I’ve always thought the concept of vote-swapping was problematic. Not only is it flawed in its own right but treating it as an acceptable strategy is like snuggling up to the idea that one party can function as a spoiler and that somehow, certain parties are entitled to votes. This is endemic to thinking of politics in a left/right dichotomy.
I just read Dipper Chick’s blog post explaining the problems with the Facebook vote-swapping mechanism. Her initial and important point is that it’s a manipulation of the already problematic first-past-the-post voting system we employ. Worse, it relies on blind trust, which mitigated through a Facebook app is fickle at best. Dipper Chick points out that
“…the biggest flaw in this vote swap system lies in the group’s major premise: that anyone but a Conservative is A-ok.”
And I believe that connects with the issue that I wanted to raise. “Anyone but a Conservative is A-ok” is a negative approach to voting. It’s asserting that you dislike a certain candidate, policies, or way of representing your interests so you will vote against that to ensure it doesn’t happen. Actually it ensures very little. By voting negatively you’re not asserting a positive participatory voice.
In my opinion, the point of casting a ballot is to assert what you believe in, to state that this is the sort of representation you’d like, and that these policies or ways of handling events are they direction you’d like our country to head. When you treat an election in this manner, you’re asserting a positive, constructive voice. Rather than say “I don’t like that” and not offer a solution, you say “This is the direction I would like”, clearly the latter is the more constructive choice.
Back to the spoiler idea I mentioned at the beginning. Vote swapping with the “anything but” attitude, and thus participating in a negative vote strategy denies your choice for how you’d like the country to head. You’re saying that rather than move in the direction you think is best, you’re perfectly happy to accept another direction. Yet that other direction may be equally unsuitable as the “anything but” direction for your stance. To understand this, you must stop viewing the political spectrum in an oversimplified left/right dichotomy and instead consider each candidate and party for the individual platform it represents and actions taken.
Consider this. Accepting a simplified left/right dichotomy pretty much requires accepting that whichever party has the greatest pre-existing momentum from your side of the left or right, is the one most likely to win and thus an ok choice for your vote. But that party may not represent your voice at all if you consider its platform. Just because it is perceived to be on your supposed side of the dichotomy does not entitle it to your vote.
Swapping votes in order to strategically not-elect a certain stripe of MP only makes sense in the white-washed context the left/right dichotomy with a refusal to consider individual policy. It opens the door to manipulation through entitlement, which gets justified in pre-existing polls. If you’re just following along with the polls, what chance is there really for much change? Wherever history has built the greatest momentum, the polls are going to dictate that you follow that momentum.
For example, one could say “the liberal candidate represents the left-of-centre, polls indicate he has the greatest pre-existing support, so it’s ok to vote for him.” But looking at that candidate may reveal that he doesn’t represent what you’d like your voice to stand for. If you do vote your voice, selecting a different supposed left-of-centre candidate, you get considered a spoiler.
But what are you really spoiling? Actually nothing if you stop looking at the situation as a left/right dichotomy. Without that dichotomy it’s nonsensical to be a spoiler. The left or right ceases to have any entitlement to your vote because you’re not voting left or right. The momentum of polls ceases to influence your voice. Rather your voice gains the opportunity to positively and constructively influence the country’s direction. Vote swapping makes little sense outside the context of a left/right dichotomy.