Before running for the federal NDP, Meghan Waters voted by holding her nose and choosing the Liberals, out of fear she'd help a Conservative candidate win in her Saint Boniface–Saint Vital riding.
"I'd cast my ballot and just feel like, ugh," said Waters, who is pushing to unseat Liberal cabinet minister Dan Vandal. "I don't want people voting out of a place of fear."
Strategic voting has been a factor in most federal election campaigns over the past two decades.
Advocacy groups have had mixed success asking voters to make a tactical choice, and even outside those campaigns, voters sometimes tell pollsters they're opting for a second-choice party to avoid splitting the vote.
Longtime political scientist Raymond Hébert said strategic voting was key to the Liberals winning a majority in 2015, which followed cumulative support for the Anything But Conservative movement in prior elections, which aimed to unseat the Harper government.
Hébert doesn't expect strategic voting to have much of an impact in Manitoba ridings this time around.
"The situation would be different if the Liberals had the wind in their sails, but they definitely don't at the moment," said the Saint Boniface University professor emeritus.
Yet, Waters says strategic voting has been tied with pharmacare as the top concern voters keep raising at their doors. About one-fifth of voters the NDP candidate speaks with will discuss policy, and about half of those mention the prospect of a split vote, she said.
An increasing number of those voters are also frustrated with the Liberals, who abandoned their 2015 pledge to reform the electoral process, Waters said. "Then they come at election time, with their tail between their legs, begging for us to strategically vote again, and (voters) don't appreciate it."
This time, Waters said progressive voters are less likely to park their vote with Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau, after he called a snap election.
"I've had a lot of people say, 'You know what? I'm done.' And I understand that," she said. "A lot of people are pretty resentful."
In the 2019 election, Vandal came out 10 points ahead of his Conservative runner-up, down from a 30-point margin in 2015.
“I've had a lot of people say, 'You know what? I'm done.' And I understand that. A lot of people are pretty resentful.” — Saint Boniface—Saint Vital NDP candidate Meghan Waters
Hébert said voters seemed to opt for their personal choice in 2019, and electoral patterns suggest they won't be thinking of strategic voting this time — unless the Liberals suddenly rise in the polls nationally.
In that case, left-leaning voters opting for the NDP could cause a split that benefits the Tories in the bellwether Winnipeg South riding, or the tightly contested riding of Charleswood—St. James—Assiniboia—Headingley, which is widely seen as the only competitive Manitoba district in this election.
Yet, Hébert does not see any evidence the Liberals are headed for a surge in popularity.
"Conservative support seems to be growing everywhere across Canada," he said. "It's a fluid situation right now."
In Winnipeg Centre, Liberal candidate Paul Ong says he hasn't heard voters raise the idea of strategic voting, though that may be due to the Tories not holding that seat for decades.
"It's a question of whether Winnipeg Centre will have a progressive MP in government, or a progressive MP in opposition," Ong said Friday.
He is running against NDP incumbent Leah Gazan, who bested a former provincial cabinet minister for the 2019 nomination.
Probe Research’s recurring polling through the pandemic shows the NDP have held a strong lead through the pandemic in Winnipeg’s core, a polling area that generally overlaps with the Winnipeg Centre riding.
“It's a question of whether Winnipeg Centre will have a progressive MP in government, or a progressive MP in opposition." — Winnipeg Centre Liberal candidate Paul Ong
Ong admits the NDP platform goes further than the Liberals on social programs, but he's trying to convince voters the New Democrats are making unrealistic pledges based on unproven revenue sources.
Ong said he personally has voted for whichever local candidate he felt is best, instead of the end result on who is most likely to go to Ottawa. "I chose based on who I believed could deliver, and make an impact on the community."
In Saint Boniface–Saint Vital, voters will have one of the longest ballots in Canada, thanks to a protest movement that resulted in having 14 candidates registered as independents, to raise a point about Canadians not feeling represented by the political class.
Waters said it wouldn't be as severe a concern if the Liberals had implemented proportionate representation.
"I hope it won't confuse people, but I think it will serve as an interesting reminder to people, as they cast their ballot."
With slumping poll numbers, some Liberal candidates have been urging voters to not vote for the NDP, saying it will only put the Conservatives in office who would curtail social welfare programs.
In Thursday night's French-language debate, Trudeau also suggested another minority government isn't good enough.