard spawn. It promotes a race to the dirty, dank abasement basement, urging politicians to campaign on a platform built purely on I’m Not As Bad As The Other Guy planks. All desperation and no inspiration.

But there are moments when the alternative, of just letting the chips fall where they may and voting with your heart threatens a much, much less palatable result. Suck it up time, you might call it. Leave what’s left of your principles at the polling station door and do what needs to be done. There is a greater good to be served than your good conscience.

Now may be one of those times.

It would seem at this juncture of the federal election campaign there are only two passionate blocs of committed voters: rabidly ideological conservatives who somehow still believe Stephen Harper has earned the right to lead a majority government and those who can’t think of a worse outcome. The latter group will do anything within their democratic means to stop it from happening including strategically casting their ballot behind whatever candidate is in the best position to defeat their Conservative rival. For their part, Conservatives and their flock see nothing but evil behind such machinations.

Project Democracy is a group set up to battle against a Conservative majority government. You can go to the site, find your riding and see if it’s been determined to be a strategic voting hot spot. That is, one where the Conservative candidate is in the running and an ABC vote could well defeat them.

One of the founders of Project Democracy is Alice Klein, NOW magazine editor. In a Toronto Star article published last Wednesday, Ms. Klein described herself as “a passionate post-partisan progressive”. However, I might think of her more as a passionate post-partisan strategic voter. Last October just four days before our municipal election, she endorsed George Smitherman based largely on voting strategically to defeat Rob Ford. While all her dire predictions of the adverse results of a Ford victory are bearing fruit, I just think progressives like Ms. Klein have grown comfortable with simply strategic voting and not demanding that so-called progressive candidates and parties actually court progressive voters. It encourages the likes of George Smitherman, Dalton McGuinty and Michael Ignatieff to ignore left-of-center voters while campaigning essentially on a platform of We’re Not As Bad As ____________ [Fill in the blank with the conservative candidate of your choice.]

If we’re going to be forced to vote strategically, how be we vote strategically to stop any party from forming a false majority government instead? Unless someone can secure more than 50% of the ballots cast, no one deserves to win a majority of seats. That parties can zero in on 40% with the expectation of majority status should be regarded as the biggest affront to our democracy. We need fewer passionate post-partisan progressives and more passionate partisan democratic absolutists.

Any place where more than two parties (or candidates for the same office) contest an election that still utilizes a first-past-the-post electoral system should be the target of our strategic votes. It encourages ruinous partisanship and quells positive participation. Pluralistic societies deserve better than pluralistic outcomes of their elections where, ironically, only the candidate/party with the most votes/seats gets all the power regardless of how many voters voted for/against them.

We should be comfortable with minority governments, coalitions or whatever other name anti-democratic forces use to try and smear it with. It is the best reflection of where we are as a society currently. The square peg being pounded into the round hole these days is the first-past-the-post system that ensures nothing else other than a majority of the voters wind up having voted against the government that now represents them with near impunity until the next election. Majority governments, whatever political stripe they may be, should be seen as the aberration, the surprise outcome of unusual circumstances where 50% + 1 of the voters have come together and voted along party lines. The regression to the mean, the default position, should always be a minority government.If we voters get comfortable with that, come to see that circumstance as natural, then the parties and candidates will adjust accordingly. Rather than scheming, scratching and elbowing their way to a phoney position of absolute power, they will instead endeavour to collaborate and put together a government that actually reflects the will of the majority of people. A situation that has only occurred 3 times at the federal level. And we wonder why we’ve become disenchanted and disengaged?

So yes, strategic vote away but do it for the right reason. Not to stop one particular party from earning a false majority government. To stop any party from gaining a false majority government. Starting there, we may set the process in motion of forging an electoral system that genuinely reveals our intentions when we drop our ballot into the box.

submitted by Urban Sophisticat


Designed To Fail

November 2, 2010

So it seems that for all the much ballyhooed campaign brilliance of Rob Ford’s successful run for mayor – setting the agenda with a simple message, identifying and targeting supporters, blah, blah, blah – what it really came down to was… a-hem… spending more money than he actually had on hand. Hmmmm. Fiscal irresponsibility. The irony of that is so thick and deep it brings on a case of the dizzies. I guess it’s not wasteful spending if it achieves the desired goal. Something the mayor-elect’s City Hall opponents should constantly point out every time he proposes to take an axe to municipal spending.

Yet for all the tactical glory and financial profligacy that pushed Mr. Ford over the top last Monday, I think there’s an equally as important lesson to be learned from the failed candidacy of runner-up, George Smitherman. As we wrote here yesterday, Kelly Grant’s article in last week’s Globe and Mail profiled in great detail the inner workings and personalities that made up the Rob Ford campaign. A day earlier in the same paper, John Lorinc did likewise but much more dirge-like with Team Smitherman. The details are revealing and should give much hope to those still in shock at the looming prospect of Mayor Rob Ford.

