How to vote strategically (actually)

Elections, Politics

Strategic voting refers to voting for the candidate most likely to beat the one you don’t like in order to make your vote count for more. There are all sorts of websites set up to try to make this kind of voting as easy as possible for you. However, a really good voting strategy involves a little more complexity than just choosing the most popular lesser evil.


The first thing you want to do is figure out the popularity of each candidate in your riding. Even though your vote no longer contributes to parties’ election funding, showing your support to the party you like by giving them your vote can still help increase their legitimacy, and that’s worth quite a lot – your vote always counts, even if your candidate won’t win because of it. The more of the popular vote they manage to secure, the more seriously other parties have to take them – this is particularly important for historically smaller parties like the Green Party, which frequently gets left out of debates and interviews. If you know that the candidate you dislike is unlikely to win anyway, then go ahead and vote for the party or candidate you like the best! Sometimes “strategic voting” isn’t necessary.

 

If you find that strategic voting may be necessary in your riding, then you can consider voting for the most popular lesser evil, but donating to or buying a membership for the party or candidate you actually like. More registered members means more legitimacy, and more campaign money means better advertising and lobbying efforts so that their policy ideas can reach more minds and have more influence over the more popular parties’ actions.

 

You can also write to the candidates and their party leaders, and pressure them to consider the platform points you support from the party you wish you could vote for. Even if a candidate is not going to win, their ideas, if popular enough, can still influence the behavior of other candidates and their parties, during the election and after. This kind of citizen lobbying can do a lot more than you realize, especially if a lot of people engage in it! It’s also free – all you need is an e-mail address.

 

Candidate Popularity

 

There are a few ways to figure out candidate popularity, and I recommend using them all for the most accurate results.

 

1. Look at polls – multiple ones, since a single poll is rarely accurate on its own.

 

2. Take a walk around your riding and see which way it’s leaning based on lawn signs. Anyone with non-PC signs, or signs supporting CBC, public libraries, or other publicly funded operations, probably won’t vote PC (for example). If there is almost no signage supporting the party you dislike (or its policies), then they’re highly unlikely to win that riding and you can feel pretty safe voting for whoever you want.

 

3. Consider your riding’s demographics. Is it mostly old white people? Mostly students? Young families? Immigrants? Old and/or well-off white people and fundamentalist Christian families tend to vote for the most “conservative” candidate available (sorry for overgeneralizing, old white people and Christians). My riding growing up was mostly young families and students, and that riding has been pretty strongly held by the NDP for a pretty long time. My current riding is mostly professionals, immigrant families, and low income/single parent families, so it’s unsurprising that the Liberal party has held it for some time, and since the Liberals have been slowly falling out of favour with their historic voting base at other electoral levels, I wasn’t much surprised when they were ousted and replaced by a NDP candidate in the recent Provincial election. Demographics can tell you a lot about how your riding will vote.
*Remember that new seats have been added and federal riding boundaries have changed this year, which could change your riding’s historic demographics, and therefore it’s historic voting habits.

 

4. Check out the parties or platforms of other successful politicians in your riding. In Edmonton, we had provincial and municipal elections fairly recently, so their results can serve as a good test for how your riding votes – who is your MP, City Councillor, and School Board Trustee? The kinds of platforms they ran on will tell you how your riding likes to vote. Sometimes you can even see how many votes each candidate received, so you can tell how close (or not) their particular race was, although the 2015 Electoral report for the Provincial election hasn’t been released yet so you’ll just have to settle for knowing who the winner was.

 

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ELECTION!!!1!!11!!!!1

Elections, Politics

Our good friend Jim has called an election for the 5th of May. Since I’m a political science bachelor with a lot of non-politically-minded friends, I thought I’d actually make an effort this year to observe, dissect, interpret, and publish the goings-on of this provincial election in the hopes of making it seem a little more convenient and easy to understand, and a little less intimidating or overwhelming, for those friends.

I should state at the outset that I’m not a fan of the Progressive Conservatives, and that is definitely going to show in this series of posts. I’ll try to give them fair treatment, but I can’t guarantee anything.

So how does this whole thing work, anyway?

In order to make an informed vote, you need to understand how both the political system and the electoral system work. Not understanding them may lead you to cast a vote that doesn’t actually match what you want or need from the government. How can that be, you ask? I’m going to start with some voting 101 to get you up to speed.

For my busier friends out there, here’s a TL;DR summary:

https://nosuchnothing.wordpress.com/2015/04/10/election1111-tldr-summary/

1. Parties vs. Representatives

Most elected representatives in provincial politics (known as MLAs) belong to a party. Parties work as a team to set goals and get things passed in the Legislature. Sounds nice in theory, but it gets a bit weird in practice.

This gif is surprisingly relevant.

In Canada, party members have to vote together. If a representative wants to propose something, the rest of the party has to agree with them or it won’t happen. Decisions are often made behind closed doors between party members, and then brought to the legislature for a vote. MLAs rarely act alone on their own initiative, but pass everything through their party first. Once the party has made a decision about something, everyone has to vote in favour of it, regardless of whether or not they personally think it’s a good idea. It helps parties stay organized and consistent, which is good, however…

Imagine: everyone in your riding wants to increase corporate taxes. Literally every person.

If your MLA’s party also wants to increase corporate taxes, then your MLA can vote in the Legislature to increase corporate taxes.

 

However, if the party disagrees, then your MLA must vote against corporate tax increases, even if every single person they represent wants them to vote in favour.

If they refuse to follow the party and vote the way their constituents want them to, they run the risk of being kicked out of their party. They won’t lose their seat in the Legislative Assembly, but they may as well have. Because the MLAs in parties work as one, without a party affiliation your MLA is on their own most of the time so it’s very difficult for them to get their voice heard.

