Vote with your heart. Monday is a city-wide survey of our values

In these final days of the election, what has emerged as the hottest topic? Strategic voting.  Not streetcars or housing. Not cycling or waste reduction. Not urban agriculture or waterfront  renewal.  Not arts funding or green energy.  All of these topics have taken a backseat to the growing debate about strategic voting.  And not just for the mayoral race.  It’s happening in the ward races too, all across the city.

I’d like to contribute two thoughts to this debate.

The first thought is simple:  Vote-splitting is a completely unnecessary phenomenon, unique only to cities that insist on using foolish voting systems.  We can completely eliminate this distraction from our next election with a small and simple change called Instant Runoff Voting.  That journey begins at

The second thought is also simple: Don’t vote strategically.

Vote with your heart.

I’ll give you three reasons:

a) Strategic voting kills the comeback. What would politics be without the ‘comeback’?  The concept of the underdog gaining ground is one of the ways in which politics can be exciting, whether it’s David Miller making a comeback against Barbara Hall, Rob Ford making a comeback against the downtown progressive elite (as he calls them), George Smitherman making a comeback against Ford, or Joe Pantalone making a last-minute comeback against George.  The further back, the more exciting.  Third-place comebacks can only happen if a candidate’s supporters vote with their heart, ignoring calls to give up.  Imagine how boring American Idol or Battle of the Blades would be, if contestants just gave up and dropped out along the way, because they thought they probably couldn’t win.  That would be bad TV.  And it’s bad politics too.

b) Don’t let the pollsters shape the elections. Strategic voting is based on the premise that you already know how everyone else is going to vote – before election day.  This is based on polling that has been provided to you by media companies who usually have political ties to specific parties or candidates. Giving in to strategic polling gives way too much power to our pollsters and political strategists who we know are very selective about when they release a poll, which parts of a poll they release – or whether to release a poll at all.  Polling ruins elections, by marginalizing new and young voices early on in the race – before the campaigns have even started.  Polls are bad for politics, and strategic voting lends legitimacy to polls.

c) Elections aren’t just about who wins. Elections are a survey of values, and every number counts.  It’s the one time, every four years when you are asked what you think about our city.  How could anyone suggest that any citizen should do anything with this rare and precious vote, other than vote with their heart?

On election day, we won’t just end up with a mayor and 44 councillors.   We’ll also have an amazing thing: Over half a million votes, each cast by an independent human being, clearly showing what Torontonians truly believe in.

Rob says that George and Joe are the same. Baloney. Joe says that George and Rob are the same.  Rubbish! Each candidate represents a different platform, and a different approach.  How will anyone know which platform and approach you liked – if you don’t vote for it?

Voting is supposed to be a free market system, with no trade barriers, no subsidies, no embargoes and no monopolies.  You get one vote.  Everyone gets one vote.  It’s designed as the great equalizer.  Rich, poor.  Tall, short.  Downtown, suburban.  Left, right, green, grey.  One vote each.  And for what purpose?  To pick a mayor?  No.  To express what you believe in.  So everyone can hear.  The new mayor, but also policy experts, from all levels of government.  Editors.  Business leaders.  Professors.  And campaign advisors, who will shape future election campaigns. The proportions of the vote reflect who we are as a city, and everyone is watching.  We are Ontario’s largest market research focus group, and every vote matters.

To be clear, this isn’t a pitch to vote for Joe Pantalone.  I haven’t decided who to vote for, and I’m becoming less decided each day.  All I’m saying is, look at all the candidates, and decide which person most reflects your values and your view of what Toronto is, and could be, and vote for that person.

But what about Ralph Nader? Well, I happen to like Ralph Nader, and I like what he has contributed to US politics, and I wish we had more gutsy people like him engaging in our political system.  Don’t underestimate the immense power that ‘fringe’ candidates can have.  In Toronto, for example, look at the Green Party.  They can’t win a seat, even downtown, but people keep voting for them  – and in increasing numbers.  The NDP accuses them of being vote splitters, of being Ralph Naders.  Personally, I would take that as a compliment.  Even if a Green candidate only gets a few hundred votes, if the following election is a tight race between the Liberals and NDP you can bet that both of those parties will be doing everything they can to get those Green votes. And how do you get Green votes?  By incorporating elements of their platform into your own.  By becoming more Green.  In other words, the Greens can win, without winning.

