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A guide and a plea for strategic voting

Strategic voting is accepting the necessity of voting for a less ideal candidate in order to avoid having the least ideal candidate win. For many, the least ideal outcome of the upcoming election would be a Conservative victory, but non-Conservative votes are divided between the remaining parties, particularly the Liberals, the NDPs, and the Greens.



By Alex Rake (The Cascade) – Email

Illustrations By Brittany Cardinal (The Cascade) – Email

Screen Shot 2015-10-07 at 1.24.23 PM

What is strategic voting?

Strategic voting is accepting the necessity of voting for a less ideal candidate in order to avoid having the least ideal candidate win. For many, the least ideal outcome of the upcoming election would be a Conservative victory, but non-Conservative votes are divided between the remaining parties, particularly the Liberals, the NDPs, and the Greens. For those seriously opposed to another round of Conservative leadership, the strategic way to vote would be to vote for the non-Conservative party most likely to win in their riding, effectively combining votes against the Conservative party that would otherwise have been divided.

Strategic voting is definitely not ideal, because it can mean voting against your ideals. However, the difference between a government you absolutely don’t want and a government that could just kind of be better is worth the compromise. And with the electoral reforms that every other party is considering, this way of voting not only looks at the upcoming election, but also towards future elections. It’s in future elections that ideals can come into play again.

The central resource for information on strategic voting, such as polling results and recommendations for how to vote, is There are other sites for even more data, such as It would be useful to combine voting recommendations from as many polling sites as possible to ensure that your strategic vote is most effective.

Can strategic voting work?

The short answer is yes. puts it best:

“Calculating the CPV across all 308 districts, plus the newly added 30 districts, we found 63 districts that would have voted a progressive MP if progressive supporters voted for one candidate instead of three.”

If strategic voting were properly implemented, according to the website, the results of the last election would have been an NDP-led minority government. We would already have had electoral reform.

There have also been past strategic voting campaigns which succeeded. The Ottawa Sun, in a recent report on the pros and cons of strategic voting, lists a few of these successes:

“In the Alberta provincial election before last, many Liberal voters went to the Conservatives to prevent giving the Wildrose Alliance Party more power.”

“In the 2004 federal election, the Liberals were successful in winning over NDP voters by warning of a possible Tory government.”

“In the more recent British election, some people turned to the Conservatives to avoid a labour coalition with Scottish nationalists.”

So, strategic voting can, and has, worked. With the right amount of effort, it can work here and now on the federal level.

Can strategic voting fail?

Also yes. In 2011, there was a federal-level strategic voting movement that failed. It failed because it had too few backers and some websites gave faulty polling information.

Also, as a 2011 blog post from Pundits Guide argues, “The problem with the strategic voting websites is that their electoral analysis was incompetent and utterly wrong in most of the ridings where it could be said to have mattered — leading to incorrect recommendations in many cases where it would have made a difference, and no recommendations in others that were overlooked.”

The key, then, is to make sure to understand how polling data is collected, and to use more than one source when deciding how to vote strategically. It’s also important to encourage others to vote strategically if the movement is to work.

What’s so bad about Harper?

In that famous book, The Prince, Machiavelli argues something to the effect that a good leader ought to be a tyrant, but one who does what’s best for his people. While not a tyrant in the sense that he’s going around having dissenting citizens publicly killed, the decisions of Harper’s government reflect a certain ruthless attitude that Machiavelli might approve of — but Harper’s idea of what’s best for his people is utterly out of step with a large part of Canada’s population.

Just because he got the most votes doesn’t mean that he represents Canada’s best interests as a whole; having 39.62 per cent of the last election’s vote means that 60.38 per cent of voters did not want the Conservatives to win. That’s enough unheeded voices to allow for too many problems for too many people. Electoral reforms — which, the Globe and Mail reports, the Conservatives are not considering — would assuage this problem of unheard voices.

As it is, Conservative leadership has led to a government of control and anti-intellectualism. Just a few things beyond this article that deserve scrutiny: Bill C-51 increasing surveillance of Canadians; the Barbaric Cultural Practices Act and its racist implications; the Fair Elections Act inhibiting certain voters, especially demographics less likely to vote Conservative; cutting of research funding, and firing of federal scientists and scientific advisors; pulling out of global environmental initiatives such as the Kyoto Protocol and the UN Convention to Combat Desertification … The list of controversial decisions goes on.

Promises of electoral reform?

In our first-past-the-post system, candidates with the highest number of votes in each riding get to represent their party in the House of Commons. In this way, a candidate doesn’t even need more than half of the votes to win, which is a problem, because this means the elected leadership does not necessarily represent a majority of Canadians, but perhaps only a third or less. Another problem is that, in one riding, a candidate can get something like 20 per cent and win, while in another riding a candidate can get 40 per cent and lose.

There is a way to combat these potential disproportions, and that’s through electoral reform — that is, through changing the system itself. Electoral reform comes in all shapes; one way is by introducing tiered ballots (as in, you list your first, second, third choices, etc.). Another interesting reform is through proportional representation. This means that if a party gets a percentage of the vote, they would be represented by that percentage in the government, reflecting more accurately the diverse views of Canadians.

Every major party besides the Conservatives is moving towards electoral reform. The NDP and Green Party promise electoral reform as part of their platforms, and the Liberals plan to look seriously into it. So, while strategic voting means possibly voting for somebody you wouldn’t prefer, it will very likely result in a fairer, more accurate system that would make strategic voting itself totally unnecessary in the future.

What about principles?

The common argument against strategic voting is that voting this way puts one’s principles at stake. Perhaps you think you are committing an ideological crime by voting for someone you wouldn’t have in a fair system. But the system isn’t currently all that fair; if you vote and your candidate loses to another who only got 20 per cent of the total votes, you aren’t represented at all. The chance for representation is not the same as representation itself.

The first-past-the-post system is the issue. A quote from political writer Paul Adams in the aforementioned Ottawa Sun article puts it plainly: “Our voting system creates the conditions for tactical voting efforts.” The principle that democracy is always just and pure is false in a faulty system; the need for electoral reform is therefore the more important principle behind strategic voting this election.


Even if this article hasn’t convinced you to vote strategically, please vote. Part of why strategic voting is necessary in the first place is that voter-turnout is too low for a split vote against the Conservatives to succeed. With the Fair Elections Act on top of that, voting is now more difficult for marginalized groups that likely wouldn’t vote Conservative, such as homeless people, or people who live on reservations far from voting centres.

And if you are on the Conservative’s side, still vote! If democracy is indeed the system we believe in, it’s important that we all have our say in the future of Canada.

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