Just when things were starting to look a little better for Alberta's Progressive Conservative government, Alison Redford blundered back onto the provincial scene like the monster from low-budget a 1950s horror flick.
So suggests the latest version of a regular Alberta poll, which was in the field between July 20 and July 26 and shows the Wildrose Party holding onto its commanding 41-per-cent lead among committed voters, the identical level of support the party received in the same survey back in May.
But Progressive Conservative support had crawled back to 26 per cent of decided voters in late July from a low of 19 per cent in March, according to the ThinkHQ Public Affairs "Eye on Alberta" on-line poll of 1,582 voting age Albertans, at which Alberta Diary recently had the opportunity to sneak a tantalizingly brief peek.
Respondents' impressions of the Tory government's performance had shown a similar modest improvement, the poll indicated, presumably also thanks to Redford's ejection from the Premier's Office by her caucus in March.
Alas for the unlucky PCs, that was just before CBC Edmonton reported the leaked preliminary report on the investigation of the Premier's Office by Alberta Auditor-General Merwan Saher. There have been no shortage of embarrassing stories since then, and it is hard to believe that this will have a very positive effect on the PC Party's faltering brand and foundering fortunes, no matter what one thinks of this particular poll.
The ThinkHQ survey is conducted for private clients of the Calgary-based pollster. The July edition also showed 14 per cent of decided voters province-wide supporting the Alberta Liberals, possibly a reflection of the warm light cast by Justin Trudeau. (That's my interpretation, by the way, not theirs.) Provincial New Democrats were at 13 per cent and the Alberta Party, which has no members in the Legislature, at 4 per cent. The group of undecided voters remained high -- a quarter of the respondents polled.
Broken out by region, the results indicate a trend that should concern -- though not panic -- the NDP, which as been polling very well in Edmonton in a number of surveys.
To wit: the Wildrose Party has now edged noticeably past the NDP in voter support inside the capital city -- with 32 per cent of decided voters compared with the New Democrats' 25 per cent and the Tories' 21 per cent within city limits. This trend is more pronounced in the Capital Region.
Liberal support was at 15 per cent in Edmonton city proper and Alberta Party support was at 7 per cent, a number that likely reflects the makeup of the ThinkHQ panel more than actual voter intentions.
If this reflects reality, the good news in Edmonton for the NDP is that it remains the progressive party best positioned to defeat conservative candidates, whether they call themselves PCs or Wildrosers. The selection of a new leader like Rachel Notley or David Eggen -- even if this poll suggests the NDP leadership race is hardly on the public’s radar -- should help.
But the NDP is going to have to work hard to get that vote, and not just coast along with the thought several polls predict it will be handed to them. The can do this by persuading progressive voters who favour other parties, including the PCs, to vote strategically for them in Edmonton.
New Democrats need to remember that Wildrose strategy is now likely to shift if winning in Edmonton is within the party's grasp. They will move from hoping the NDP wins seats to deny them to the PCs to actually trying to win the same seats themselves.
There could be also be some hope for the NDP in Calgary, despite the fact the poll shows Liberal support there spiking. While Alberta Liberal support may be strong now in Cowtown, if the Liberals can't find good candidates to replace MLAs Kent Hehr and Darshan Kang, who are departing in hopes of finding redder federal fields, and David Swann, who is retiring, an effective NDP campaign could attract progressive voters.
But the Wildrose lead is bigger in Calgary, according to the poll, at 39 per cent compared with 28 per cent for the PCs, 19 per cent for the Liberals, 8 per cent for the NDP and 5 per cent for the Alberta Party.
That trend accelerates for the Wildrose in small urban areas (43 per cent for the Wildrose; 29 per cent for the Tories; 14 per cent for the Liberals; 11 per cent for the NDP; and 2 per cent for the Alberta Party) and becomes overwhelming in rural areas that were once the PC heartland (60 per cent Wildrose; 25 per cent PC; 3 per cent Liberal; 10 per cent NDP; and 1 per cent Alberta Party).
Province-wide, according to ThinkHQ's July poll, the Wildrose Party enjoys a commanding lead in every demographic category -- men, 47 per cent; women, 35 per cent; under 35s, 32 per cent; 35-54, 44 per cent; and 55 and overs, 48 per cent.
In more bad news for the governing Tories, the poll suggested Albertans are still not much engaged by the PC leadership race.
Whatever the three candidates' membership sales and support may be -- there's a persistent rumour out there that fewer than 30,000 memberships have been sold or given away that meet the party's standards for acceptance -- a mock ballot exercise in the ThinkHQ survey suggests Jim Prentice remains in the lead with poll respondents.
And this time, tying the candidates' names to provincial vote intentions in another mock ballot for a future general election indicated little change from ThinkHQ's results in May.
As noted in Alberta Diary's commentary on the May ThinkHQ poll, there is a potential for selection bias in any online panel. According to many polling experts online panels should not publish margins of error, implying more statistical validity than such a poll can really claim. ThinkHQ does nevertheless, this time saying the margin of error for the poll is plus or minus 2.5 per cent.
This post also appears on David Climenhaga's blog, Alberta Diary.
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