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Success of strategic voting yet to be weighed

Hey there, time traveller!
This article was published 8/9/2015 (1674 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.

It's a simple plan, but not an easy one.

Link up with voters in a single riding who want to accomplish a single electoral goal, agree to vote for the candidates who have the best chance of accomplishing that goal, celebrate the power of a loose coalition of individual voters.

It's called strategic voting and thanks to the rise in prominence of several national advocacy groups, it will have a much higher profile in this current federal election campaign than ever before. A higher profile does not mean, however, that it will have a greater impact.

To be frank, it is hard to find evidence that proves strategic voting has worked in a Canadian election. That has not, however, dampened the enthusiasm of a strategic-voting advocate aiming to defeat Conservative incumbents by organizing anti-Tory votes behind a single opposition candidate.

"I'll admit, there isn't much evidence that it has worked in the past," said Joseph Wasylycia-Leis, son of former NDP provincial cabinet minister and MP Judy Wasylycia-Leis and now Winnipeg field organizer for Leadnow, a national advocacy group that has organized the "Vote Together" campaign. "But I think that could change in this election."

Of all the groups pushing the idea of strategic voting, Leadnow seems to have the best chance of making an impact. In addition to an effective online presence, which includes riding profiles and data about past election results, Leadnow has raised funds to conduct riding-specific opinion polls to help direct strategic voting.

In Winnipeg, Leadnow is focusing on two seats: Elmwood-Transcona (held by Tory Lawrence Toet) and Winnipeg South Centre (held by Tory Joyce Bateman). Both ridings have deep and long associations with parties other than the Conservatives; both are ridings the Tories barely won.

In Elmwood-Transcona, Leadnow released poll results last month showing NDP candidate Daniel Blaikie, son of former NDP MP Bill Blaikie, had a decent lead over Toet. However, the results also showed even a modest swing in Liberal support could easily eradicate Blaikie's lead. (It's not clear how accurate these polls are.)

Wasylycia-Leis said no polling has been done yet in Winnipeg South Centre, where Liberal candidate Jim Carr is carrying his party's hopes against incumbent Bateman and NDP candidate Matt Henderson. However, once the campaign has received 500 pledges, Leadnow will crowd-source the money for a poll.

In September, Leadnow will endorse candidates in 72 ridings where a combined Liberal-NDP-Green vote could theoretically topple a Tory incumbent.

While it's not clear strategic voting works, the mere threat of it helps reveal the fault lines in the federal battle for Manitoba.

Of the province's 14 ridings, only a minority would be considered ripe for picking. These are Conservative-held ridings where the combination of NDP-Liberal-Green votes exceed the votes received by the Tory incumbent. It could also theoretically include ridings where non-Tory votes were within an arm's length of Tory votes.

Strategic voting has virtually no traction outside of Winnipeg, where the Conservatives hold five of six seats with huge pluralities that would discourage anyone from trying to unite non-Tory voters.

Winnipeg is another story altogether. Only two Tory seats have a legacy of huge pluralities: Charleswood-St.James-Assiniboia-Headingley, where incumbent MP Steven Fletcher received nearly three-quarters of votes cast in 2011; and Kildonan-St. Paul, where retiring MP Joy Smith captured more than 70 per cent of the vote.

Beyond those two, there are at least four ridings where a combined NDP-Liberal vote could arguably result in the defeat of a Conservative: the aforementioned Winnipeg South Centre and Elmwood-Transcona, along with Saint Boniface-Saint Vital and Winnipeg South.

In 2011, outgoing Tory MP and cabinet minister Shelly Glover easily defeated Liberal candidate Raymond Simard in Saint Boniface-Saint Vital. However, when you look at total votes cast, her plurality was only slightly more than 200 votes. In Winnipeg South, outgoing Tory MP Rod Bruinooge had a comfortable margin of victory over Liberal candidate Terry Duguid, but the combined non-Tory vote was within 2,000 votes.

Can a loose network of like-minded Manitobans change the course of the election in this province? It's unclear right now: It's still anyone's game.



Twitter: @danlett

Dan Lett

Dan Lett

Born and raised in and around Toronto, Dan Lett came to Winnipeg in 1986, less than a year out of journalism school with a lifelong dream to be a newspaper reporter.

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