How do I decide who to vote for?

Politicians can only abuse their power and ignore voter preferences if you don’t bother to vote

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EDMONTON, AB, Apr 23, 2015/ Troy Media/ – First, let’s set aside the issue of whether you should vote at all. In my more cynical months, and after I’ve been reading a lot of Public Choice theory (the economic study of collective decision making, known by its practitioners as “politics without romance”), I’d be the first to tell you that the cost of acquiring enough information to vote intelligently is irrationally high when compared with the expected effect both of your vote on the election’s outcome and of the outcome’s effect on your personal life.

Voting is your duty as a citizen of a representative democracy. It’s a duty because your vote carries information that helps political leaders make important decisions. Even in a First-Past-The-Post electoral system (where a candidate need win only a single vote more than their nearest rival) your vote still matters.

Who to vote for must be based on the issues

Politicians who seek and wish to remain in office are not at liberty to completely disregard the opinions of their constituents, who can recall them or vote against them in a future election. A pro-industry candidate who wins by a handful of votes against a pro-environment candidate would be wise to temper their position and find a middle ground between the two sides, hoping to win by a more secure margin in the future. If the environmentalists stay home on Election Day, the politician has no reason to find common ground, because they have no information about the preferences of voters.

You ought to vote based upon the platforms of candidates and their publicly-expressed views on issues, and for the candidate you believe holds positions you favour and has a realistic plan to bring them about. Vote for positive policies rather than to “Stop Harper”: as much as some would like to have it be so, or claim the mantle themselves (I’m looking at Thomas Mulcair here), there is no Stop Harper Party, only political parties with diverging ideas. You need to pick one closest to your preferences and vote for its candidates. Dissent is valuable, but not dissent that is not backed up by an alternative conception of how we should manage our cities, provinces, and country.

To ensure politicians receive the information they need to find common ground, you should not vote strategically. As well as being dishonest (it is, essentially, lying about your preferences), it deprives the political system of information. Democratic politics is based on the idea that no single person or party possesses all the answers, and that diverse voices in debate arrive more accurately at the truth than all-powerful leaders. Voting solely to prevent someone else from getting in does not provide positive information to guide decision making and, worse, can give the party that received all the strategic votes a false impression of their mandate.

Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives profited from their demonization of the Wildrose Party in the 2012 election to convince many voters to choose PC candidates over their actual preferences for the Greens, NDP, or Liberals. Though not the sole factor, these ‘strategic’ votes likely gave former Premier Allison Redford’s government a feeling that they were doing right by continuing their party’s policies of wasting oil and gas royalties on operating budgets rather than saving it for capital investment and economic diversification.

Twitter protests a vote for the status quo

Of course, politicians can abuse their power and ignore the preferences of the voters, but they can only do so because so many people don’t bother to vote. No amount of protesting, Twittering, or letter writing means anything in politics if it is not followed by votes. Protesting without voting is essentially a vote for the status quo, or delegating your vote to those who do vote and saying you will be happy with whatever they decide.

So if you’ll be staying home on Election Day, I’ll be happy to cast your vote for you.

Michael Flood is a marketing writer and communications consultant. He holds an MA in Philosophy from the University of Alberta.

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