ONN had a special guest this week to talk politics.
SaultOnline had the opportunity to sit down and chat with Professor Trevor Tchir from Algoma University about voting habits and how to make educated voting decisions in the upcoming provincial election.
Trevor Tchir is a professor of Political Science, who I had the pleasure of learning from when I took my double major in History and Poli Sci from 2012-2016. He taught a number of insightful and thought-provoking courses, both Canadian-specific and more so on the international scale, on the history of political thought and theory, how power takes different forms within statehood, and various political systems.
Election day is June 7th. It is just around the corner, and Dr. Tchir has some tips for those of you who may be voting for the first time, who may not be familiar about how to be an informed voter, or who may feel totally lost about where to turn for resources in this particular election.
It can be an extremely overwhelming time.
Voting culture is a fascinating topic, and so many people vote a certain way for a plethora of reasons.
Some people may vote totally based on the virtues found in the local candidate, while others base their decision specifically on the virtues of the party leader. Some vote based specifically on policy platform, what they think would be best for the community, or what best serves their specific needs.
Some people vote how their spouse votes, how their parents vote, or deliberately against the influence of others.
Tchir ultimately wants people to remember that what is most important is a party or leader’s policy platform, their answers to questions like ‘what are the issues?’ and the values for which they and their party stand.
“One of the major misconceptions that I often hear is that on vote doesn’t really make a difference, and some people don’t vote for that purpose.”
However, Tchir wants to remind Saultites that these are not the kind of elections won by millions or even thousands of votes, “a few votes really can make a difference.”
Tchir gave the example of former Minister of Justice (97-2002) Anne McLellan, who was nicknamed ‘Landslide Annie’ for winning elections by a mere 15-20 votes.
Not to mention, even putting candidates aside, a few votes could mean the difference between a majority and a minority government.
Another misconception Tchir discussed is the inherent belief of many that minority governments are always a bad thing. Tchir shared that to the best of his knowledge, about half of Canadian governments in the last century have been minority governments.
He explained, “When that happens, parties are forced to convince other parties to vote with them when passing big legislation. This promotes compromise and negotiation, so don’t be afraid to vote for a party just because they can’t win a majority government.”
Being afraid to vote for a party just because they can’t win a majority can be a slippery slope.
Tchir cautioned, “This isn’t betting on horses or betting on baseball, so don’t just try to pick the person who you think is going to win.”
In many cases, this kind of voting – bandwagon voting – can end up hugely impacting election results and distorting public will.
That being said, there are times when voting with ‘ulterior motives’, otherwise known as strategic voting, can be an alternative to not voting or destroying your ballot.
For example, bandwagon voting can be strategic if the voter chooses their local candidate based on what leader is most likely to win, to get the seat so that they will have the ear of the party leader, be it the future premier or prime minister.
(Keep in mind, though, a vote for the local candidate ends up being a vote for the party leader, particularly in a parliamentary system. As stated by Tchir, “The local leader and the party leader come hand in hand.”)
Tchir explained strategic voting as “When a voter feels that their number one choice does not have a chance of winning, so they vote for their second favourite choice, because they actually have a chance to beat the person or party that they dislike the most.”
This tends to happen a lot in Canadian elections because of our first-past-the-post system, whereby many candidates can win their seats with less than 50% of the votes.
We have seen elections that seem sure to go one way and then by a twist of fate, turn a completely different direction, as was the case when Donald Trump won the 2016 presidential elections over Hilary Clinton.
Tchir made the point that many Democrats who didn’t vote for Clinton in the election, either because they didn’t support her as the party leader or because they thought the election was a clear-cut win for her, ended up regretting it when Trump won. He argued that, potentially, had they known that the Republican candidate would pull through with the win, they may have casted their vote and it could have changed the outcome of the election.
Hindsight is always 20/20. The best bet is to find a party platform that you can support to some degree.
If you aren’t sure what party or platform is the right fit for you, and are unsure where to start, Tchir recommends this tool, Vote Compass. It is a civic engagement application designed by political scientists and run during election campaigns, calculating what party you best align with based on a questionnaire with economic and social questions. More or less, it helps you to gage where you sit in regards to specific issues and actually allows for you to compare and contrast party opinions on the real-time issues.