After an Upshot article about strategic voting — “You Say You Loathe Ted Cruz? You Still Might Want to Vote for Him”— one reader had a question: “How about the idea of being honest with your vote? Isn’t this strategy another form of telling a lie?” Perhaps Canada can offer neighborly advice, after recently living through a national debate over the ethics of voting for someone other than your first choice, as a means to an end. An article in The National Post set the scene last October. “As a Canada obsessed with strategic voting prepared to go to the polls, Green Party Leader Elizabeth May appeared on television to plead with voters to stop: ‘That’s slaughtering us; it’s disastrous. In a democracy, you should cast your ballot for what you want.’ ”
Some Canadians are getting creative in an effort to make their vote count this election. They’re “vote swapping” and a Facebook page called Vote Swap Canada is promoting the idea in an effort to defeat Conservative leader Stephen Harper. The idea is that if you don’t think your preferred party will win your riding, you can go online and swap your vote with another person in a different riding. Political scientists think it could have an impact on this year’s outcome, but Elections Canada is warning against the idea.
Canada will hold a federal election on Oct. 19, and if the polls are right, it might just tear the country apart. The majority left-leaning nation of 35 million people has been led since 2006 by Prime Minister Stephen Harper, of the Conservative Party. In very loose terms, he is Canada’s answer to George W. Bush, a center-right pol from an oil-rich province accused of being hostile to science and to dissent at large. Because Canada has a multi-party system with a unified right-leaning party, Harper has won two terms as prime minister with Conservatives getting 36 percent of the national vote in 2006 and 38 percent in 2011. Most of the other 60-plus percent of the Canadian electorate would just as soon see him get bounced. But they’re splitting their votes between other national parties: the center-left Liberal Party (think: Hillary Clinton), the further-left New Democratic Party (think: Bernie Sanders), and small but dedicated Green Party. Canada right now is like “America with one Republican Party and three Democratic parties,” University of Toronto political science professor Christopher Cochrane tells me. “And it just doesn’t work.”
With four days to go, Germany’s federal election is going down to the wire. Latest polls put Dr Merkel’s Christian Democrats (CDU) three points short of re-election with its unpopular coalition partner, the Free Democrats (FDP). The opposition alternative – the Greens, Social Democrats (SPD) and Left Party – are also three points short of a majority. The election will be decided, not by personalities or policies, but by a modified voting system. So how do Germans vote? Every citizen over 18 has two votes: the first for a direct constituency candidate and the second for a party. This second vote decides the allocation of Bundestag party seats, with MPs drawn by parties from state lists. The two-vote system – combining constituency and list systems – is a post-war compromise between the Allies but it is the second vote, the Zweitstimme that counts. The CDU has dubbed it the “Merkel vote”, the guarantee that its leader stays chancellor. Their FDP coalition partners claim the same.
As you watch the Italian election results come in this weekend, ponder the following seemingly contradictory statement: for some Italians in some regions of the country, the vote that is most likely to lead to the policies they most prefer being enacted by the new government would involve voting for their preferred party in the elections to the lower house of the Italian Parliament (the Chamber of Deputies) but for their preferred party’s worst enemy – the party of Silvio Berlusconi – in the upper house (Senate) elections. How could this be? The answer lies in what political scientists call “strategic voting”. To understand strategic voting, it is first necessary to understand “sincere voting”. A sincere voter ranks the parties or candidates, and then casts his vote for his top ranked party: the vote is a “sincere” reflection of the voter’s top preference. A strategic voter, however, asks some sort of additional question before deciding whether or not to cast his vote for his top choice. Usually this question is “will my vote be wasted”? The easiest way to waste a vote is to cast it for a candidate who has no chance of winning: think a vote cast for Ralph Nader, for example, in the 2000 US Presidential elections. Occasionally, a vote can also be wasted by casting it for a party that has already won an election, but needs a coalition partner to get above a minimum threshold in order to govern. Strategic voting then might dictate voting not for your preferred party, but for its needed coalition partner; such behaviour is said to explain the unexpectedly strong performance of the Free Democrats in the recent German regional election in Lower Saxony. But there is another type of strategic voting, trying to influence policy outcomes. Social scientists Howard Rosenthal and Alberto Alesina have demonstrated how it can be perfectly rational for Americans to vote for one party in a presidential election and another party in legislative elections if one’s policy preferences are located between the two parties. The current Italian elections, however, take this form of strategic voting to a whole new level, as they provide a set of incentives for voters to vote for and against the same party in one set of legislative elections to pick a single government. Here’s how.