I've never cared much for the phrase “strategic voting”. It suggests a dichotomy that doesn't really exist. There are times when voting for the candidate closest to your views who can win is a principled decision. And there are times when withholding your vote from the leading candidate and giving it to a long shot is perfectly good strategy.
My friend in Alberta who was a lifelong Liberal, but voted for the NDP in their last provincial election was strategic, in that the Notley surge meant that in his riding the NDP could win. But it was also principled, in that he believed that ending one-party rule would lead to better, more accountable governance in the long-term.
By the same token, I met Green voters in the provincial election in ridings where they had no hope who had thought strategically of the need to build a party long-term that was unequivocally against development in a number of areas. The fact that I didn't agree with them didn't change the fact that, long-term, the money and credibility that came with votes would help their party long-term and was also a strategic choice.
Today, many US progressives are wrestling with this kind of choice, as the “Bernie-or-Bust” wing of the Sanders movement is resisting calls from their peers and their own candidate to support Hillary Clinton to stop Donald Trump.
I'm not going to engage in any Sarah Silverman-like cries of “ridiculous” here. There are genuine frustrations among Democrats, like this one…
But I'm prepared to grant that not every Democrat difference is as trivial as the taste of colas, and not every Republican will be as awful as self-immolation. As I've argued before, the power to withhold your vote is important. If parties just want to win elections, the Democrats could nominate Jeb Bush, because if all Dems supported him, he'd surely steal enough GOP votes from Trump to win. But in the long-term, we'd all be signing up for a long line of conservative presidents and rewarding Republicans for moving to the crazy right. So the power to say “no” to your own party is meaningful.
Me, I'd be in the middle of the Democratic fight. Bernie Sanders’ campaign was beautiful to watch, and built a movement I didn't know America had in her. I do believe that it will be necessary to halt the movement of jobs and capital with impunity, to ensure fair taxation, and have a social safety net and public services that provide a more equal society than we have now. (I even believe that Trump’s destructive campaign is partly the result of thirty years of business leaders being willing to create a lost underclass of voters, but that's another thing).
Yet, while it isn't trendy to say it, I respect and like Hillary Clinton. I see the flaws. She is a plodding campaigner and sometimes is too quick to see politics as the art of the possible without testing the limits of what can be done (like on gay marriage). I also think that she has been the victim of 25 years of Republican scandals that throw endless excrement without ever really coming out with proof or a coherent accusation of wrongdoing. (Quick, tell me exactly what they are accusing Hillary of in Benghazi, without falling into a word salad of labels). In a world of tweeted policy and empty celebrity, I have some patience for policy wonks with five point plans. They matter. And those who knock her compromises in the 1990s are often ignorant of the realities of what it took to end the Reagan/Bush era with the whiter, more conservative electorate that existed then.
I would say this about so-called strategic voting….it’s fine to withhold your vote if you believe (a) the difference between the leading candidates is not as important as (b) the future benefit of withholding your vote, through either building another option or influencing an existing one. I also suggest looking at this unromantically – a candidate who will reluctantly do what you want often produces the same result as someone who passionately does what you want.
There are big differences between Bernie and Hillary. She would pursue a more hawkish foreign policy, which has sometimes gone wrong (Libya, Iraq). She is less skeptical of free trade. She is more concerned with deficits and has more connections to Wall Street that may influence her. (Bernie has practically no oligarchs with him that he could lose).
There are similarities, too. Both will protect Obamacare. Both will retain President Obama’s protections for undocumented immigrants and their kids. Both will appoint Supreme Court judges who will defend personal liberty, choice, affirmative action, and don't see unlimited money in politics as a right.
This is no small thing – both are basically decent on issues of race, religion and inclusion. Compared to Trump, they are saintly.
Which leads me to discuss the alternative. I sometimes hear debates over whether Nader voters “cost” Al Gore the election. To which I would say this –it is legitimate to withhold your vote from the leading candidates. It isn't legitimate to deny that your choice has consequences as much as voting for one of them does.
Al Gore lost Florida by 537 votes. Ralph Nader got over 90,000. It is true that not every Nader vote would have gone to Gore as a second choice. It is true, by studies and Nader’s own admissions, that 60% would have (many would have not voted or voted for Bush). But even allocating those votes 60-40 flips Florida and, thus, the election.
Some people argue that voting for Nader over Gore doesn't mean you own the result because (a) Gore could have been a better campaigner (b) Gore could have won his home state and carried the day (c) Gore also got screwed over by a flawed ballot design in Broward County.
These arguments are actually ridiculous. First, just because other things could change the result doesn't absolve us from our own actions when, but for those actions, the result would be avoided. If I drive drunk and hit you with my car, it doesn't absolve me of fault to argue that you forgot your lunch at home and thus arrived at the crosswalk later instead of missing me altogether. Maybe Al Gore could have done other things better and changed other factors….but he also could have won with all those flaws had voters who preferred him to Bush chose him over Nader. If we buy those dumb arguments Nader voters use, then it would also follow that Bush voters in Florida aren't responsible for Bush, because if Gore had won Tennessee their votes wouldn't have mattered either.
Bottom line – I will defend your right to withhold your vote from the Democrat if you sincerely believe that the benefits outweigh the risks of those missing votes electing the Republican. I won't defend your right to deny that votes have consequences, because that's what comes with getting to vote like a grownup. You're allowed to argue that the benefits of punishing Hillary are worth the statistical risk of President Trump. You aren't allowed to deny that you alter the statistical risk. You have to calculate that too. That's not fear-mongering…it’s simply part of the burden of voting.
I further accept the words of Sanders and his key campaign people that the emails stolen from the DNC show a clear bias toward Clinton but show no fraudulent actions that change the fact that slightly more voters chose Hillary Clinton (although Bernie’s campaign was far better).
All this is to say that I understand the differences are important and worth pushing. In the end, I still tend to believe the moral and strategic choice is to vote for Hillary Clinton. I have three reasons.
1. If there was a more mainstream Republican, like McCain or Romney, I could entertain objections more easily. Trump is genuinely dangerous – in his willingness to apply religious tests to government programs, to make Muslims register with their government, in his vague promises to restore law and order by any means necessary, in his clear promises to place American in a police siege to round up illegal immigrants, in the casual cruelty with which he treats people who disagree with him, in his praise of dictators even when given examples of murderous behaviour, in his debt to Russian financiers and praise of Putin, and in his unstable temperament and the strange, narcissistic speeches he gives rambling through snarling at his enemies and lauding his own glory. No sensible person can equate Hillary or Bernie (or even Mitt Romney) to Trump.
2. There are minimal upsides to pursuing Bernie’s platform with a President Trump. I can see how organizing in midterm elections and taking direct action can push Clinton to sign progressive bills if they are passed. If you can see how anything gets easier with a Trump presidency and three Trump appointees on the Supreme Court, you see something I don't.
3. Hillary stops the repeal of ObamaCare health benefits and the mass deportation of 11 million people. Many Bernie or Busters are too privileged too be affected by this (I would be too), but I do believe that there is a strong moral case that compassion requires us to weigh the pain caused to millions of less fortunate people by those two Trump actions alone against any benefit to be gained by withholding votes from Hillary (especially when you can threaten to challenge her in the 2020 primaries from the left).
So that's my case for voting Hillary. It may be strategic, but it is also based on values and the moral imperatives before the electorate. Like most votes, it is strategic and moral.