Sunday, January 27, 2013

On second choices

The next week should be a relatively quiet one for the Saskatchewan NDP's leadership candidates: the membership deadline has passed, while the finalized list of members won't necessarily be available until the end of the week ahead (per the leadership rules). But I'll use the opportunity to note one point to watch as the voting window approaches.

This weekend's Ontario Liberal leadership convention offered a stark example as to how candidates can direct their supporters' actions in a delegated vote. In contrast, the one member, one vote system used by the NDP limits the effectiveness of any late shows of support for another candidate - particularly as an increasing number of voters make use of the advance preferential voting option (with the encouragement of candidates who want to lock in their own support).

As a result, in order to maximize his influence in choosing the eventual leader, a candidate will need to make lower-ballot preferences known in advance as well. But most participants in similar races have chosen not to do so, based presumably on two risks: that a candidate's recognition that any outcome other than victory is acceptable might undermine his or her own support base, and that in naming a second choice a candidate might alienate potential down-ballot supporters who back other candidates.

Martin Singh's federal NDP leadership campaign serves as a rare exception where a candidate has offered a public show of second-choice support. But it also offers an example of the circumstances in which a lower-ranked candidate might see more advantage in making a preference known early.

With that background in mind, I'll be curious to see whether the coming weeks see any direct declarations (or indirect hints) as to how the candidates themselves see their fellow contestants. And given that few people will have gained as much insight into the candidates over the past few months as regularly as those who have shared the stage, it may well be worthwhile to push the question as to how the candidates see their competitors before it's time to start voting.

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