With the 43rd General Election now a week in our collective rear view mirrors, many people are doing a lot of thinking about what happened during the campaign and what the results all mean. It’s part of our nature to pick through the entrails of the results, look over the numbers and assign meaning to it all. It’s not that this isn’t a valid exercise, as there is some value in looking back at what happened, but it’s an interesting exercise none the less.
For yours truly I have been looking at various different things to come from the campaign, found in those entrails. I’ve been keeping my eyes and ears open to see what people are saying and writing, taking it all in and seeing how it all adds up. But one piece that really caught my attention came out yesterday from the Canadian Press, which told us something that probably didn’t come as a shock to most but still said a lot:
Yep, according to a new poll from Leger 35% of people voted strategically last week, with a large number basically waiting until the end to see where the winds were blowing to see how they would cast their vote. There have been other pollsters who have found similar findings when it comes to the strategic voting piece, and given our history, that shouldn’t come as a surprise. For better or worse, the concept of strategic voting has become more and more engrained in our voting behaviours.
But why did this piece in particular jump out at me this time? Well, part of it comes back to the different circumstances of this campaign in particular. This was the first campaign in our history where Millennials made up the largest voting block in the country, which promised to potentially make a change in what happened. Instead of Boomers being that biggest block, as they had been for a very long time, it was the youngest group of voters among us who now had that role. In this campaign, one of the open questions of this campaign was “What would Millennials do with their vote?”, a question that had a lot riding on it. So when I saw that Leger result, I thought right away about a number I saw from a Research Co. poll that came out just a couple days before on the same topic, except breaking the result down by age bracket. That result was as illuminating and gave part of the answer to that open question:
43% of voters ages 18-34 polled by Research Co. say they voted strategically. The group with the least experience in the process, and therefore we would assume the least experience in dealing with the arguments of strategic voting, turned out to be the biggest practitioners of the practice itself. Surprisingly it was the older cohort who were the least likely to vote strategically, picking the perceived lesser of two evils when casting their ballot.
That number does fly in the face of the assumptions of many who put the idea out there that Millennials would be less likely to vote strategically and more likely to vote for their wants and desires. That number also is a validation of the Liberals campaign strategy in this race, as many of those strategic voters would have broken late for the Red Team.
These are sobering numbers that should make a lot of politicos think about how to approach their campaigns going forward for a few reasons. Firstly, this should put to rest the idea that strategic voting is going anywhere for a long time as a feature of our politics. We can bemoan the practice and its effects on our elections, but people are voting with their votes when it comes to the practice itself. That means that parties need to figure out better strategies of overcoming that barrier going forward.
Secondly, this figure also goes to show that while campaign matters, so does the period running up to a campaign and general readiness for them. The number from that Leger study that should ring in the ears of New Democrats for the months to come was that “46% of respondents who ultimately voted Liberal said they considered voting for the NDP during the campaign.” Think about that folks; almost have of those who ended up voting Red seriously considered voting Orange instead. You could look at that as a sign of a great campaign, which is a totally legit way of seeing it. But you can also see that what was lost by not being better prepared for this campaign; all of those people were prepared to vote NDP and they didn’t in the end because they thought the Liberals were better positioned to win. That is a lost opportunity for the Orange Team, one that should stick in the minds of New Democrats in this minority Parliament coming up as they prepare for the next campaign.
Finally, some will look at these numbers and automatically jumped on the Electoral Reform horse, saying that we need that now more than ever. While I believe Electoral Reform would be a good thing for this country, I would suggest that this problem around strategic voting will not be solved by changing out voting system. This is more of a behavioural issue now than a structural one. And while the current structure has contributed to this behaviour, I don’t think changing that structure will undo it. Even in a PR system, strategic voting behaviours can take place, so that by itself is not a panacea.
The “solution” to strategic voting is illusive but, in my mind, it comes back to the case you make to voters. The solution to this situation is political, and it comes back to convincing Canadians that another approach is better. I know that’s hard, but I would argue it’s not impossible, as another approach is just a behaviour, just as strategic voting is. I look at these results as a challenge to the various parties out there to step up their game and offer better to voters. The question is “Will the parties take this as such?” We will see going forward.