If Ford’s campaign was run with nothing short of brilliance and savvy, the Smitherman camp matched it step for step with disarray and ineptitude. Lorinc presents us with a candidate who abandoned his core political position, not decisively or with any sort of conviction, but almost based exclusively on whatever pollster or strategist had his ear at the moment. And there seems to have been a lot of pollsters and strategists working on Smitherman’s campaign.

“From the start, Mr. Smitherman’s basically centrist instincts posed a challenge for his campaign. Some advisers, citing an early internal poll showing surprisingly strong support for Mr. Miller and the progressive approach, argued for a left-leaning campaign. Others wanted Mr. Smitherman to lean right, promising, for example, to privatize garbage collection.”

“Polling data showed the city was deeply split over Mr. Miller’s record. But Mr. Smitherman and his brain trust couldn’t decide which side of the urban divide they wanted to win over. When they finally placed their bets, it was too late.”

Reading those two quotes from Lorinc’s article makes me wonder how George Smitherman even placed a distant 2nd in the mayoral race. It was all cold calculation and cynical adaptation to the prevailing winds of fickle polling data. Where was the fire? The passion? The conviction?!

Does a ‘centrist’ politician actually stand for anything or is it simply a code word for doing and saying whatever has to be done and said to get elected? As represented by George Smitherman and Dalton McGuinty and Michael Ignatieff, the latter seems to be case for the modern Liberal politician. Core principles have been replaced by the desire to achieve power at any cost. It leaves them rootless and prone to getting blown over when faced with a stiff wind howling in from a well-grounded (even if unscrupulously so) opponent. Thus, the Smitherman campaign went tumbleweed.

Here was a politician who’d been an MPP for 10 years and worked in the backrooms at the municipal level before that, utterly devoid of any sort of political belief system beyond simple being elected. Presented with data suggesting a divide in the city between those viewing the city as being on the right track and those thinking it had derailed, George Smitherman and his team simply rolled the dice to determine which side would be the winning one! Mr. Smitherman and his brain trust couldn’t decide which side of the urban divide they wanted to win over.” Ahhhhh, maybe go with your gut on this one, George? Which side did you think needed to be won over? Which side needed to be won over, not for you to become mayor, but to make sure this city headed in the direction necessary for equitable and sustainable growth and prosperity?

On the plus side of this story, it suggests that Rob Ford won the election not solely because of some groundswell of anti-government, grassroots support that wants to tear up streetcar tracks and raze City Hall. There is that faction, certainly, but Ford’s victory can also be chalked up in part to his main rival not showing up to fight. A candidate who adopted a rope-a-dope strategy without the ability to land a counterpunch knock-out blow. An opponent with a constituency of one. His own electoral success.

George Smitherman’s own numbers indicated there was a solid progressive base to build on in Toronto. Not only did he choose to ignore it. He helped diminish, ridicule, marginalize it, losing his wager in the process.

Those now marshalling their forces in anticipation of the upcoming battles with the new mayor should take a lesson from that. You are not alone in the fight. There is no need for capitulation. Standing firm and not abandoning your principles is not only good advice to live by but it also may be a winning strategy. One a brave member of George Smitherman’s phalanx of advisors and strategists should’ve stepped up and got their candidate to try running with.

silver liningly submitted by Cityslikr


It’s An Ilu-u-u-u-sion, Michael!

July 20, 2010

I’m beginning to eye the diploma hanging on the wall beside me with some suspicion. A B.A. granted to me with a minor in Celtic Studies some time ago, the letters F-R-A-U-D now scream out at me from it. Really? I minored in Celtic Studies? What was I thinking?

Not only is the legitimacy of my university education under fire but now my politics are being question too. According to this, I could well be less left wing than I’d like to think I am.

A new study from the University of Leicester Department of Economics reveals that highly educated people make wrong assumptions about their political leanings – they are more likely to think they are left wing when they are more likely to be relatively conservative. (h/t to Andrew Brett)

Now, I could put my mind at ease and assure myself that I’m not ‘highly’ educated. In fact, I have been told as much by more than just one person. (The most recent? A Ms. Kathy Shaidle: God you’re stupid.) But let’s just assume that as an owner of said university degree, I technically qualify as ‘highly educated’. Am I mistaken in thinking I qualify as being left wing?

As a male, chances are I am (mistaken not left wing) according to the same study. It seems that men tend to skew right wing and correctly identify themselves as such. Probably all that strong, independent, law and order, Ayn Rand testosterone in their bodies. On the other hand, the salary I pull in doing this pushes me back left as the wealthy tend to gravitate right and acknowledge as much.

So mark me down as a tortured leftist, fighting both his education and hormones to maintain that belief system.

Why is any of this important outside of the small circle of me? Well, political misidentification could go along way to explaining a certain degree of disenchantment and disengagement with politics these days. The study suggests that “…some people may end up voting for left of centre parties because they hold the mistaken belief that they are left wing.” If a left of centre party, once duly elected, proceeds to enact left of centre policies, this will subconsciously or viscerally begin to bother the misinformed voters who aren’t as left wing as they imagined. They will wind up feeling betrayed and lied to.

