“The end of strategic voting” (The Toronto Sun)

Adrian Wyld/Canadian Press

Andrew Perez (The Toronto Sun):

When the federal election writ dropped August 2, it appeared campaign 2015 was destined to become a textbook case for strategic voting.

Conventional wisdom suggested Justin Trudeau’s faltering Liberals were increasingly irrelevant in the new battle between left and right.

Thomas Mulcair’s NDP had already brazenly assumed the mantle of championing the progressive cause in a valiant attempt to slay Stephen Harper’s Conservatives once and for all.

For the first time in its history, the NDP would shrewdly play the strategic voting card: If progressives wanted real change in Ottawa, only the NDP could defeat Harper.

It was an all-too-familiar refrain for voters, but one the Liberals had long cynically employed — often with great success — to the NDP’s chagrin.

But now the roles were reversed.

One month into the campaign, however, the narrative hasn’t exactly evolved as the NDP had envisioned.

Polling shows the three main parties locked in or close to a statistical tie, with no breakaway in sight.

This is encouraging for Canadian democracy, for it appears that for the first time in years, Canadians will participate in an election campaign that is genuinely competitive across the board.

An election that — at a macro level — is less likely to fall victim to the perils of strategic voting.

On balance, the robust and consistent presence of strategic voting patterns in successive federal elections has had an unambiguously destructive impact on the country and the state of its democracy.

There are three central reasons for this.

First, strategic voting has played a prominent role in tarnishing the tenor of Canadian political discourse.

Strategic voting — by its very nature — is predicated on voting against something as opposed to for something; it appeals to peoples’ worst fears.

Over the years, this sort of destructive thinking has impacted the way in which parties, candidates and leaders shape their message.

How often have you heard the incessant chorus “we must defeat Stephen Harper” or “Justin Trudeau is just not ready” thus far in this campaign?

And how rarely have you heard rhetoric based upon a national vision?

Second, strategic voting has helped to entrench the shift in electoral media coverage from that of substantive issues to the interminable discussion of political strategy, polling and optics.

In an age of eight-second sound bites and 140-character tweets, it’s far easier for the media to cover elections that are characterized by strategic voting “plays” as opposed to nuanced policy differences hashed out in long debates.

When our political leaders implicitly or explicitly incite citizens to vote for them in order to stop another leader or party, they reduce the quality of political debate in this country.

Lastly, the preponderance of strategic voting has ultimately corroded Canadian democracy through distorting electoral outcomes in not-so-subtle ways.

While ending the country’s unjust first-past-the-post system and ushering in proportional representation would greatly enhance our democracy, such a major reform would require legislative support from a majority of MPs.

But ending the cynical practice of strategic voting is entirely within the hands of voters and the political class.

Come election time, if parties, and in turn voters, weren’t so preoccupied with whom they “must defeat”, it’s likely the public would pay more attention to the policy proposals of all parties.

Where strategic voting will inevitably still play a role in this election is on the ground.

In ridings where there is a strong Liberal or NDP candidate battling a high-profile Conservative incumbent, it’s only logical that many progressives will be inclined to vote strategically.

But the prohibitive shackles that so forcefully propelled strategic voting behavior in previous campaigns have suddenly broken.

Why? The unprecedented competitive nature of this campaign surely plays a role.

In a sense, voters have thus far been liberated to assess their political options free of pleas to vote one way or another to stop something.

Indeed, if this trend is sustained in the lead up to October 19, it will no doubt be an encouraging sign for the health of Canadian democracy.

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