Elections Canada as a Mental Health Initiative

While discussing Electoral Reform (and a certain federal party‘s failure to do what they’d promised about it), my fellow Canadian made an interesting point. He mentioned that one knock-on benefit of the existing multi-party first-past-the-post system might be psychological.

The more I think about it, the more I think he might have a point.

One criticism of first-past-the-post is that it encourages “tactical voting” or “vote not for the party you most agree with, but with the party most likely to win that you can most tolerate.”

An example: Given three choices Orange, Red, and Blue, you agree most with Orange’s platform and disagree most with Blue’s platform. Red is fine, you guess. Unfortunately, you live in a riding where Orange has little support. So you can vote for Orange, but only knowing that you’re “wasting your vote” by casting it for a party that will likely not win. So, instead, you might vote for Red because it has the best chance of defeating Blue, whose platform you disagree with most.

My fellow Canadian’s point is that this tactical voting might have a small, secret benefit.

The idea is that, by strategically voting for Red (the party with the most tolerable platform that is most likely to win in your riding), you have pre-emptively made your peace with a more likely future and have signified your tolerance of a more likely platform. So if Red wins the seat, you have more buy-in to the result and have already developed the compromising mindset that makes you more accepting of Red’s platform. Also, it is unlikely that your minority preference for Orange would ever be successful in the system, so by forcing you to abandon it early it encourages you to prepare for the more likely outcomes earlier.

This could make a voter less upset with the result, teach them how to compromise for a greater good, feel more in control of their government, and possibly even feel more engaged with the process as a whole.

I’m not 100% behind this idea, mind you. For one, it hand-waves over the resentment you feel that your preferred party was unelectable in the system as it stands and the belief that it would be different if the system were changed. Also, I could find no study of this effect (if present) and I would assume there would be if there were evidence. There’s a lot of money and feeling invested in the current system (and the cynical among you might believe that to be a contributing reason why certain campaign promises haven’t been kept) so I’d expect research to exist and be aimed in a supportive direction if it had merit.

And even if we’re extremely generous about this effect even existing let alone being beneficial, it can’t overcome the drawbacks of FPTP which include actively excluding minorities and women from legislature.

However, it’s the system we in Canada are stuck with so I find it interesting that there could be a small benefit hidden in an electoral system other successful democracies ditched a century ago.

I still want my ranked ballot, though.