Though I personally think it’s stupid, nonsensical and based on little more than hope and magical fairy dust, I do understand the urge some people have to participate in strategic voting campaigns. Our election system is a bit screwy, sometimes allowing candidates to claim seats with some rather low percentages. So yes, the temptation to try to use that to your advantage makes sense. But the problem, and this happens in pretty much every election ever, is that it simply doesn’t work. Why? Because polls, much like vote strategically efforts, are kind of garbage. A poll can say whatever it wants leading into an election, but none of it matters. The only poll that counts is the one where you have to go down to a school or a church or whatever and actually vote, and since there are often many undecided voters and because sometimes people change their minds when they get there among other factors, things tend to turn out differently than expected. So when you use iffy science to plan your methodical takedown of the villain you don’t want elected, it’s kind of like throwing blindfolded at a dart board. Maybe you’ll hit what you’re aiming at or maybe you’ll put a nice hole in the wall, who really knows? Not the strategic voting planners, it turns out.
The polls from the 2013 B.C. election are perhaps the most pertinent here. For a solid month, the Liberals trailed the NDP in every poll. On Election Day, Angus Reid—an established polling company—had the NDP at 45 per cent of decided voters and leaners, with the governing Liberals in second place with 36 per cent. ThreeHundredEight.com projected 49 seats for the NDP, compared to just 35 for the Liberals. If ever anyone was a lock for the B.C. premiership, surely it was NDP leader Adrian Dix. “IF THIS MAN KICKED A DOG, HE’D STILL WIN THE ELECTION!” blared the front page of The Province. But the only poll that mattered told a different story: voters delivered 44.4 per cent of the popular vote and 50 of the province’s 85 seats to the Liberals; the NDP’s 39.5 per cent vote share and 34 seats were a poor consolation prize. (No word on how many dogs Adrian Dix kicked during the final hours of his campaign.)
Not exactly confidence-inspiring. I asked Vote Strategic BC (@votestrategicbc), which encourages anti-Liberal voters to engage in poll-based decision-making, “Could you tell me what makes these polls more reliable than the ones that predicted an NDP government at this time four years ago?” Their response was frank, if nothing else: “Nope. Just something to think about. Some of my data is past election results. Current % projections from @2closetocall.” I then posed the same question to Bryan Breguet at @2closetocall; he replied, “I wish I had a good answer but I don’t… at the end of the day, we can only hope.” He mentioned that the 2017 polls used different methodologies; whether those methodologies address the 2013 polls’ shortcomings (including failing to account for the 11 per cent of voters who made their decision on voting day) is a different matter.
I’ll say it again. Don’t waste your time on this stuff, you guys. It’s time better spent learning the candidates and the issues and making the choice that’s right for you. You’re probably not changing the world either way, but your odds are slightly better.