If you think Joe Pantalone is the best person to represent your views and values, then you should vote for him.  Same goes for Smitherman, or Ford.  Or any of the other 40 people running for mayor.  Heck, I would even argue that if your favorite candidate was Rocco Rossi, or Sarah Thomson then you should still vote for them even though they’ve dropped out.  How else will anyone ever know that you support an Allen Expressway tunnel, or that you wanted to see a female mayor in Toronto (for the first time in 13 years)?

After all, your vote is your chance to be heard.  Don’t relinquish that right.  Each vote for each candidate will have an impact on the outcome, and on future policies, and future campaigns.  Has it occurred to anyone that Barrack Obama’s candidacy and victory was a direct result of Ralph Nader’s candidacy in previous elections?  Maybe the democrats, after losing votes to Nader, had to ask themselves “Why are we losing votes to this guy?  What’s he saying that we’re not saying?  How is he attracting young voters and volunteers? What is Facebook?”.  Without Nader in the picture, it would have been much easier to simply shift to the centre-right and try to erode the Republican vote.  But you can’t shift away from your core support, if someone is around to pick up the pieces.

Never underestimate the influential power of those who come in second, third, fourth or even fortieth.  Check out all the candidates, and vote for your favorite.  The so-called losers in an election, those who were brave enough to stick it out to the end, those who inspired people to vote for them – not out of fear, but out of excitement – those candidates make a difference in the long run.  They can shift the debate, inspire young volunteers, and open up doors for future ideas, future candidates and new possibilities.  But only if you vote for them.


28 responses to “Vote with your heart. Monday is a city-wide survey of our values

  1. Runoff voting doesn’t kill strategic voting, nothing short of PR can. We know this because of Arrow’s Impossibility Theorem.

    In fact, all votes are strategic. Your economic argument is a good illustration of that. Votes are a measure of relative preference. Unfortunately we don’t get any approximation of the nuance of our own preferences in the current voting system. The trouble of mentally shoehorning that disconnect is why so many are having trouble voting in this election.

    The vote is our only currency to “buy” our preference, and strategically voting is the only way to maximize the utility of that currency. Inspiring other voters is something may be something you want to “buy” with your vote, but it is still a strategic decision.

  2. Thanks Mez,

    In writing from your heart this love letter to the people in the City of Toronto, you’ve reminded us all why we vote is as important as whom we vote.

    Thank You.

    HiMY SYeD
    Candidate as The Peoples’ Mayor

  3. Thanks Mez,

    In writing from your heart this love letter to the people in the City of Toronto, you’ve reminded us all why we vote is as important as whom we vote.

    Thank You.

    HiMY SYeD
    Candidate as The Peoples’ Mayor

  4. All very nice, and all very naive. We can talk about ideals and beliefs, and all hold hands and sing Kumbaya, or we can do what we can to make sure that Rob Ford isn’t the next mayor of Toronto. Voting for anyone other than Smitherman (and I say this as someone whose first choice was not Smitherman) may as well be a vote for Rob Ford. I wish we had a different electoral system at the municipal level (this election has brough home how important electoral reform is and how it will be an important issue for me on a go forward basis), but we don’t.

    Sure, vote for what you believe. Unless you’re an angry, bike-lane hater who believes arts funding and affordable housing are fat to be cut, voting for what you believe is voting for the person you think has the best chance of beating Ford. And that isn’t Joe.

  5. Agree with Skeezix! My friends and I are voting with our hearts – our love for our City – and that means George.

  6. Regarding point A – Comebacks make for dramatic politics, but you don’t make the argument that dramatic politics are GOOD politics. A dramatic or suspenseful election has no special democratic function.

  7. Excellent piece. You’ve laid out very strong reasons for voting for the person you believe in. I don’t find it very convincing, though. Your reason “a)” doesn’t seem more than a wish to have a cool story in the history books. Upsets are always entertaining but we’re not in this for entertainment. Some, including Pantalone himself, have pointed to Naheed Nenshi (the new mayor of Calgary) as an example of this ‘come from behind’ win. Abstractly, they’re similar but Nenshi had momentum whereas Pantalone has not. Pantalone was closer to Smitherman a month or so ago than he is now, whereas Nenshi continued to gain support right up to election day. And Toronto doesn’t have anyone like Nenshi in the race.

