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New Alberta poll: Tories way up; NDP up a little; everyone else down... So what else is new?

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Environics poll results

Alberta's political classes were abuzz last night with news of a credible new poll that shows the province's eternal Progressive Conservative government back in the driver's seat even before a replacement is found for retirement-bound Premier Ed Stelmach.

The results of the poll, conducted for a couple of local newspapers by Environics Research Group, also suggest that with support for both the far-right Wildrose Alliance and the Liberals imploding, and that for the NDP surfing a bit of a youth-powered Orange Wave, any of the three parties with seats in the Legislature could emerge as the Official Opposition after the next general election. The fledgling Alberta Party barely registered.

But any joy the two-MLA NDP might get from these results must be tempered by the fact that, with Conservative support at well over 50 per cent and the possibility of a three-way opposition split in many ridings high, the Tory edge is so overwhelming that the Orange Wave could easily turn into the Orange Crushed.

The poll of 900 Albertans conducted between July 15 and July 24, also sets the stage for an early fall election, since the post-Stelmach Conservatives are bound to want to take advantage of their astounding levels of support before Alberta voters get to know their new leader -- whomever he or she may turn out to be.

In addition, the poll results clearly show a Trend Research poll commissioned by pollster Janet Brown and political newsletter editor Paul McLoughlin in March was on the right track. That poll was bitterly denounced by the Wildrose Alliance, which released a survey of its own four days later on which the right-wing party made the claim it was within "striking distance" of the Conservatives. Pretty clearly, unless something changes dramatically, it is not.

In other words, for all the media fantasizing these past couple of years about the Wildrose Alliance coming out of right field to prompt generational change in Alberta politics, nothing of the sort is likely to happen.

Other probable interpretations of the Environics data include:

-    Albertans are uncomfortable with and distrustful of the Wildrose Alliance's far-right program of privatization and other doctrinaire market-fundamentalist nostrums, and will return to the safe old Conservatives unless given a strong reason not to vote for what they're used to.

-    The Liberal brand has less and less allure for Alberta voters, notwithstanding the party's attempt to generate interest through a leadership race in which anyone can vote, whether or not they are a party member.

-    Albertans' dissatisfaction with the Conservative Party was really just dissatisfaction with the leadership Ed Stelmach, who failed to connect with voters.

-    It probably doesn't matter whom the Conservatives pick as leader -- if he or she runs a cautious campaign and "low bridges" it, the Tories could win an even bigger majority than they have now.

-    Even with its collapsing support, with more money in the bank for advertisements and support concentrated in Calgary, the Wildrose Alliance could still emerge as the Opposition.

-    With support concentrated around Edmonton and higher among young people, the NDP will improve its chances if it can get out the youth vote.

-    If the Alberta Party is going to make any difference, it won't be in the next Alberta general election.

None of this is particularly good news for Opposition parties who had hoped to make big gains from sinking Tory fortunes, media companies who wanted to portray the contest with the Wildrose Alliance as a horserace, or members of the Alberta politerati who just wanted an election with a little excitement for once.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.

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