Cold Hard Wonk

No sentiment but politics

Watch Closely

Posted by JJ in Federal Elections, Strategic Planning (Sunday January 28, 2007 at 9:45 pm)

Voters in Canada have spent years either bowing out of voting or holding their breath and voting for the Liberals out of fear that the Conservatives (or the erstwhile Reform party). But now, there are workings afoot which could prove that what was laughably known as “strategic” voting may not be remotely necessary.

The theory behind strategic voting is that it is more important to keep party X from winning than it is to elect a party you want. This argument depends, in turn, that, one elected, a government will do anything it wants, without regard to future elections or public opinion.

Over time, this was a real boon for the Liberals, who relied on their role as poll-leaders to pick up voters keen to keep others out. Liberal candidates were often more likely to win than NDP candidates, meaning that boosting them could ensure the Tories’ defeat. Boosting the NDP raised the spectre of splitting the anti-Tory vote to let them come up the middle.

A potentially beneficial strategy, true; but one grounded in fear. Submitting to fear only makes your opponents’ task easier. Hope is the building block of civilization.

And what has happened of late should give hope to those who still believe in democracy.

Faced by an angry electorate and public furor over the environment, the Conservative government has begun to change its approach. They have reinstated programs they eliminated, and their opponents have not questioned the programs’ adequacy, merely the depth of the government’s commitment.

If then, public opinion and the threat of electoral loss can make a government change course; the underpinnings of strategic voting fall apart.

An interesting experiment then emerges — one to measure the mettle of voters. Will voters understand that information, and begin to make choices based on their hopes, or will they ignore it, and vote for their fears?

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