    Your reason “b)” implies that “pollsters” are some evil manipulators. They’re quite the opposite. Professional polling firms want to provide nothing but a ‘snapshot’ that is as close to reality as possible. They’re neurotic about this. Their firm’s value and credibility is dependent upon providing clients with extremely accurate results. After Federal elections, there will be full page ads in national newspapers that boast the accuracy of a polling company’s prediction on the actual results of the election. Yes, for this municipal election there have been polls released that are very biased (commissioned and released by a candidate) but we’ve had enough done by reputable firms – and separate polls during the same week are giving the same results. Today they tell us Smitherman has 31%, Ford 30%, Pantalone 10%.

    Your reason “c)” exaggerates the relationship between casting a vote in our electoral system and the complexities of human desire. Never in the history of representative democracy has an elected representative fully ’embodied’ the needs and desires of a person he or she is ‘representing.’ We’re always picking from a list that’s ‘missing’ someone. In fact, it’s nearly always in frightening moments in history where you find people who “truly believed” in their representative or leader.

    I commend you for working so hard for electoral reform, but for now we are still stuck with this system where the person with the most votes wins. In this system, strategic voting is employing reason. Regardless of one’s ‘belief’ in a candidate, in this election we have a person who’s very likely to win that wants to literally destroy this city. It’s very easy to destroy a city; it’s much harder to build it up. I would ask people to consider it a *responsibility* to our city and fellow citizens to ensure that this person isn’t elected.

    We vote off the list we’re given (with no choice on who’s on the list). But we continue to do all the things that make the city better, things that have little to do with the elected government. Social movements, community organizations, individuals, magazines, blogs -all of these things- will continue to improve the city with little to no relation to the government. Affected by government, sure, but not dependent.

  8. Simon Dougherty

    A compelling populist argument all the way through, except for the strange bit about calling voting a free-market system… in the free market people “vote” with their wallet, and not all wallets are the same size… in fact, most people on the planet either don’t have a wallet or, if they do, it’s so bare that millions of “votes” still don’t add up to the “vote” of a CEO. The fact that democratic votes, as opposed to free-market “votes,” make all votes equal is another reason for people to “vote with their heart,” as you’re calling it.

  9. Hooman Ghomeshi

    Good article as well as good comments, especially by Mark Jull. I am wondering one thing about polls and perhaps Mark or someone else can comment. It seems that polls are usually done by land-line telephones and most younger people nowadays do not even have a land line. Is it possible that, despite best intentions, the pollster’s numbers could be way off if, say, younger voters turn out in large numbers and mostly vote for one particular candidate?

  10. Yeah, I’ve heard that polling companies only phone landlines, but I have no idea if that’s true or not. There’s a sense that cell numbers aren’t “listed” (like in a phone book) but maybe some are available to polling companies. I don’t think there’s anyway to know for sure since this variable isn’t published in the poll. I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a polling company that first recognized this shift to cell phones and tried to account for it. Again, they want to get an accurate result.

    (For the record, I find polling statistics personally distasteful. You don’t even have the dignity of being a number; you’re a sample. And it’s kinda depressing that they can know what 100,000s of people will do by only asking 1001! gah!)

  11. Mez, great post, I respect your opinion on this and the importance of what you’re saying, even though I disagree with your advice. Everything you say is true about votes for non-winners influencing future policy and sending a message. I would argue this message is weaker than you describe though. Just look at the Green party, all the years and all the hard work. A consistent 10% of the population supporting them and our environmental record as a nation is a scandal. It influences the other parties, but not very much frankly. We are agreed on the most important fix to this, better voting systems. Even your RaBIT proposal, while not as effective as PR, would be a huge step forward and remove most need for strategic voting.

    But voting with your heart to send a message that might influence future elections asks the voter to think in terms of decades for true change. I’m impatient for change and I think you are too. My approach is to say we are working within an unfair, broken, biased system. The rules of the game are rigged. We need to change the rules so that we can vote with our heart and increase political participation. But we if play by the rules of the given game that change will take a long time and take a lot of luck. I’m willing to ‘cheat’ in the short term to increase the chance of changing the game. But to do that we also need to combine our strategic voting with ultimatum’s to politicians for their support that require a strong commitment to democratic reform, even binding promises if possible. So far, politicians don’t think voters care enough about changing the system for it to affect their choices.

