Will Strategic Voting Make a Difference?

With the Ontario Conservatives holding steady in the polls with around 35 percent of the popular vote, and the Liberals, NDP, and Greens at around 55 percent of the popular vote, several groups are urging strategic voting to deny the Conservatives the legislative majority that opinion poll aggregators (The Toronto Star, The CBC) are predicting.

I’ve been working with NotOneSeat, which is concentrating on Toronto. Another organization, VoteThemAllOut, is providing advice to voters of the left on a constituency-by-constituency basis. Its advice is based on the 2022 polls and 2018 election results. It is interesting that, in many constituencies, it hasn’t yet decided whether the Liberal or NDP candidate is more likely to defeat the Conservatives.

Splitting the Conservative Vote

The vote aggregators also show that two new right-wing parties, New Blue and the Ontario Party, have the support of 6 or seven percent of the electorate, slightly more than the Greens. Conceivably these parties could split the conservative vote, and lead to the Conservatives losing seats. The Conservatives do not appear to be worried about this possibility or perhaps think that New Blue and the Ontario Party will receive most of their votes only in solid Conservative seats. The Conservatives are not yet attempting to discourage conservative voters from wasting their vote on New Blue or the Ontario Party. Perhaps they will start to.

How to Encourage Strategic Voting: Don Valley West in 2015

For voters on the left, the 2015 federal election is instructive. Academic research (Daoust’s article in The Many Faces of Strategic Voting) shows that there was considerable strategic voting by NDP or Green supporters who switched to the Liberals to defeat Conservative Party of Canada leader (and incumbent Prime Minister) Stephen Harper. I watched this up-close as I was involved in Liberal candidate Rob Oliphant’s campaign in Don Valley West. As anti-Harper sentiment grew throughout the campaign, the message we delivered when canvassing was simple, “If you want to defeat Stephen Harper, vote for Rob Oliphant.” The Oliphant campaign had a flyer showing a ballot with Rob Oliphant on the red line and Stephen Harper on the blue, orange, and green lines. It even bought billboards advertising with that message.

The numerical results were fascinating. In 2011 the Conservatives won the seat with 23,000 votes, the Liberals (Rob Oliphant) had 22,400, NDP 6300, and Greens 1800. In 2015, the Liberals had 27,000, Conservatives 19,000, NDP 3000, and Greens 800. The Oliphant campaign succeeded in taking some votes from the Conservatives as well as reducing the NDP and Green votes by half.

This is the sort of outcome that provincial Liberal and NDP candidates now dream of. According to the poll aggregators, the problem appears to be that neither the Ontario Liberals nor NDP have the momentum that the federal Liberals had in 2015. (That said, the Liberals are claiming that their internal polling shows that last week’s leaders’ debate was a turning point in their favour.)

What I Will Look for After Election Day

If there are academics studying this election like those who studied the 2015 federal election, they will be asking voters after the election if they voted strategically. I don’t have the resources or inclination to do that type of research, but I can at least do some armchair empiricism by looking at the election returns on a riding-by-riding basis. Here are some of the outcomes I will be looking for.

A Conservative vote strong enough to making strategic voting irrelevant. If the Conservatives get a majority of the vote in a majority of the ridings, then strategic voting would be irrelevant. It could not create a Liberal-NDP-Green coalition that could defeat the Conservatives in the legislature. The Conservatives could probably reach this ideal with slightly more than their current share of the vote.

Splitting the conservative vote. Will the New Blue and Ontario parties make any significant inroads into the conservative vote? If so, in which parts of the province – safe Conservatives seats, or perhaps competitive seats? Could we possibly see seats where the NDP or Liberal margin of victory over the Conservatives is less than the New Blue and Ontario Party votes. Liberal and NDP strategists are quietly hoping for this outcome.

The failure of strategic voting on the left. This would be apparent in seats where the aggregate Liberal, NDP, and Green vote is considerably more than the Conservative vote, but so evenly divided that the Conservative wins. This is the nightmare outcome that NotOneSeat and VoteThemAllOut are trying to avoid.

Successful strategic voting on the left. This outcome would look like Don Valley West in 2015, namely that either the Liberal or NDP vote is reduced enough for the other to win the seat from the Conservatives, likely by a small margin. (And it would help if the Green Party vote is also reduced but the New Blue and Ontario Party votes are increased). To confirm this, you would have to look at the 2018 election results, as I did for the 2011 election in Don Valley West.

To conclude, the question comes down to whether, if the first scenario does not happen, voters on the left can get their act together and prevent the Conservatives from achieving a majority.

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