This morning I woke up to no fewer than six different people having posted on FB lamenting about a poll showing a lead for the Wildrose.
From the article: "The poll was conducted Monday and Tuesday through an online panel of 1,050 respondents and shows the right-wing Wildrose at 43 per cent of decided voters, the PCs at 30, the New Democrats at 12 and the Liberals at 11 per cent province-wide. Of those sampled, 19 per cent were undecided."
Unless we can now force people to participate in online surveys, how is this remotely a random sample? In a first-past-the-post electoral system, and a poll of that sample size, this tells us almost nothing about the strength of individual campaigns. I've become generally bored of the endless stream of "polls" indicating this or that. From my perspective, they seem to serve no purpose other than fear-mongering (well, for those of us on the left, anyways; on the right the impact is more a call-to-action). This is problematic for me, as an NDPer, as the reaction of like-minded individuals seems to be hopelessness and despair, while at the same time it galvanizes the right (the PCs react to these polls with "oh my god, we have to do something to fix it" and the WR gains momentum).
Perhaps I'm just weird, but I actually have more hope now than ever. There's vote-splitting on the right! Votes for the WR are certainly not being drawn from core NDP support; when I see a WR sign, I see that as a "not PC" sign. In some ridings, growing WR support may well contribute to an NDP victory.
Now that I've brought up vote-splitting, strategic voting also needs to be addressed. I must confess: I used to be a believer. I used to think that a vote that didn't result in a winner was a wasted vote. But I don't believe that anymore, both logically and morally, because strategic voting is a compromise that pushes me to the right. Liberals in Alberta are, in my opinion, already further to the right than elsewhere in Canada, in part because they want to appeal to more voters. In the current election, they are led by someone who was elected as a PC! The NDP and Liberals in Alberta are NOT the same thing. Not remotely close. Certainly not close enough to justify "strategic" voting.
Is a vote for a candidate that doesn't win really "wasted"? On the surface it seems that way. But I think that each vote still carries weight, because the margin of victory and HOW the vote is split matters in terms of how a representative must respond to their constituents. Lets say a PC candidate is elected with 40% of the vote. I would think he'd have to work with his constituents in a different way in a scenario where 35% of the vote went to the Liberals and 15% went to the NDPer, versus if 35% of the vote when to the NDPer and 15% to the Liberal. I would go as far as to argue that the latter scenario forces the representative to accommodate more "lefty" concerns. By voting according to your personal political beliefs, even if your candidate does not win, your vote still has impact on how a riding is represented. It also indicates to the rest of the world that you will not compromise on your values.
Another problem with strategic voting is that it assumes that the quality of candidates are equal in terms of their suitability to represent people, and completely dismisses the fact that individual candidates need to EARN votes, regardless of party. I was recently involved in a conversation about Edmonton Mill Woods. Someone asserted that "the only choice if you want a non-PC MLA is the Liberal". (Full disclosure: I am working on the Edmonton Mill Woods NDP campaign for Sandra Azocar. But this blog and these views are my own.) Given that Weslyn Mather had already had a chance as an MLA for Mill Woods, and lost her seat to Carl Benito (and we all know how well he turned out), why on earth would anyone think she is well-suited now to represent the riding? In this article, Mather points the finger at her own supporters for her failure to hang on to the seat in 2008: "She blames her 2008 loss on supporters not bothering to vote." I'm sorry she lost her seat by a slim margin, but I think she needs to be taking responsibility for failing to get the vote out on election day. Each vote must be earned; to blame "supporters" for not voting epitomizes the stereotypes of politicians taking those they serve for granted. People don't vote because candidates don't give them good enough reasons to do so. I am really, really sick of the whole "let's blame it on the voters" excuse. Low voter turnouts are a systematic problem; a symptom of the broken political landscape, and "people not caring enough to vote" is a failure of all the parties to provide people a compelling enough reason to go to the polls.
Someone recently joked (or at least, I hope it was a joke) that perhaps to keep the Wildrose out, a "strategic vote" may be one for the PCs. It's clear to me that this would be compromising ourselves into something unrecognizable. As progressive Albertan's we've compromised too far, and for too long. Come election day, I hope that each of us votes consistently with our values, because without those values, all hope really would be lost.