  12. Polls should be ignored but well, it’s difficult. Vote for who you feel will do the best job. Believe, as Mez suggests, that your choice will be noticed, though there’s every chance the winner won’t. Feel satisfied about who you voted for. The mayor whoever he is, will still have to work with the other councilors.

  13. I can’t be bothered dragging my ass out to vote for someone I don’t actually want to win. That just seems messed up to me, so I agree with the notion of following one’s heart.

    Maybe I won’t be voting for the future mayor, but at least my vote will be one less vote that can be misinterpreted as a mandate.

  14. re. cell phones

    Pollsters will apply demographic weighting to their results. So, for example, if they are missing young people due to not calling cell phones (some pollsters do call cell phones), they will give greater weight to the young people they did reach, so as to ensure that their results match the voting public. They have traditionally done this for numerous demographic groups that are “harder to reach” (notably men, who are apparently less likely than women to be the one to first answer the phone). There is an ongoing debate among pollsters about cell phones and whether demographic weighting adequately addresses the problem (as an illustrative example, it is possible that cell phone users could as a group be more left-leaning than landline users that otherwise share all the same demographic attributes as the cell phone users, in which case demographic weighting wouldn’t necessarily capture the views of the cell phone users).

  15. 1000 views, in less than 24 hours! Thanks to everyone who has forwarded, posted and tweeted this little rant.

    and thanks for all the great comments! Keep ’em coming….

  16. Terrific to be having all of this discussion. But, we cannot be naive or be dilettantes. Our city’s life is at stake. On October 25, a vote for Smitherman is a vote for our love of the City and HOPE.

  17. “Elections aren’t just about who wins. Elections are a survey of values, and every number counts.”

    I disagree completely. they are precisely and only about who wins. An election is nothing more than a crude mechanism for deciding who gets power. Period. And, as you point out, our particular voting mechanism is cruder than most. If Rob Ford wins, do you think he will really evaluate the split between his competitors in order to chart a course that reflects the will of the voters?

    I’ll give you a hint: no way. One of his favourite rhetorical devices is the unsupported to appeal to popular opinion. He constantly says things like “people don’t want bike lanes on the roads,” when obviously there are larger numbers of people who do and don’t, and I’m sure he doesn’t have the first clue how those opinions split, numbers-wise. He doesn’t care. He only listens to the people who agree with him. That’s reason enough to be very afraid of him winning.

    Polls give us information that we can use to maximize the effect of our vote. Over many years, that information has proven to be very reliable. The evidence shows that Joe Pantalone has a snowball’s chance in hell of winning. You can disregard that evidence or you can use it to your benefit.

    We rightly criticize the Harper government for axing the long form census. They’re committing us to ideology over evidence, and I dare say a good number of progressive voters in Toronto seem poised to make the same choice.


    If only there was a candidate that I “heart,” as then I would have voted for them. As it is, I’m currently driven more by fear than by love in _this_ election…

  19. What my heart is telling me now is that I love Toronto. And I will do anything necessary to keep it out of the hands of someone who will abuse it and make it worse.

    My heart is also telling me that none of the current mayoral candidates have touched it. Joe Pantalone would be a decent enough mayor, but I have not felt inspired by him, rather just felt that he would not make things worse. In the absence of the heart giving a strong signal, you have to look to your head.

    But it’s never about just the heart or just the head – most of our decisions in life combine them. I note that Mez gives rational, strategic reasons for voting with the heart. It’s the same with issues – we feel them viscerally as well as rationally, and if a personality doesn’t speak to our heart, you can look for someone who, even if they don’t inspire you, seems to share a belief in an issue that could make a difference.

    Like Mez, one thing I feel strongly about is creating a more democratic city government. The only thing I’ve seen in this election that has excited me is Smitherman’s commitment to find ways to devolve power to local areas. The people he has on board to look into ways of doing this are serious, thoughtful, and have a prominence that would be hard to ignore. As well, long before the announcement of this expert’s panel, I heard Smitherman in the summer talking about this idea when no-one was really asking about it, so he seems to mean it. If Smitherman made this happen, it would be a deep, real, long-term improvement to the city. I am willing to suffer a year of a dumb property-tax freeze for that. That’s head and heart working out a compromise together.

