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Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Strategic Voting Impacts Harper Campaign Hopes

Strategic voting, or vote swapping, seems to have become more prevalent during this election campaign than during any other in Canadian history. Whether all this talk about casting strategic ballots actually translates into an impact at the polls remains to be seen but by all indications it just may.

The question is why? Why has strategic voting become such a major issue this time out?

The answer could well be that voters have finally begun to understand Stephen Harper’s strategy of splitting the left and sailing up the middle to a majority victory.

Most vote swapping sites and strategic voters have one thing in common. It isn’t making sure the Liberals win. It isn’t holding back the NDP, Greens or others. It’s all about stopping Stephen Harper by any means possible.

This is something new in Canadian politics.

Never before have so many voters been this galvanized or determined to remove a PM from office.

In the past many people have disliked a party leader or didn’t agree with some party position and simply voiced their opinion at the polling station but it seems this time out there is a real undercurrent of fear and even hatred being focused directly at the Harper Conservatives and their ultra Republican attitudes on the issues.

It seems that a great many individuals who are very concerned about the thought of what might happen to Canada if Mr. Harper were to win a majority are beginning to run a grassroots campaign of their own.

As a result of this, and a string of public “insights” into the possibly true character of the man and his supporters, the latest polls are showing the Conservatives slipping in Quebec and beginning to stagnate in other areas of the Country.

The potential power of self organized and widespread strategic voting has not been lost on the rarely seen but often felt Conservative war room. Their latest strategy has been attacking the concept of strategic voting as somehow undemocratic or foolish.

Lately, in a bid to shore up support, Stephen Harper, has begun to publicly speak out against what could prove to be one of the most effective and truly democratic movements Canadian voters have been a part of in some time, strategic voting.

During the last days of the 2004 and 2006 campaigns thousands of voters, concerned with the what might happen if Mr. Harper and his merged Reform/Alliance/Conservative party actually took office, independently voted to block his ambitions and in doing so caused him to lose one election and eke out a minority in another. This was before anyone even thought to organize or publicize the strategic voting process and before anyone ever considered actually swapping votes to ensure a Conservative loss in specific ridings.

Mr. Harper is finally beginning to look in the rear view mirror and realize that a large segment of the population simply doesn’t support another party over his but are actually aligned against him. His greatest fear is that the left may not actually be as divided as the number of parties would suggest.

Mr. Harper and his handlers are finally beginning to see that deep pockets, political spin doctors and access to traditional media are not enough to control public sentiment any more. The intenet now allows a single voter in BC or Manitoba to swap their vote with someone in Nova Scotia or Newfoundland and Labrador with a few clicks of a mouse.

Politicians have always been slow to recognize the power of technology. Blogs, social networking sites like Facebook or Youtube and traditional web sites cost little or nothing to access and allow individuals to counter the spin and work together like never before.

It’s nothing new for voters park their vote with a “second choice” candidate in order to make a point but this time around the idea has caught on like never before and it's getting more organized by the day.

The proof can be found in web sites like the "ABC" campaign of Newfoundland and Labrador premier, Danny Williams and the increasing number of vote swapping sites on the internet (which have been declared perfectly legal by Elections Canada and are attracting thousands of members) .

When you consider that Mr. Harper won the last election with only about 40% voter support doesn’t it say a lot about how much he really represents the views of most Canadians?

With eligible voter turn out averaging somewhere around 65% in the 2006 federal election and with only 40% of those who actually voted supporting Mr. Harper it’s hard to make the case that he truly represents anyone but his die hard supporters.

Harper's campaign strategy is and always has been about keeping the other 60% of Canadian voters, those who support centre and left leaning parties, split at the polls and allowing him to sneak up the middle.

The Conservatives are now beginning to see a potential problem with that strategy and that's why Mr. Harper has recently begun to turn up the rhetoric and begun to attack the concept of strategic voting as somehow being a bad thing.

On a campaign stop in BC last Wednesday Mr. Harper said, "We're asking voters to vote for the party they have confidence in to govern the country.”

The PM didn’t say vote Conservative.

He didn’t say it because he knows roughly 60% of voters have no intention of doing so because they don't believe he is the best choice.

The Conservatives have already written off those votes and those voters and they don't really care what they do as long as they don’t organize and keep them from winning.

Mr. Harper knows he has enough support to win at least a minority government if he can just keep support for the other parties split as it has been over the past few years and he is doing whatever he can to encourage that without admitting that he has a large segement of the population that doesn't support him.

In Western Canada for example Mr. Harper recently asked voters not to waste their ballots on the NDP because Jack Layton has no chance of becoming Prime Minister yet in Eastern Canada, he warned voters to be careful because Mr. Layton could end up being elected Prime Minister.

The messages may sound contradictory, and they are, but they are being put forward for a specific reason:

To allow Mr. Harper to achieve his ambitions of gaining a Majority government while having the support of less than half of the Canadian voting public.

The Conservative strategy may be politically sound and it may even work but it strikes me as more than a little underhanded and sleazy that anyone would want power so much that they would aspire to win an election without caring if they actually win the public’s support.

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