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Strategic voting could sink Conservatives

By Fabian Mayer, September 24, 2015 —

Four weeks out from election day, polls are showing a three-way tie between the NDP, Liberals and Conservatives. But just because each party has around 30 per cent support doesn’t mean they all have an equal chance of forming government.

Things are looking especially tough for the ruling Conservatives. Anger towards Harper is nearing an all-time high, and polls show a significant majority of Canadians want a change in government — nearly 70 per cent in the latest poll.

If those people vote strategically and decide ousting Harper is more important than their preferred progressive party winning, the Conservatives are in deep trouble. And there are many indications that this is the case. Only about 40 per cent of NDP and Liberal voters say they’re considering just one party. This suggests many so-called progressive voters are willing to support whichever party has the best chance of defeating the Conservatives.

If either opposition party gains a lead and emerges as the clear challenger, the anti-Conservative vote will likely coalesce behind that party. And if this takes place on a national scale then the Conservatives will lose — badly.

Even if this scenario doesn’t play out nationwide, strategic voting among progressives still has the potential to ruin Stephen Harper’s election night. As it stands, the Conservatives need to win numerous close ridings if they even hope to remain in office. Strategic voting on a riding level has the potential to make that an impossible task.

Several grassroots efforts have sprung up in an attempt to stop vote-splitting among the Liberals, NDP and Green Party. Slick-looking websites offer voters advice on which non-Conservative candidate is best positioned to win their riding. Some are even crowdfunding local polling in order to make accurate projections.

According to one of these websites, votetogether.ca, over 65,000 people have pledged to support the local candidate best placed to beat the Conservatives — a number that will only grow between now and election day.

Over 338 constituencies, that number only works out to about 200 votes per riding. However, there is greater incentive to vote strategically in close ridings, meaning that those votes may be much more concentrated than they appear.

Calgary Confederation, where the U of C is located, is one riding where strategic voting may make a big difference. A recent poll showed the Conservatives and Liberals are virtually tied with 38 and 37 per cent support respectively. NDP supporters who look at that poll and see their candidate essentially out of the race at 19 per cent have the potential to swing the election in the Liberal’s favour — as long as their first priority is stopping the Conservatives.

Similar situations are playing out across the country. In the greater Toronto area, eight seats were decided by three per cent or less in the last election. Seven of those went to the Conservatives.

In an election that might be decided by a handful of seats, strategic voters have potential to be a big headache for the Conservatives come election night.

Fabian Mayer is a fifth-year political science student at the University of Calgary. He writes a monthly column about Canadian politics called Last Past the Post

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