  20. I sympathize with all you folks who are struggling with holding your noses and voting for Mr. Smitherman come Monday. Some of us don’t have this problem as George’s campaign accept an fundraising endorsement, from forever scandal-scarred Michael Bryant, making it impossible for me even consider voting for him.

    Pantalone is ineffectual, Ford delusional.


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  22. Kevin Steele, you old dog!! Great to see your name again, even if it’s just in print!

    Mark Jull. You missed an important point about the pollsters. I don’t know if you were polled or not, but the pollsters seem to have been hired to confirm what the newspapers and broadcast media had chosen to be the next Mayor. (Yes, I used ‘what’; not ‘who’.) Strangely, many of the newspapers who had been panning Ford over and over and over again, using his name in the headlines repeatedly about why he was not a good choice, couldn’t understand how he got so far ahead in the polls. This is not a joke! –all right, it’s a joke…but it’s still true.

    Ben, you stated “The vote is our only currency to “buy” our preference”. But you forgot to mention that your vote will not choose YOUR preference. It will choose one of the preferences that has been made for you, whether you vote for him or not. Your preference in this election is powerless if it exists at all; and it could only exist if you took more time and trouble to examine the forty-person field for the office than just about every voter in the city has taken. If you did, then you’re exceptional, and my hat’s off to you.

    The best thing about the vote, regardless of how many or how few voters turn up to cast a ballot, is that they get to do that at all.

    Mark State, 2010 Mayoralty Candidate
    -If you, dear reader, email me at


    I’ll reply with a copy of my ‘White Paper’; offering you a surprising, genuine alternative to the above three.
    Instead of using their negative techniques of raising taxes and cutting jobs and services to help allay the city debt, I offer methods of leading the city in interesting, positive and proactive ways towards a debt-free and healthy future.

  23. Good advice. Enjoy Rob Ford, the new mayor.

  24. I voted with my heart. I voted Rocco Achampong, and I am sure glad I did. I’m glad I didn’t throw away a vote on Smitherman, who lost by 100,000 (although I was actually leaning more toward Pants than GS), just to avoid getting a mayor the media tells me I should be scared of. Some vote that is. If you vote with your heart, you may just inspire your losing candidate not to give up, and to try again next time.

    However, I do think this disagreement (captured in comments above) tacitly hinges on two divergent definitions on ‘strategic voting’. I take it that the author is admonishing against voting for a candidate who is NOT in fact one’s favourite. However, to me, if you already have a favourite candidate, then nothing else that happens will change your vote. So voting against a favourite candidate rarely happens – if you didn’t vote for him, how could he be your favourite? You clearly have no set values. If you are easily swayed by polls and don’t really know what to think about the issues, then you may in fact vote ‘strategically’ (ie as a sheep). Such voters who deliberately choose to defend AGAINST another candidate’s winning are the half-hearted voters whose cynicsm the current system depends on. The more apathetic the campaign, the more ‘mainstream’ these voters will appear to be.

    To me, voting strictly strategically –and by ‘strategic’ all I mean is that you aren’t voting for a preferred candidate, because he might lose – is pure folly. In that by doing so you are admitting that everyone else’s opinion matters more than yours — when this is the only 3 minutes in the span of four years when people are actually asking for your opinion. When strategically voting you don’t just admit that your opinions don’t matter, you take your meaninglessness for granted. The cynicism of the first-past-the-post ethos that dismisses Meslin’s pleas as naive tend to be self-perpetuating. Do you get such rampant cynicism in ranked-ballot countries? Seems like we are taking it for granted that we have no power. You implicitly believe that the mayor is supposed to be some sort of dictator, and that he will singlehandedly destroy the city. Perhaps a city that is actually so feeble that a 41 year old label maker and part time football coach from Etobicoke could destroy it– doesn’t stand a chance anyway. And maybe you’re being naive for trying to strategically protect something so feeble? Cuz that’s where such ‘Fear Ford’ arguments get you.

    To Those who opposed Ford and wanted to build coalition around Smitherman – why get agitated at Pants supporters? Why not get agitated at Ford supporters? BETTER YET, Why not prove that your candidate is actually better – if you can find the time to actually believe in something.

    Good luck to the new mayor. I didn’t vote for him but I’m sure as hell not afraid of him.

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