Alberta Voter Intentions

Quick! What’s the name of Alberta’s No. 2 political party based on popular support?

The Wildrose Party, right?

That’s certainly what the headline implied in the Edmonton Journal on Friday — “Elections Alberta arms for X day, when main battle will be on the right.” And that’s what the headlines in any Alberta publication would likely say. That’s because that’s been the party line among Alberta’s mainstream media for months.

But the only methodologically sound poll published since summer, and the only poll published since Alison Redford became Progressive Conservative premier of Alberta in early October, says Alberta’s No. 2 political party is … wait for it … the New Democratic Party.

That’s right, the NDP.

The fall Provincial Vote Intention survey done by the Citizen Society Research Lab and reported before in this space shows the Conservatives under Premier Redford far in the lead, but the New Democrats edging out the far-right Wildrose Party by a nose, with 16.3 per cent of the province’s decided voters compared with 16.1 per cent. Don’t believe me? Here, check it out for yourself!

In fairness, this poll could be an outlier, either with regards to NDP support, or Wildrose support.

Still, there have only been seven or eight published polls of voter intentions in Alberta during 2011, and not all of them were created equal, but taken together they show NDP support on a steady upward trend from 8 per cent in mid-January, to 10 per cent in late January, back a shade to 9 per cent in early April, to 15 per cent in May, back to 13.6 per cent in July, to 16 per cent in September to 16.3 per cent in October.

So the NDP support reported by CSRL is entirely consistent with the trend in the party’s support throughout the year.

The situation is confused by some methodologically questionable polls, which seem to have been designed to over-estimate Wildrose support while underestimating the number of PC decided voters. (Although, in fairness, voter support for all the other parties followed predictable trends in all those polls.)

A look at a simplified chart showing the results of three polls that are known to have used credible methodology — Environics in January and July and CSRL in October — shows a believable summary of the current situation:

–    Tory support was depressed at the start of the year under Ed Stelmach, rebounded when he announced he would resign and declined only a little but remained strong once party members chose his replacement

–    NDP support has trended upward to about 16 per cent

–    Wildrose support dropped precipitously after Stelmach’s announcement, then held at about the same level as the NDP

–    Alberta Liberal support has headed downhill from above 20 per cent at the start of the year to about 13 per cent now

–    The Alberta Party has never been picked up by the provincial political radar, always remaining in the low single digits.

I belabour these boring old statistics in response to one of the key conclusions of Friday’s Journal story, which was theoretically about Elections Alberta‘s level of preparedness, which illustrates how professional media reporters in Alberta stick doggedly to their script in the face of inconvenient facts.

“Political observers agree that the main battle will be between the Conservatives and the Wildrose on the right,” the story claims. “They are divided, however, on the effect the split will have on centre and left-leaning parties, such as the Liberals and the NDP.” (In passing, of course, it is utter nonsense to describe the Liberals, particularly under their current Conservative leader, as “left leaning.”)

In reality, political observers — including two of the three quoted in the story — hardly accept that the Fight on the Right will be the main story line of the next Alberta general election.

Indeed, the outcome of the Fight on the Right is easy to predict — the Conservatives under Premier Redford will win it, big time. If I were a betting man, I would bet that barring more unexpected blunders, a confident Premier Redford will still mop the floor with Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith, lack of success on the Keystone XL file and all.

It’s the Scramble for Position Among the Opposition that’s the interesting battle, and it’s said here — again — that that battle is increasingly between the Wildrose Party to the right of the government and the New Democrats to its left. The Liberals are still close enough in a few ridings that they could factor in as well.

My guess is that the next poll will show the New Democrats under the experienced hand of Brian Mason holding at about the same level of support, the Liberals slipping a little more and the Wildrose gaining back some support as they pry a few of the more right-wing Conservatives back from the Tory Mothership now that they have a Conservative leader at whom to take aim.

But while that would put the Wildrose back in the No. 2 position, it will not be enough to give the Wildrose Party the seats it needs where it’s the strongest, in Calgary and Southern Alberta.

The Edmonton region it is a different story. If the Wildrose can pull 15 or 20 per cent of the vote from the Tories in Edmonton area ridings, and the Liberals continue to decline, the NDP can win … and maybe win enough seats to become the official Opposition.

You’d never know this from reading the mainstream media. For that, you have to pay attention to real evidence of voters’ intentions.

As always, the next legitimate poll will be interesting. It’s unlikely to tell us the same story as the one the media pushes.

And for all of you who feel that opinions like this are merely evidence of political partisanship, what do you want to bet that we won’t have long to wait to find out who is right. Very likely there’s somebody out there in the snowy field right now, polling a thousand or so Albertans about their political intentions.

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

David J. Climenhaga

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga is a journalist and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe and Mail and the Calgary Herald. He left journalism after the strike...