Voting Conscience vs. Strategy

I’ve usually voted my conscience and beliefs rather than strategically — it just feels right, and how democracy should work. But after 10 very bad years for the environment I may be ready for a strategic compromise…”

Today is the first day of advance voting. I could pull on my boots, walk to the local rec centre and cast my ballot. It wouldn’t take more than twenty minutes. And I’d do it right now — if I knew how I was going to vote.

It’s not that I don’t know my political priorities, or how the party platforms compare. I just can’t decide if I should vote strategically or follow my conscience.

No election is about a single issue. But as someone who worked for years in the ENGO sector, the environment tops my list. As I mentioned in an earlier post, I’m a politically centrist boy from the suburbs at heart, and that makes things even more complicated — I’m flexible enough that I could, in theory, vote for any party. I haven’t missed an election since I turned 18 and in that time I’ve voted Green, NDP, Liberal and Conservative. (Yes, Conservative. Although not since the 90s.)

When voting, we’re really voting for three things: the party and their leader, and the candidate in our riding. But most people are prioritizing a party and leader when they cast their ballot.

Historically, there was a greater emphasis on local candidates. That changed over time as Canada grew and political priorities shifted to include more issues that were national in scope, and media and technology gave us greater access to their impacts across the country. But our current (some would say “antiquated”) first-past-the-post electoral system allows parties, like the Conservatives in the last election, to win a majority of seats in parliament with a minority of the popular vote. By comparison, a proportional representation system keeps parliamentary representation proportionate to the popular vote.

The majority of Canadians support environmental issues. But the Conservatives won a majority government with a minority of the popular vote, and then continued to govern horribly on environmental issues. The Conservative track record and platform on environmental and social issues has created a passionate “ABC” (Anything But Conservative) backlash. The NDP and Liberals were urged to forego representation in swing ridings, where vote splitting might allow Conservative candidates to win, and run only a single NDP or Liberal candidate. But politics being politics, it didn’t happen. So what’s an environmentally-minded voter to do?

Enter citizen activism through savvy communications, technology and design — and some good ol’ fashioned on-the-ground canvasing and community events.

Leadnow, an independent advocacy organization, has launched a marvelous Vote Together campaign. It lets voters, particularly in swing ridings, strategically pledge their ABC vote, and they’ve organized door-to-door canvasing in ridings where it can make the most difference. If enough voters are willing to “lend” their Liberal, NDP or Green vote to a party they wouldn’t normally support it could make the strategic difference between a riding going Conservative or not.

Greenpeace’s Change the politics, not the climate campaign ranks the parties on their climate platforms, putting the focus on advancing issues rather than ABC strategic voting. I suspect, in their heart, Greenpeace is aiming a little higher than ABC (maybe into ABC/L territory), which might explain why strategic voting seems absent from their campaign. This is more a “vote your conscience” than “vote strategically” approach.

An interesting and pragmatic blend of these schools of thought, from the nonpartisan political action committee GreenPAC, is asking voters to go a little further. They’ve endorsed a Green 18 set of candidates from all four parties, on the belief strong environmental MPs in parliament will advance environmental issues across party lines. Their Candidate Matching Tool lets voters identify their best “match” and directs them to support that candidate with donations or volunteer work. The matched candidate may not be from the voter’s preferred political party, or even running in their province. The chances they’ll be running in a voter’s riding are slim, so most of the time it won’t answer the question of how to vote locally.

My riding is a tight race that’s going to go either NDP or Liberal. The Conservative and Green candidates are a distant third and fourth. After chipping in for my “Green 18” candidate’s campaign, I was still faced with the same dilemma. 

Image courtesy Leadnow.

My riding’s past results. Image courtesy, Leadnow.

The crux of my indecision is this: Do I vote Green since my riding is guaranteed to go “ABC” anyway, and show my support for their platform (not just on the environment but other issues like digital policy) and long-term support for proportional representation, or do I vote for whichever party is polling strongest nationally between the Liberals and NDP, in the hopes that party will beat the Conservatives, thereby improving our immediate environmental governance? It’s a tight enough race that ABC at the riding level might not be enough to ensure a non-Conservative government. The strategy may need to be backing the candidate locally whose party has the best chance to beat the Conservatives at the national level. The latest polling suggests that’s the Liberals, who are barely edging out the Conservatives. With the margin of statistical error it may as well be a tie.

I’ve usually voted my conscience and beliefs rather than strategically — it just feels right, and how democracy should work. But after 10 very bad years for the environment I may be ready for a strategic compromise, even if I have misgivings about the Liberal and NDP platforms and leaders.

It’s still a dead heat between conscience and strategy in this conflicted voter’s mind. The only thing I know for sure is that come October 19, I’ll be casting a ballot for someone. I hope everyone else does too!

House of Parliament image courtesy, Bryn Pinzgauer.

Brad Pearson

Brad Pearson

Brad is a digital and print designer, and Creative Director at Second Revolution Communications. He occasionally acts in short films you’re not likely to see.

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