Vote splitting occurs when a group of people (say left wing voters or right wing voters) vote for several parties and can let a third party win with less than a majority (also known as a plurality). Recent examples include the US example of Ross Perot weaking Republicans , or the Canadian example of Reform+Progressive Conservatives versus Liberals.

In a multi party system with a house of commons, such as Canada the third place party can often become a kingmaker, by forming a coalition government with either of the first two parties. It leads to interesting politics.

Vote splitting is an important phenomenon for political parties to try to exploit or eliminate. However, in first past the post elections with more than about 1000 voters, the individual voter does not have a good logical reason to vote for any party other than the one he or she would wish to win.

Consider an election with 1000 voters including yourself. There are two main parties, one more to your liking than the other, and a third party with all kinds of policies you find really cool that for some mysterious reason only polls at 2%. It is possible that, not including your vote, each main party gets the identical number of votes, say 490. Then, your vote could decide the election. But you know how elections turn out. Usually one candidate's attack ads are not quite as effective as the other candidate's attack ads, and you get some wild result, say 495 for one party and 485 for the other. In your entire lifetime, it is highly unlikely you cast the deciding vote in a single election. Even if you lived in Florida and you voted for Gore in the 2000 U.S. election, one of the closest on record, U.S. troops would still be searching for all those nucular weapons in Iraq. That's because your vote is but one, and one just doesn't cut it in elections.

But then why should I vote at all?

Good question. It seems 50% of Americans have an answer: You shouldn't. But I disagree. There are logical reasons to vote, just as there are, for example, logical reasons to recycle all that stuff you thought was garbage just 20 years ago. You alone aren't really helping the environment all that much when you recycle all those old newspapers. There are vast forests out there to exploit, and the few dozen trees you need in order to read your favorite newspaper for the rest of your life isn't going to destroy the forests. We humans, however, have the capability of acting purely on principle. We can recognize whether something is morally right or wrong, and act accordingly even if the individual act accomplishes near nothing. We hope that others will act similarly and, for example, recycle their newspapers as well, so that with the combined force of millions of people acting in concert, we may save our forests. This gives us peace of mind.

But can't I similarly act in concert with others who share my political leanings and strategically vote so that the vote is not split and the main party I prefer wins?

Of course you can, but will it give you peace of mind? You could just as easily cast your vote for the third party with the really cool ideas and hope others act in concert with you and do the same, and possibly the third party will win.

That's not realistic.

Doesn't matter. It's not realistic that your individual vote will make any difference anyway.

Then why does my best friend keep telling me not to split the vote?

You have conversations with your best friend about vote splitting? Wow, you are a geek. Your best friend is probably in some way involved with, or has fallen for the propaganda of, the main party that you prefer. It is in the interests of the main parties to perpetuate the myth that it is important for individual voters to not help split the vote. This is because they are concerned with whole blocks of votes rather than a single voter's individual vote. In a close election, if one of the main parties can convince all the third party people to vote for it, that party could win the election.

But I'd rather have that than let the other main party win again!

Doesn't matter. In a close election, if one of the main parties can convince all the third party people to vote for it except for you, that party could still win the election.

But if nobody listens to the don't split the vote argument, ---

Then you've won!

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