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In close Waterloo region races, casting a strategic ballot may be on voters’ minds: Analysts

CBC with Anna Esselment 15 October 2019


With less than a week until voting day, people across Waterloo region are making their decisions on who to vote for on Monday, and one Waterloo professor says there’s a lot to think about.

Some may be considering the idea of strategic voting to keep someone out of office, rather than voting someone in.

“Most voters are sincere voters,” said Anna Esselment, an associate professor of political science at the University of Waterloo.

“So even in spite of what’s going on nationally, in spite of whether a race might be close or not, most of us just vote sincerely meaning we vote our primary preference.”

She says there’s not a lot of research into strategic voting, but there have been several grassroots movements to get people to really think about the ballot they’re going to cast.

“It’s hard to tell sometimes when it works,” she said.

“Most of us lean towards one party or another and because you feel that your values align, it can be hard to put on a ballot a vote for another party,” she said.

Esselment said people also often exaggerate how they think their preferred party is going to do locally.

“Our preference makes us kind of exaggerate how we think the party’s going to do and therefore we want to put our support with that party,” Esselment said.

Strategic voters ‘over engaged’

Strategic voters may be “a little bit over engaged” in the election process, says Andrea Perrella, an associate political science professor at Wilfrid Laurier University.

But he says they’re also rare – most experts think about three to four per cent of voters cast a strategic ballot, but it could be as high as 10 per cent.

“They’re not just considering their vote, they’re considering the consequences of their vote,” he said. “That’s a lot of weight for a voter to ponder.”

Three ridings are considered too close to call by at least two poll-tracking websites — Wilfrid Laurier University’s LISPOP (Laurier Institute for the Study of Public Opinion and Policy) and 338 Canada both list Kitchener-Conestoga, Cambridge and Kitchener South-Hespeler as being up in the air. 

Strategic voting may be on the minds of voters in those ridings, Esselment said.

“For the parties and the candidates in those ridings, a lot of it will come down to their ground game. So I think voters in those ridings should be expecting that they’re going to get phone calls and door knocks and visits from their local candidates or the campaign team,” Esselment said.

In Kitchener-Conestoga, where the Conservative and Liberal candidates had just 251 votes separating them in 2015 and they’re facing each other again this year, “you can bet that both of those teams are going to have pretty strong ground games,” she said.

Asking themselves questions

There are still voters who are undecided in this election, Perrella says, and they may make up their minds at the last minute.

“At the beginning of the campaign there are those who already knew who they’re going to vote for, they vote for the same party every year, every campaign, every election,” he said.

“They eventually do, they eventually get swamped and saturated with so much information and canvass material in their mailbox that they eventually reach a decision, but not as early as the so-called decided voter.”

As people who didn’t vote in the advanced polls this past weekend continue to mull their vote, Esselment says they’ll be asking themselves many questions.

“I think the question that voters will have to ask themselves is whether they think the current Liberal government deserves to be re-elected. Have they done enough that has affected either Canada or their province or their own lives?” she said. 

“And if not, are you comfortable with another party being in power? Are you comfortable with the Conservatives and their plan? Would you be comfortable if it was a minority parliament and the NDP had the balance of power? I think these are the kinds of questions that you really have to think about over the next week or so before we go into the actual election day.”

Anna Esselment is a political science professor at the University of Waterloo.