Widespread eagerness to finish off the Tories means many people are trying to fathom the best use of their vote to ensure they won't "waste" it. But it's the winner-take-all system that wastes the vote, not the voter. We have an electoral system that marginalizes everyone but those with one-track minds. I'll show you what I mean.
Compared to lots of people, I have an easy time figuring out how to vote strategically. New Democrat Michael Prue is up for re-election in my riding. He used to be a good mayor of East York and an excellent Toronto councillor. He's a wonderful supporter of community events, and nobody stands a chance of knocking him off. So I have no problem deciding who to vote for. Prue is safe, so I'm free to go with my heart - and vote Green.
The political system forces us into these kinds of often agonizing mental gymnastics. Because the person with the most votes wins everything, everyone except those who are totally gung-ho for the likely winner in that riding have to worry about "wasting" their vote. To protest that system, I'm voting Green. I call that a strategic vote. It's probably more controversial to call this a strategic vote than it is to vote Green, which tells us why we have a lot of people more anxious than they need be about strategic voting.
There are principled, strategic and tactical ways to cast a vote, but the primitive nature of our political system hasn't let the differences among these choices surface. Here's my crack at definition: A principled vote is the simplest and easiest, which is why all organizations like to ground themselves in principle. You really want the Tories to win, you vote for them. You want the Grits to win, you vote for them. You really want the Tories to lose, you vote for whichever candidate has the best chance of defeating the Tory.
Anti-Tories might claim they're voting strategically, but they're really voting on the basis of one principle, attractive and compelling as it is: love is never having to say you're Tory; the only good Tory is a suppository.
A strategic vote, almost by definition, is more complicated. Strategy is for the medium and long term, not forever, like principles, and not for just the next short while, like tactics. Marxism-Leninism 101. Thinking into the medium and long term, strategists have to consider several factors, not just one, like the people who decide on principle, and not scores of factors, like people who vote tactically.
I call my vote strategic because it comes from a decision to try to challenge the system of majority-candidate-takes all. I'm not expressing my principled belief about what party should govern. Nor am I trying to influence the outcome of the election in my riding; indeed, I hope not to.
Tactical voting is for people who have a lot of time, because the closer we get to the wire, the more complicated life gets. Theory is grey, life is green, and all that. Tactics are what the political pros really sweat.
If I were voting tactically, I'd vote for Tory Janet Ecker in Pickering, because she championed the protection of agricultural land and her Liberal opponent is a champion of "developing" (in plain English, destroying) that land. I'd also vote for Tory Steve Gilchrist in Scarborough, because he's such a sharp and brutal advocate of renewable energy, and I'd vote for Liberal Gerry Phillips because he had the courage and gumption to dog the Tories over the murder of Dudley George when everyone else dropped the ball.
By voting tactically, I'd be trying to influence the precise way the system and the players deal with certain specific issues that are meaningful to me.
The Tories are hunting for tactical votes in this election: seniors who want a rebate on education taxes and don't worry if the people giving rebates will cut medical care for seniors; members of ethno-specific groups who want tax relief on their private school expenditures and don't worry if the people who offer them are the most likely bigots in the country. Hunters, anti-gays, anti-immigrants, people who think criminals should be wrapped in barbed wire, and others in a rainbow coalition from hell will also vote Tory tactically because their one-button brains ("one track" is already getting way too sophisticated) got pushed in the right spot and because Alliance buffs have nowhere else to go.
Tactical voters are where the action is in a first-past-the-post electoral system, and the far right has been first off the mark in figuring how to use wedge issues to lure tactical voters. New computer-based techniques allow campaigns to zero in on specific target groups and pitch the one issue they like. That way, the parties of the right, like the Republicans under Bush or the Ontario Tories under Harris, can appear to be traditional Big Tent parties and achieve a plurality of votes - enough to win everything - by mobilizing a coalition of single-interest minorities. And they do this in the name of the "silent majority" that's against all the special interest groups. Chutzpah they've got.
These tactical voting machines threaten to use the electoral system to undermine the basics of democratic elections, which are supposed to be about the general good. This is why the far right has a strategic leg up in North American politics and in the politics of any country that still has a winner-take-all electoral system. They can always string together a coalition of negative nabobs with attack ads, button-pushing, advertising whiz kids and computer wizards.
That's why I'm voting strategically for an organization that's campaigning for proportional representation - though I appreciate that the NDP now supports this too. It will bring down the far right's Big Tent. More important, PR will make it possible for people in the goodwill/public interest majority to continue having their differences, and to vote on the basis of those differences without having to go into contortions about principled, strategic and tactical voting.