Finally, with the Legislature about to resume sitting on Monday, a new Alberta political poll that tells us … nothing much has changed!

Indeed, it wouldn’t be much of a stretch to argue that the Citizen Society Research Lab poll released yesterday indicates Wildrose Alliance support in Alberta has stalled.

Remember when the “upstart” Wildrose Alliance was “soaring in the polls,” according to every esteemed journal from Britain’s Economist to, well, Edmonton’s Journal? A couple of polls in particular, the questionable on-line kind, indicated that the then-still-novel far-right party was rocketing to new heights.

So, do you also remember how certain cooler heads argued Premier Ed Stelmach’s Conservatives were still leading, and could still form a majority government if an election were held the next day? Well, it increasingly appears as if those cooler heads were right. Not that you’re likely to see the story reported that way.

Leastways, the latest poll and the first new one in a while, the survey by CSRL at Lethbridge College, seems to confirm the cooler-headed view. It shows Stelmach’s Conservatives still in majority territory — with the likelihood they would win about 50 seats if an election were held tomorrow.

Now, it has been written here that Stelmach needs 55 seats to remain as premier — so such a result could put his personal political career in interesting straits, but it hardly predicts the sweeping generational change that a year ago many pundits were claiming would soon happen.

Since this is the first serious Alberta political poll we’ve seen since last spring, it provides an important look at what’s going on in this province and cuts through the claims of many parties who have an axe to grind.

To get the results, Lethbridge College and Athabasca University students polled 1,067 adult Albertans by telephone on Oct. 2 and 3. Their efforts indicated that 30 per cent of Alberta’s voters would stick with Stelmach’s Progressive Conservative Party if an election were held right now. About 20 per cent would support the Wildrose Alliance led by former broadcaster and Fraser Institute apparatchik Danielle Smith.

This was portrayed by some journalists as the Conservative vote “stabilizing,” although arguably “remaining stable” would have been a more accurate way to put it. Regardless, the poll also indicated that the Alberta Liberals next behind the Wildrose Alliance, with 17 per cent of voters leaning their way. The New Democratic Party was at 9 per cent and a significant 18 per cent of respondents said they have not yet decided whom to vote for.

Significantly, according to the CSRL, Conservative support remains widespread throughout most demographic groups in Alberta. Only young voters, aged 18 to 29, favoured another party, the Liberals. What growth there was in Wildrose support, the pollsters noted, came from the Conservatives’ column, with Liberal and NDP results remaining pretty much the same.

The poll didn’t ask respondents what they thought of the fledgling Alberta Party, although it did ask them if they supported “some other party,” which assigns the Alberta Party about the right place in the scheme of things. (With many Alberta Party stalwarts deeply involved in the successful Calgary mayoral campaign of Naheed Nenshi, their attention may be thoroughly diverted for a spell.)

The Canadian Press report of the CSRL survey chose to emphasize the subgroup of 804 decided voters to reach the conclusion that the results suggest “Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives are still the party of choice in the province, but their popularity continues to slip at the expense of the Wildrose Alliance.” (Emphasis added.)

Note the unenthusiastic tone of this story — it’s just not as good a yarn as if it showed the Wildrose Alliance squirting upward — and the attempt of the writer to spin the Wildrose gains into something more dramatic than reality. After all, what the poll actually indicates is a mere 2.2-per-cent increase in committed Wildrose support, surely less than the party’s strategists were hoping for.

So that leaves Stelmach’s Conservatives down incrementally to 36.1-per-cent level of support among decided voters, and the Wildrose Alliance up marginally to 24 per cent from where it was in October a year ago. Decided Liberal voters were at about 21 per cent and committed NDPers close to 11 per cent. About 8 per cent indicated a preference for “some other party” — essentially unchanged from last year.

Also according to the survey — and no surprise to anyone who pays attention — Conservative support is strongest in rural areas, at about 41 per cent. Interestingly, in Southern Alberta, the Liberals and Wildrose Alliance are in a statistical dead heat, separated by less that 1 per cent at about a quarter of the vote each. This could be good news for the Liberals, since much of their vote is concentrated in and around the city of Lethbridge.

In Calgary, the supposed hotbed of Wildrose support, Stelmach’s Conservatives lead narrowly, 34.1 per cent to 29.4 per cent.

In Edmonton, the Conservatives also lead … the Liberals: 33.3 per cent to 24.2 per cent, with the New Democrats third at 19.8 and the Wildrose Alliance bringing up the rear at 16.3 per cent.

As previously noted, however, this means the Alliance can get Liberals and New Democrats elected by bleeding off Conservative support in ridings like Edmonton Rutherford (where the Tories won in 2008 by 58 votes), Edmonton-Glenora (96 votes), Edmonton-Calder (172 votes) and Edmonton-Beverly Clareview (337 votes).

At least two other pollsters — Trend Research Inc. and Environics — are now in the field, so we should have a clearer picture of where things stand in Alberta, and what’s likely to happen next, by the end of the month.

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

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe...