Voting algorithm flowchart for Canadian elections


in Daily updates

The above is based on a few simple rules:

  1. If you have the chance to influence the outcome in a preferable way, do so.
  2. If you cannot, use your vote in symbolic support of whichever platform you find most appealing,
  3. Provided they have fielded a decent candidate in your riding.

It is a pragmatic approach that I think can be applied regardless of one’s political beliefs or ideology.

How would other people structure this differently? Note that it doesn’t address any issues about why you prefer one platform to another, nor what characteristics you would find unacceptable in your representative.

{ 31 comments… read them below or add one }

tristan September 12, 2008 at 8:56 am

It would be far better not to know whether your riding was likely to be close or not, because then people’s voting choice would not be skewered by past results in the same way.

The problem with this chart is that its inherently conservative. It has in fact been the case that new parties won seats, but this probably would not have happened if people had always voted for the most desirable candidate out of the likely winners considering the previous’ elections’ results.

Milan September 12, 2008 at 9:18 am

Two types of errors are possible:

(1) You incorrectly believe that your ideal candidate cannot win, so you vote for a less good compromise option.
(2) You incorrectly believe that your ideal candidate CAN win, causing you to vote for them rather than helping to decide a close race between other parties.

I would argue that type (2) errors are significantly more common than type (1) errors, though I would be very interested to see any data that has tried to examine this.

Milan September 12, 2008 at 9:19 am

Also, Tristan, some people will always know which ridings are close and which are not. Forbidding the public transmission of that information would put some voters in a more strategic position than others. It might also encourage electoral strategies based on tricking people about the probability of different outcomes.

BuddyRich September 12, 2008 at 9:21 am

How do past results play into current polling figures?

I think under the current system you have to know whether your riding will be close or not if you are to make an informed vote. Take these two scenarios:

Say I am an NDP supporter, but if I hear polls are indicating its a close race between the Cons and Libs, I might switch my vote to Libs… That’s only because the Cons ideology and my NDP ideologies are miles apart, while there is much more similarity between the NDP and Libs. There are still differences, but differences I can live with vs. those of the Conservatives.

Not sure what I would do though if I heard it was a tight race between the Greens and the Libs… at that point I might look federally and maybe still vote Liberal because it would give the Libs a better shot at forming a minority vs. the Cons doing so… or I could just say screw it and vote NDP anyway, though in all likelihood it would be a “wasted” vote.

Milan September 12, 2008 at 9:26 am

The Simpsons [4F02] Treehouse of Horror VII

Kent: Senator Dole, why should people vote for you instead of President Clinton?

Kang: It makes no difference which one of us you vote for. Either way, your planet is doomed. DOOMED!

Kent: Well, a refreshingly frank response there from senator Bob Dole.

Kang: The politics of failure have failed. We need to make them work again. Tomorrow, when you are sealed in the voting cubicle, vote for me, Senator Ka… Bob Dole.


Kodos: I am looking forward to an orderly election tomorrow, which will eliminate the need for a violent blood bath.


From the sky comes a scream, as Homer is crashing right into the Capitol. A few footsteps later, he comes running down the stairs.

Homer: America, take a good look at your beloved candidates. They’re nothing but hideous space reptiles.

[unmasks them] [audience gasps in terror]

Kodos: It’s true, we are aliens. But what are you going to do about it? It’s a two-party system; you have to vote for one of us.


Man1: He’s right, this is a two-party system.

Man2: Well, I believe I’ll vote for a third-party candidate.

Kang: Go ahead, throw your vote away.

[Kang and Kodos laugh out loud]

[Ross Perot smashes his “Perot 96” hat]

R.K. September 12, 2008 at 10:10 am

I would use the following idealized approach:

Let A be the chance I will be able to influence which mainstream candidate wins
Let B be the degree to which I prefer a non-mainstream candidate to a mainstream one

If B > A, vote for a non-mainstream candidate.

The approach could be made a lot more complex, incorporating factors like the importance of this particular election (which may have an impact on risk aversion).

Of course, there is always Arrow’s impossibility theorem to contend with.

Anonymous September 12, 2008 at 12:52 pm

The election has arrived – this is our chance to elect a government that takes climate change seriously. We want to introduce you to a new, grassroots strategic voting effort: Vote For Climate. If you support working together to elect a climate-friendly government and want to create positive change this election, then please get involved. Help spread the word to family, friends and colleagues in ridings across the country. Thanks!

Strategic voting in Canada’s federal election helps fight climate change!

Anonymous September 12, 2008 at 12:54 pm
??? September 12, 2008 at 8:09 pm

Strategic voting is bogus. I don’t see how anyone who takes democracy seriously is fine with the idea of strategic voting. Why vote for the lesser of two evils when there are other, not so evil options available? What kind of absurd “strategy” ends in voting for a bad party? If people started voting for the political parties they actual agreed with and cut out all this so called strategic voting the political situation could be very different in this country.

Or maybe if we keep up all this strategic voting we can eventually have the same two party system our neighbors have. And boy wouldn’t that be great!

Sarah September 13, 2008 at 1:51 am

I broadly agree with your approach. So saying, in the last election in which I was eligible to vote I faced a non-competitive riding where a total of three candidates were running and the only one representing a party I did not deplore was a religious lunatic. As such, I instructed my proxy voter to abstain from voting on my behalf, which she duly did. I would likely have submitted a spoiled ballot (as a friend of mine once did, scrawling “You are all shit” on it in a concise summary of his views) were it not unreasonable to bully my proxy into going to the polling station in order to spoil a ballot on my behalf (she too was non-voting, for the same reasons).
I’m not sure what that proves. To some extent I agree with Tristan – basing everything on past results produces poor outcomes, partly because the salient issues and/or party stances can shift significantly. In this instance, a fourth candidate running on a platform which involved neither violent imperialism nor religious lunacy would almost certainly have picked up at least two votes.

Sarah September 13, 2008 at 1:58 am

On a tangent, I recall a lecture in Oxford where we were all instructed to presume as rational voters that our vote would not make a difference because no constituency was ever won by one vote. A lad raised his hand and interjected “In the last election our constituency was won by one vote!”. The lecturer questionned the lad on where he lived and then looked cross. Finally, he said “What happened?” and was told that they repeated the ballot with a result of victory by the same candidate, this time with a six vote margin. “Well,” the lecturer concluded with satisfaction, “As you can see a single vote doesn’t make a difference.”
I disagreed with his evaluation then and I still disagree with it now.

??? September 14, 2008 at 10:04 pm

WASHINGTON, DC—Supporters of presidential candidate Ralph Nader blamed his defeat Tuesday on George W. Bush and John Kerry, claiming that the two candidates “ate up” his share of the electoral votes. “This election was stolen out from under Mr. Nader by Bush and Kerry, who diverted his votes to the right and the left,” Nader campaign manager Theresa Amato said. “It’s an outrage. If Nader were the only candidate, he would be president right now.” In his concession speech, Nader characterized Bush and Kerry as spoilers.

Milan September 15, 2008 at 12:42 am

What kind of absurd “strategy” ends in voting for a bad party?

The political system almost never offers us a party or candidate that meets our preferences perfectly. It is always a matter of choosing whoever has the most advantages relative to their defects.

See previously: Democracy as constraint

. September 15, 2008 at 1:08 am

The Politics of Elgin Street

Sure, we all know Ottawa Centre was won by the NDP in the last two elections, and that before that Mac Harb represented the Liberals for a few rounds of Parliament. And you probably even know by how many votes each won by, so that even in this first-past-the-post system, you could get a sense of how strong of a mandate the winner had. For Ottawa Centre, Paul Dewer got 37% of the vote in the last election, beating out his next best rival, Richard Mahoney (two-time loser? Ouch) by almost 8 percentage points. You might have also known that the Greens did not do too shabbily in the last election. David Chernushenko got over 10% of the popular vote in Ottawa Centre, making it among the best performances for a Green Party candidate in any riding.

??? September 15, 2008 at 3:58 am

Fair enough. But I’m still convinced strategic voting would lead to a two party system. Stamp out all the “fringe” parties and narrow it down to a choice between the so-called left and the so-called right. A choice between bad and worse. No thanks.

. September 15, 2008 at 1:38 pm
. September 15, 2008 at 4:35 pm

The 2008 UBC Election Stock Market is a financial market in which the ultimate values of the contracts being traded are based on the outcome of the 40th Canadian Federal Election to the House of Commons in Ottawa. For details regarding the contracts being traded consult the information in the trader’s manual.

Seats prediction (15 September 2008)

148 Conservative seats, 79 Liberal ones, 42 for the NDP, and 34 for the Bloc.

. September 15, 2008 at 4:37 pm

On September 7, 2008, the House of Commons was dissolved due to the Canadian federal election, 2008. The composition of the House at the time was as follows:

Conservative Party – 127
Liberal Party – 95
Bloc Québécois – 48
New Democratic Party – 30
Green Party – 1
Independent – 3
Vacant – 4

Total – 308

. September 15, 2008 at 4:46 pm

2006 election

Party – % of popular vote – % of seats

Conservative – 36.27% – 40.26%
Liberal – 30.23% – 33.44%
Bloc Quebecois – 10.48% – 16.56%
New Democrats – 17.48% – 9.42%
Green – 4.48% – 0%

Anonymous September 15, 2008 at 6:43 pm

This is too complicated for me. For me, it’s simple: I’m voting for the candidate I like. I’m not voting for a candidate I don’t like. I’m not even voting for the party I like if I don’t like the candidate. The candidate matters; if it didn’t, then let’s just vote directly for Harper, Dion, Layton, Duceppe, or May, and not bother electing MPs at all.

I don’t believe in voting to send a guy to Ottawa who I don’t believe in. No flowcharts or algorithms necessary. Sorry.

. September 16, 2008 at 3:58 pm

Welcome to The Political Compass

There’s abundant evidence for the need of it. The old one-dimensional categories of ‘right’ and ‘left’, established for the seating arrangement of the French National Assembly of 1789, are overly simplistic for today’s complex political landscape. For example, who are the ‘conservatives’ in today’s Russia? Are they the unreconstructed Stalinists, or the reformers who have adopted the right-wing views of conservatives like Margaret Thatcher ?

. September 22, 2008 at 7:49 pm

Dear Umbra,

I have a friend who is a fellow environmental studies major, and he says he’s not going to vote because he “doesn’t agree with the system.” I’ve had numerous discussions with him about how important it is to vote, especially when it comes to environmental issues, but he doesn’t seem to want to listen. My question to you is this: Why, as an environmentalist, should I vote?

Wyoming, Minn.

Dearest Nick,

I grant you, our particular system of democracy is flawed. But pouting on the sidelines is not effective. Politics contains no über-moms who will take your hand, listen to your complaints, and report your troubles to the president so he/she can take action on your behalf.

Adulthood brings with it the responsibility to be a good citizen, and citizenship requires voting. So does environmentalism. Environmentalists should vote in every election, and particularly in local and state contests for town and county officers, council members, state insurance commissioners, and state congresspersons. These are the people who decide on funding for schools, highways, and public transit, or who make laws forbidding people from marrying, or who allow developers to destroy wetlands.

. September 26, 2008 at 7:47 pm

But while the Liberals, the NDP, the Bloc Quebecois and the Green Party have all accepted the international benchmark date of 1990, the Conservatives have chosen a baseline of 2006. Because Canadian emissions rose between 1990 and 2006 by nearly one-third, that means that – even if successful – the Harper Conservatives would reduce emissions by only three per cent from 1990 levels.

Even that, however, is too optimistic, according to the Jaccard report’s conclusioin:

“… it is highly unlikely that the policies of the government of Canada will achieve the target of reducing national emissions 20% below 2006 levels by 2020. The lack of an economy-wide emissions price and the allowance for 100% offsets for industrial emitters make it highly likely that emissions will be significantly higher than target levels in 2020 and indeed might even be close to today’s levels. Since the government claims that it is intent on achieving its 2020 emissions reduction target, it is difficult to understand why it does not immediately convert the intensity cap to an absolute cap and eliminate or severely reduce the offset provision. It also needs to extend its cap to cover all emissions in the economy.”

. September 27, 2008 at 1:24 pm

The irony is, that as with most blogs, nobody really read theirs at the time – ordinary Canadians don’t spend a lot of time reading blogs because ordinary Canadians know that blogs are basically the domain of idiots, mad people and news anchors.

-Rick Mercer

. October 7, 2008 at 9:31 am

Dewar holds strong lead, poll shows
Surge to 44 per cent attributed to incumbent’s personal appeal
Jesse McLean, The Ottawa Citizen
Published: Monday, October 06, 2008

OTTAWA – What was billed as a battle of the titans in Ottawa Centre may be losing some of its punch, according to a poll commissioned by the Citizen that shows New Democrat Paul Dewar with a decisive lead over his challengers.

A COMPAS survey released Saturday shows the incumbent ahead with 44-per-cent support among decided voters, largely due, it’s believed, to Mr. Dewar’s popularity with his constituents and a weak national Liberal campaign.

. October 14, 2008 at 3:39 pm

Falling short of a direct appeal for strategic voting, May hinted supporters should calculate their chances of defeating Conservatives by voting Liberal.

She said Greens could not alone put Liberals over the top in many ridings, but they should “vote accordingly.”

But later Sunday the Green party released a statement stressing that May “has not called on voters to abandon Green party candidates.”

“Ms. May did say that, ‘Being honest with the voters, I acknowledge that there is concern over vote-splitting in a small number of ridings. But I am not going to say ‘vote Liberal here, vote NDP there.'” the statement noted. “I repeated over and over that I would not advise voters to vote for anyone other than Greens. I do not support strategic voting and I have not advised voters to choose any candidate other than Green.”

Sunday Dion made his strongest pitch yet for Green party supporters to vote for the Grits in Tuesday’s election, saying he’s been endorsed by a Nobel Prize winning scientist as the only leader who will actually deal with climate change.

. August 11, 2009 at 8:27 am

If there’s an inspiration deficit in our politics, blame it on the young

Lawrence Martin

Monday, Aug. 10, 2009 06:27PM EDT

A striking figure appeared in the most recent Ekos poll. If voting in Canada were limited to young people, the lowly Green Party would vie with the Conservatives and Liberals to form the next government. In most polls, the Greens score under 10 per cent; but if only those under 25 were to vote, their numbers shoot way up.

The survey, consistent with other soundings, is an indication of how big the political disconnect is between young Canada and older Canada.

Young Canadians have scant interest in old-style politics and old-style politicians. As they see it, the boring old guys (BOGs) who run this country offer no hope for real change. So they stay away from the polls and support a party that is seatless. They are the future, but they don’t register on the political scales in any meaningful way. They help ensure the lock on power of an intellectually depleted boomer generation whose passion and ideals have been peeled away by the advance of the clock.

Sammy D. February 11, 2010 at 6:45 pm

I have a question about your chart. What do you do if none of the local candidates are acceptable?

. February 22, 2011 at 11:36 pm

On paper, the MP possesses great power, but the idea of the backbencher as a powerless placeholder has become central to our politics. After all, the Westminster system functions, often efficiently, as the product of oppositional “teams.” Elections are presented as a choice of party and prime minister. (In a recent Ekos poll, only 17 per cent of respondents identified the local candidate as the most important factor when it came to voting.) At present, the most highly prized quality in modern Ottawa is discipline, both of behaviour and message. The party leader who exerts it is admired. The MP who disobeys is ostracized. There is a certain logic to this. “We happen to be individual persons, but we were also elected as a group of MPs under a certain set of promises that we also have to respect and hopefully implement,” says Conservative MP Bruce Stanton. “I understood that my role in this was to get my seat elected so that my party could put a new program in place.”

. May 16, 2011 at 9:41 pm

As the designated curmudgeon against Strategic Voting in numerous news stories throughout this election, readers might not be surprised to see me comment on its poor success rate afterwards.

I fully expected to do so, noting the disappointment of the various groups at their incorrect calls and the evident reelection of the Conservative government with a majority mandate.

However, now I’m being told that the groups view their efforts as being a success, and that they’re planning to repeat them all over ahead next time. Oh brother. I think we need to be really clear on their record in that case.

The problem with the strategic voting websites is that their electoral analysis was incompetent and utterly wrong in most of the ridings where it could be said to have mattered — leading to incorrect recommendations in many cases where it would have made a difference, and no recommendations in others that were overlooked.

. September 19, 2015 at 6:40 pm

Loewen: Do local candidates even matter to voters? | Ottawa Citizen

We find that, on average, local candidates exercise a small but measurable influence over vote choice. In the case of Conservative candidates, the effect is about two-thirds of a percentage point. For Liberal candidates, the effect is 2.8 points. It is just over 3 points for NDP candidates.

Is this a large or a small effect? Put differently, do local candidates matter all that much?

When the results of the 2011 election are transposed onto new constituencies, 37 ridings (or 11 per cent) were decided by 3.2 percentage points or less.

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