Some people have labeled 1CalgaryCentre as an ABC (“Anything But Conservative”) or a strategic voting initiative.
We are not. We believe that a progressive candidate, on their own merit (and a little help from this initiative), can win the forthcoming Calgary Centre by-election.
In almost every election, there crops up some group or groups which indicate that voters should consider voting in a specific way to deliver a specific outcome. In all cases, the outcome sought is to prevent a candidate or party from winning a specific riding or an election. Recently in Alberta, we witnessed the Democratic Renewal Project attempting to inform and sway voters to stop vote splitting and consider their “best” progressive options available in their riding. Most often, “anything but” campaigns are used in an attempt to keep a party with which some people are unhappy, from winning an election.
Strategic voting is nothing new and will likely continue for years to come with varying degrees of success.
But, more often than not, it will continue to fail. And those campaigns that work, have a limited shelf life.
Why is this?
Three reasons: It is a directive; it lacks respect; and it is based on a poor emotional connection.
1. It is a Directive.
Strategic voting typically arises out of discontent with a party or politician and is designed to punish them (e.g., the Vote out Rob Anders campaign). It is typically driven by a group of people or entity which has analyzed a lot of data and/or has a specific beef, made an assessment about a potential outcome and seeks support for the party or individual, that aligns with its own values and can deliver on that outcome. That’s a lot of things that have to happen to get a desired result. In some cases, it is predicated on the concept that parties are “better off cooperating rather than competing against each other.”
Herein lies a problem: this “potential outcome” sought has been identified by a select group of people. And this entity now promotes and encourages the public to consider voting in a specific way, which leads to a…
2. Lack of Respect.
Strategic voting depends on the public accepting this directive and acting upon it. This identifying entity, in many cases, while informed by public opinion and careful analysis, rarely interacts and spends time with actual voters. It is akin to “we are the experts, we have done all the research and we have identified something that we believe can be good for you (i.e., the voter).” While there are circumstances where this can work, such as a hot button issue or an immensely disliked/untrusted candidate, voters simply consider this directive and do as they please. They quietly think to themselves about the entity: “who died and made them the boss?”
Voters, while considering all options, dislike being told what to do. And such strategic voting entities are frustrated when the public continues to ignore what they consider the “best intelligence” and/or “what is in their best interest.” It is this matter of respect where strategic voting initiatives fail – it is hard for them to grasp that more often than not, the voters get it right.
And if you think it is hard for voters to cooperate and act collectively, political parties are even harder to convince. Political parties are independent entities and have every right to exist and operate as they please. Their mandate needs to be respected. Even amidst poor election results. It is rare that parties merge or cooperate – mostly on similar ideology and/or common values. This underlines the ensuing success of the merger of the Canadian Alliance (formerly the Reform Party of Canada) and the Progressive Conservative Party of Canada in 2003. Few would give Stephen Harper kudos for “Uniting the Right.”
3. Poor Emotional Connection.
One can create the conditions for the best educated and informed voter, and yet consistently fail on strategic voting initiatives.
Why is this?
Strategic voting comes from a vindictive place.
And yes, while the public does have its moments, by and large people are not vindictive. Being so, taps into the darkest part of the psyche and is not productive.
But this is currently the state of politics – lots of vindictiveness between politicians and parties. And the result is clear – party memberships are at an all-time low and voter turnout continues to decline.
The reality is, and always was, that voters want to vote FOR something and FEEL GOOD about how they voted. Joe Clark’s “Rainbow Coalition” in 2000, Barack Obama’s campaign in 2008, Mayor Nenshi’s campaign in 2010 and Jack Layton’s Quebec “orange crush” sweep in 2011 delivered on that kind of promise (the question of their sustainability is another matter entirely). Strategic voting can never tap into that positive emotion.
This is why we launched 1CalgaryCentre.
Based on our discussions with voters, there are many who feel that the current system does not deliver on the representation they seek. While we are admittedly working on the progressive side of the equation, we know that the final decision on a consensus candidate is not ours. It will be in the hands of the voters participating in this process. (And we hope to get a large sample of voters in the riding to participate.)
However, voters need to feel that their vote makes a difference on Election Day.
Hence, our approach. Voters sit at the top of our process. We are attempting to facilitate an organic process where voters from across the political spectrum can come together in a less partisan forum, assess the progressive candidates on their own merits and decide among themselves who they feel is best suited to represent their interests prior to election day. And they can collectively believe that they voted the way they wanted and feel they got the representation they wanted.
This will be their own decision – not a directive. It will be their own choice and it will be respected by our 1CalgaryCentre collective. And hopefully, they will know from their personal role in the process that they can feel good about the decision on Election Day.