This doesn’t happen with right of centre parties and their voters. With more accurate self-identification, they all know what to expect when they vote for a like-minded party. In fact, conservative parties can annoy their base by not being conservative enough. Ironically, left of centre parties can similarly offend their misguided base by also not being conservative enough.

Thus, we have the mushy middle. Left leaning politicians who get elected by sounding left of centre but governing as close to the centre as they can possibly get away with, ultimately looking unprincipled and lacking focus. Ladies and gentleman, the Liberal Party. Jack Layton’s NDP. Joe Pantalone.

It’s a phenomenon that may also explain the rise of fall of Mayor David Miller. Swept into office on a progressive, housecleaning wave, but when he started acting on his left of centre ideals, well, it caught many of his faux-liblefty supporters by surprise. What, new taxes? I didn’t vote for new taxes. We’re already taxed to death! Why did he cave into the unions during the garbage strike? I voted for David Miller to crush this city’s unions!

The broad conclusion of the paper must be that individuals either choose not to, or are unable to, locate their ideological positions reliably compared to those of the positions of their compatriots.

This is further evidence not just that voters are far from fully informed, but that somehow voters consistently misperceive where they lie on the ideological spectrum.

So the next time you’re bemoaning the state of politics, take a moment to ponder how we might’ve arrived where we’re at. Not so much through a case of voters getting the politicians they deserve but more of a voters not getting the politicians they think they deserve. We’ve become disillusioned through delusion.

confusedly submitted by Cityslikr


The PM At The FCM

June 1, 2010

Sitting watching the video of Prime Minister Harper’s speech to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities from last Friday and I think it safe to say without fear of contradiction that I have not seen such a perfunctory public performance since paying $17 000 to witness the Eagles play Hotel California during their Hell Freezes Over For A Third Time reunion tour.

The man so didn’t want to be there. (Just like Don Henley.) He had nothing but contempt for those he had deigned to speak to. (Just like Timothy B. Schmit.) He chanted the phrase ‘Canada’s Economic Action Plan’ relentlessly as if to ward off evil spirits. (Just like Joe Walsh.)

Our Prime Minister couldn’t so much as muster up the pretense of graciousness to try and appear that he gave even a passing shit about the speech or who it was he was talking to. With the whole G20 meeting heat swirling around him, he put in an appearance and left the stage without taking any questions from the audience. Thank you and good night! Actually, it was less of a rote performance and more of a sound check.

And Conservatives wonder why they can’t make an electoral breakthrough in the country’s biggest cities? Even just a little love from Montreal, Vancouver or Toronto would put them securely into majority territory but somehow they are simply unable to reach out. Toronto should fuck off, we were told by Transport, Infrastructure and Communities Minister John Baird in the midst of the biggest economic downturn in decades.

While Liberal leader Michael Ignatieff didn’t exactly blow the roof off the place, he gave the impression that he’d at least put some thought into what he was going to say rather than slapping something together in the limo ride from the hotel. Ignatieff talked about the future, with cities being offered a more equal partnership. He talked about a national public transit strategy. An affordable housing strategy. A national infrastructure bank. To his mind, cities weren’t merely a “delivery system for the federal government’s stimulus program…” but “… ladders of opportunity.”

Hokum? Quite possibly. There is little question that many of the problems cities face currently can be traced back to a federal Liberal government’s budgetary slashing and burning in the early-to-mid-90s. A wrong they never even thought of righting until Paul Martin’s minority situation more than 10 years later almost, a cynic might argue, as a ploy to shore up their urban base.

Still, it’s preferable to a prime minister who steps in front of an audience of municipal leaders and refers to them as pothole fillers. That’s a level of smug self-importance and lack of awareness that is nothing short of staggering. Or maybe in Harper’s case, it’s completely calculated.

Like their eagerness to be seen dissing the “experts”, “academics” and “eggheads” in order to play to their perceived Sarah Palin base, maybe the idea of coming into Toronto and calling its mayor a filler of potholes went exactly as planned. This might also explain their whole lack of concern about the G20 controversy. Knowing how you can never not score points from coast to coast to coast by being seen sticking it to Toronto, it is very possible for this very political prime minister that he’s using the event to mark his territory as the top dog, alpha male boss. We’re bringing the G20 meeting here, see. We’re not even going to ask your permission, got it. We’re putting it on where we want with complete disregard for any suggestions you may have about where would work best. Because I’m the Prime Minister of Canada and you’re just a pothole filler.

If you’re a believer that the building of strong, sustainable cities is the future of building a strong, sustainable country, there is nothing our current Prime Minister says or does that can fill you with any confidence whatsoever. He clearly doesn’t share that view. To him the future is little more than balanced budgets and low, low corporate taxes. Cities aren’t even on his radar. They’re an after-thought, places to host international gatherings where he can sit beside other world leaders, basking in significance. Cities are just somewhere we live, where there are pot holes to be filled by lesser politicians than he.

submitted by Cityslikr