A group of more than 200 volunteers in Toronto hopes to topple the Progressive Conservatives by encouraging voters to band together and vote for the non-Conservative candidates most likely to win.
But experts say this form of strategic voting can be nearly impossible to carry out successfully.
“Every vote is a strategic vote of some sort. It’s just a matter of the strategy you use,” Not One Seat organizer Tim Ellis told CTV News Toronto.
Not a single seat is a grassroots organization created specifically to oust Doug Ford from power in the 2022 election. The volunteer group hopes to identify candidates in Toronto ridings who are well positioned to win in an effort to prevent vote splitting between the NDP, Liberals and Greens.
“Those parties are splitting that vote, making way for Doug Ford’s PCs to win a lot of seats,” Ellis said. “Toronto can do it, Toronto can make a difference. We just have to unite our votes.”
The group uses a number of methods to determine who these “candidates for unity” may be, including their experience in government, their deep roots in the community, their fundraising abilities, surveys, participation election and past electoral trends.
The idea of voting strategically is not unique to the 2022 elections – many organizations and even political parties have made this suggestion. In 2018, the NDP makes a direct pitch to Liberal voters, encouraging them to vote for them by positioning them as the only other choice.
This year is no exception.
The NDP and the Liberals are currently trying to portray themselves as the only political party capable of defeating the Progressive Conservatives, who apparently have a steady advance in the polls from May 11.
The problem, experts say, is that polls are rarely able to provide accurate real-time voting data.
“It’s very unusual to have substantial, real-time local data on people’s voting intentions,” Tim Abray, doctoral candidate and lecturer at Queen’s University, told CTV News Toronto. “That’s why predictions, when made on the province in general or the country in general, tend to be a bit better than when made on the local constituency level.”
He said some projections that use statistical models may be able to accurately guess the overall outcome of an election, but “they aren’t particularly good at granular detail.” According to Abray, voters who may be trying to take certain actions to avoid vote splitting may in fact, unwittingly, be contributing to the very outcome they hope to prevent.
He added that there are also very few races, especially in Ontario, where there is a real three-way race.
“It involves an incredible amount of interpersonal communication. It involves coordinating people on a real level,” Abray said. “They really have to work together to achieve this. And there has to be agreement on the best strategic choice.”
“So what ends up happening is all this talk of strategic voting tends to muddy things up a bit, it tends to send people off in different directions, they can end up voting for people which they don’t really believe in or support, thinking it will prevent a worse outcome.”
Not One Seat says it will use a variety of communication strategies to reach voters, including creating memes and videos that can be distributed on social media platforms. Ellis said his “creative team” aims to deliver his message in a coordinated way without using paid advertising.
“Instead, we do all the basic organic stuff, every day where the enforcement team gets their posts for the day, and they distribute them. And then the people who respond to them are also invited to join this network . So it should be constantly growing and evolving with our message.”
Duff Conacher, co-founder of Democracy Watch, a non-profit organization advocating democratic reform, says it’s impossible to know if there was a time in Ontario history when strategic voting was successful because of a lack of information.
He said that for a poll or survey to be properly conducted to determine strategic voting, it should be done a day or two before Election Day.
“You can try to vote strategically. But you just won’t get the information that will really allow you to do it accurately,” he said.
HOW OUR VOTING SYSTEM WORKS?
Ontario uses the first-past-the-post voting system, which means residents vote for who they want to represent in their ridings, not who they want to be premier or what political party they support.
The leader of the political party that gets the most elected representatives in the legislature is then propelled into that position of power.
Abray says the system itself doesn’t lend itself well to strategic voting and depends on residents “paying attention” to whoever they want in office.
“The challenge is that our system is based on the idea that what you do is you choose someone who is going to set rules that you are going to have to follow. You are literally handing over a small part of your personal autonomy to another human being who, for a fixed period of time – four years – will tell you what to do in various spheres of life.
“The more attention we pay to some sort of strategic effort, the less attention we pay to who we actually select. And that can have much more serious consequences.”