Sunday, October 17, 2010

Dear Joe Pantalone supporters: Don't vote strategically. Do vote rationally

Strategic voting is a term that leaves a bad taste in the mouth. I get it. I'm not a big fan of it myself because I've seen it backfire. Some NDP supporters voting in the 2004 election, for instance, voted Liberal "strategically" and ended up helping a Conservative get elected.

I am a big believer in voting rationally, however, with a full understanding of how the electoral system you are participating in works.

Which brings us to the Toronto municipal election 2010. Here is a hypothetical situation I would like to ask all Joe Pantalone supporters to consider.

Imagine, please, that we had a more rational electoral system for determining the mayor of Toronto - one involving run-off elections.

In this Torontopia, all candidates would stay in the mayoral race until election day. Then, if no single candidate got more than 50% of the vote, we'd lop off the candidate(s) who got the least votes and head back to the polls. This process would be repeated until a candidate for mayor got more than 50% of the votes - and we'd have a mayor who the majority of voting Torontonians could at least stomach.

OK, now imagine we have this system in place and there was an election today and the results were exactly what the latest Nanos poll suggests:

Rob Ford: 43.9%
George Smitherman: 40.5%
Joe Pantalone: 15%

Now, in this hypothetical Toronto, Pantalone would be removed from the list of candidates for mayor and a final vote would held.

My question to Pantalone supporters is: What would you do in this situation?

Would you go and cast a vote in this final election?

Or would you stay home and not vote for either Ford or Smitherman?

Think it over.

OK, now let's return to real Toronto with its actual, unideal electoral system with your answers.

If you would not vote in Torontopia's final round of voting between Ford and Smitherman, then by all means go out and vote for Joe Pantalone on election day in real-life Toronto.

If, however, you would vote for Smitherman over Ford, or Ford over Smitherman in the Torontopia election, then you really should vote for that person - either Ford or Smitherman - in the upcoming election in real-life Toronto.

In real-life Toronto, there are no run-off elections, but we do have polls that function as unideal substitutes. They're why Rocco Rossi and Sarah Thompson have dropped out.

Polls are not 100% accurate, of course, but it's fair to say that it is almost impossible for Pantalone to actually win this election. Something really significant would have to happen between now and election day.

There's nothing wrong with parking your support with Pantalone and waiting for something really significant to happen in those days, of course.

If nothing really significant does happen, however, then treat this election as a final round of voting after a series of run-offs. You won't be voting "strategically"; you'll be voting rationally.

Now, I would never disrespect anyone who votes for Joe Pantalone fully cognizant of the limitations of our electoral system; a vote is a personal choice and you may get a personal sense of satisfaction out of casting a ballot for him. It may be a protest. It may be a performance. You may just find it more fun than staying home (or a kick in the Pants).

But if you would vote in the hypothetical vote just between Ford and Smitherman that I outlined above, then please don't vote for Pantalone. That would be a waste of your vote.


Iago said...

Polls are much more than "unideal" measurements of public opinion. Commissioned by big media corporations and controlled by political insiders, polls should be understood as functioning to produce public opinion. The media, through their polls, are succeeding in transforming the race in Toronto into a two-way race excluding the trusted and respected associate of a widely trusted and respected mayor. The establishment doesn't want social democratic politics to have a base of power in Canada's largest metropolis. Pantalone can indeed win, because polls for municipal elections, where less than 40% of the electorate even show up, mean next to nothing. All the work being done by big media to convince us that this is a two-way race will only succeed if we let it succeed. The folks saying choosing "Smitherman" or "Ford" on the phone to pollsters do not represent the electorate. A vote for Joey P is more than idealism, it is rational and strategic, for he does indeed have a real chance of winning.

Michael Wheeler said...

Hey Kelly,

I'm sure thousands of people are having this conversation with themselves this week, so it is seems appropriate, but it only considers the short-term:

Far be it from me to regularly cite Malcolm X but, "If you only give them dirty water, they will drink dirty water." If we accept dirty water we can only expect more of the same in subsequent elections.

If you follow apply your argument to Provincial and Federal politics, it means that you should never vote Green and NDP only in a few select downtown ridings here in Toronto. In short, abandoning the candidate that best represents your interests and values means you are less likely to see someone like him or her on the ballot next time around.

I could not agree with you more about Ranked Ballots however. I have also heard several City Councillors (including Shelley Carroll and Adam Vaughn) say out loud to the media that democratic reform should be taken up by the next council. Are you aware of RaBIT? They have impressive endorsements from all walks of politicians:

J. Kelly said...

Iago - I'm afraid you've take a fair point about polls and exanded it into a conspiracy theory.

Torontoist has done a good job comparing into past mayoral polls and results. You'll see in all the examples they provide, polls done in the last weeks of the mayoral campaign have been well off in exact %, but all have correctly predicted the eventual winner. That winner was, of course, David Miller in 2003 and 2006 - Miller being a social democrat who has endorsed Pantalone, which puts the lie to your overarching theory.

J. Kelly said...

Hi Michael - I think federal politics is a different kettle of fish for many reasons. For one, we don't have particularly accurate riding by riding polls across the country. Also, in a federal election, every vote gives money to the party you vote for. And sure, there are long-term considerations if you are dedicated to a particular political party or movement. A Green Party supporter may be looking two elections down the line...

In a Toronto mayoral election, however, there are no parties - only individuals. And so I don't know if I see any long-term considerations - certainly not any that can be proven. Mel Lastman won the 2000 mayoral election with 80% of the vote, for example - and then David Miller came out of nowhere to win the next mayoral election.

Also, please note that if you're voting for Pantalone for long-term reasons rather than that you think he actually has a chance to be elected - that is a strategic move. I think, in this case, voters should use their vote in a way that has a definite, immediate effect, rather than a more nebulous possible future effect.

Anonymous said...

I'll always vote with my heart, for myself. -Murray 4 Mayor.