This is the face they will make.

2. Leadership

With Canada’s party system, the Premier is not chosen by a direct vote of all Albertans, but by the party with the most seats in the Legislature. Each riding has a seat, and elects a MLA to represent them. Whichever party can win the most ridings gets the most seats, and therefore gets to run the show. They decide amongst themselves who from their party will be the Premier, and they can change that person at any time without any input from Albertan voters.

Important note: Our entire system works on a first-past-the-post basis. This basically means that you don’t have to have the most, you just have to have more than anyone else. In terms of leadership, this means that you don’t have to have the most seats in the legislature to have control of the government, you just have to have more than any other party.

A majority government happens when the party in power has a majority of the seats. That party can basically do whatever it wants because it has a majority of seats and, because all party members must vote together, a majority of the votes.

The little “x” in the corner of this image is a lie.

 

A minority government happens when the party in power has more seats than any other party, but doesn’t have the most seats overall. This means that even though they control the government, the other parties can out-vote them if they work together.

A LIE, I TELL YOU!

 

3. Voting

Voting also works on a first-past-the-post basis. A candidate doesn’t have to have the most votes to win, they just have to have more votes than any other candidate. Seems to make sense, but there’s actually a huge problem whenever you have more than two candidates. I’ll show you:

If…

Candidate 1 got 30% of the vote

Candidate 2 got 70% of the vote

Candidate 2 wins.

However, if…

Candidate 1 won 25% of the vote

Candidate 2 won 20% of the vote

Candidate 3 won 22% of the vote

Candidate 4 won 23% of the vote

With 10% being spoiled ballots (meaning they were blank, illegible, etc)

Candidate 1 wins with only 25% support.

Yikes.

4. Making a decision

So how do you make a decision on how to vote? There are lots of strategies you can look at implementing, but I’ll tell you right now what NOT to do:

DO NOT vote based only on the party. Many people always vote for the same party regardless of which candidate is running in their riding, and this is a mistake.

DO NOT vote based only on the candidate. Some people want a particular person that they like to represent them, which is nice in theory and a good strategy in some places, but in Canada this is also a mistake. Voting can’t be that simple because of that party system I explained earlier, which is why it’s so important to understand how it works.

Shut up an listen, bald angry dude. This is important!

Deciding how to vote is a tricky balancing act between a candidate’s qualifications and promises, and the actions, policies, and promises of the party they belong to. A particular candidate might seem really competent and have great ideas, but if their party is going to ignore those ideas then you might have to settle for a candidate you like less that belongs to a party you like more. On the other hand, you may love a particular party, but if the candidate running for that party in your riding is an incompetent boob, a lot of important on-the-ground work might get messed up if they win, so you may have to vote for a better candidate from a party you like less.

How you balance that will depend on what you care about. If you care about local matters, like how your constituency office is run and how issues are dealt with in your riding, then you’ll want to give more consideration to the quality of the candidate than to the quality of the party. If you care about provincial matters, like the budget, or public policies and laws, you should give more consideration to the quality of the party, rather than the quality of the candidate.

I know it’s hard, but I believe in you!

You can also simply vote against the party/candidate you like the least. Lets say you despise the PCs (as I do). You don’t care who wins in your riding, as long as it’s not the PC candidate. You’d want to look at various polls and other predictions to determine which candidate seems most likely to win over the PC one, and then vote for that candidate in the hopes that others will have the same idea and your collective votes will push that candidate over the threshold they need to beat the PC one.

AND THAT CONCLUDES VOTING 101!!!!! Contact me if you have any questions, and I shall endeavour to answer them.

In following posts I will attempt to break down each party’s platform into easily digestible little bits so that you don’t have to do any reading yourself (because no one really wants to read through a party platform – booooooooring!), and also give a review of some candidates’ histories, qualifications, and promises. Can’t guarantee I’ll get around to all candidates, as there are many, but I’ll start with those in Edmonton and Calgary and work my way out from there!

ELECTION!!!1!!11!!!!1 TL;DR Summary

Elections, Politics

Voting 101 – Condensed

Most MLAs belong to parties, and must vote the same as the rest of their party as if they belonged to an all-powerful hive-mind. Failure to follow party lines often results in permanent exile from the party.

Our main Provincial leader, the Premier, is not elected by Albertans, but chosen from among the party members of whichever party has the most seats in the Legislature. And I don’t mean the most seats in general, I mean the most as in: more than anyone else has. They can have less than 50% of the seats and still control the government.

This is called first-past-the-post, and it’s also how our voting system works. When you vote, the candidate you vote for doesn’t have to get the most votes, they just have to get more than any of the other candidates. In an election with 98 candidates, if 97 candidates each got 1% of the vote, and one candidate got 3% of the vote, the candidate with 3% would win. That’s right. A candidate with only 3% voter support could represent you!

So to recap: A candidate can win with less than 50% support, their party can control the government and decide the leadership with less than 50% of the Legislative Assembly seats, and they have to agree with their party’s crappy legislation at all times no matter what.

How does one vote in this messed up system?

Compromise: balance your decision between the candidates you like and parties you like. If the candidate is great but their party sucks, settle for a less good candidate in a better party. If the party is great but the candidate sucks, settle for a less good party but a better candidate. If you care about local matters, like how your constituency office is run, give priority to the quality of the candidate. If you care about provincial matters, like the budget and public policy, give priority to the quality party.

It’s as easy as doing this!

Take down your enemies: if all you care about is stopping those motherf***ing PCs from taking office a-F!@#$ING-gain (or any other party/candidate you hate with the fiery passion of a thousand suns), figure out which candidate is most likely to beat them and vote for that candidate. Remember, they don’t have to have the most, they just have to have more than the person you hate.