Alberta Election 2012: Thoughts before the Final Weekend

As we head into the final weekend of the 2012 Alberta election, I think it’s a good opportunity to assess the polling data we have collected for Sun News throughout the campaign.

Pre-Election Poll

Since our first tracking poll in early March, a lot has changed.  Back then, the Progressive Conservatives held a small, but noticeable lead over the insurgent Wildrose Party.  The PCs lead by 5-points over the Wildrose 34% to 29%.  The Liberals were at 18%, and the NDP was at 14%.

The PCs had a big lead in Edmonton (18 points), among female voters (17 points) and among younger voters (19 points).  Although their wider lead captured by other pollsters earlier in the lead had closed, the Tories were still in a good position to win the 2012 election.  The fundamentals of the “Redford” coalition looked strong and there was plenty of soft Liberal and NDP voters to pry away if some of the conservative base continued to leak to the Wildrose Party.

The Campaign Begins

But those promising fundamentals did not last for long.  Soon after the election was called, we were back in the field with our first tracking poll of the election and the results were shocking.  Not only had the 5-point Tory lead vanished, but the Wildrose took a 13-point lead over the PCs.  Wildrose led among decided voters 41% to 28%.  Along with a surge of support for the Wildrose, the Tories were down six points, the Liberals down two, and the NDP down two.  For the two centre-left opposition parties the small decline in support was a harbinger for things to come.

What was probably most worrisome for the PCs in our numbers was that their lead among female voters completely disappeared and the Wildrose opened a significant advantage among male voters.  All of a sudden, Edmonton was competitive and Calgary and the outlying regions were trending heavily in favour of Wildrose.  After the first week of the campaign, it seemed the wheels were already coming off the PC’s campaign bus (no pun intended).

Week 2

Many believed the Wildrose surge in the polls wouldn’t last long.  As the campaign continued voters would become more aware of its platform and the inexperience of its team and return back to the PCs.  But our polling found the opposite.  Not only did voters not return to the PCs but the Wildrose cemented their lead among a number of core voting groups.

While the province-wide gap between the Wildrose and PCs was similar to the previous week (12-points), the Wildrose Party’s coalition continued to be built around strong support outside the two major urban centres and a healthy lead in Calgary.  They remained competitive in Edmonton (2-points behind the PCs) and had built up an impressive (14-point lead among male voters).  Most important to Wildrose success was their massive lead among middle-aged voters (30 to 44, 16-points; 45 to 64, 19-points).  With large leads among these voting groups, Wildrose victory looked assured.

Week 3

Our tracking poll in Week 3 found the Wildrose continue to move up in the polls expanding their lead over the PCs to 17 points.  More significant was the slow decline of the Alberta Liberals who bottomed out at 10% in the latest poll, moving behind the NDP in the province-wide ballot numbers.

In the three days leading up to the Leaders Debate, the Wildrose Party had expanded its lead in Calgary (55% to 25%) and in regions outside the major urban centres.  However, in Edmonton, the PCs had widened the gap to seven points pointing to a possible regionalized legislature after the April 23 election.

Wildrose now lead in all demographic groups: men, women, younger and older voters, and continued to do very well among middle aged voters.  The Wildrose Party seemed impenetrable.  Especially after a strong debate performance by Danielle Smith.

Week 4

But campaigns shift quickly and the weekend after the debate and the start of Week 4 was a difficult one for Wildrose.  The media piled on with stories about controversial things some Wildrose candidates had said.  The pitch for strategic voting intensified with a viral video asking traditionally non-PC voters to plug their nose and vote PC.  Some polls (here and here) out early in the week suggested that the gap between Wildrose and the Tories was starting to close with Wildrose still ahead but their lead in Calgary eroding and Edmonton shifting more and more to the Tories.

We are currently in the field completing our final survey of the campaign for Sun News.  The results will be released tomorrow morning around 9:00am MT on Sun News and I’ll be speaking with Dave Rutherford on his radio program around the same time.

What I’m Looking For

I’m looking for a few things in our final poll as a guide to how Election Day on Monday might turnout.

  1. Does Liberal support continue to erode?  The PCs are continuing to press the strategic voting angle hard.  It has been effective to some extent.  In early March we had the Liberals at 18% and by the third week of the campaign, their support had dropped to 10%.  Can that continue?  Are Liberals who have disliked the PCs for so long willing to switch to PC to stop Wildrose?
  2. Is Calgary changing its mind? Throughout the campaign, voters in Calgary we surveyed continually told us they planned on voting Wildrose.  Last week, the gap between the Wildrose and PCs was 30-points.  Those kinds of numbers mean a certain sweep of most, if not all, of the seats in the city.  But if the gap closes and the Tories can pull to within 5 or 6 points, all bets are off on how the seats might play out.
  3. What do seniors do?  Our polling has shown that the one demographic, other than Edmonton voters, that caught the Wildrose crush has been seniors or voters aged 65 and older.  In our last survey, Wildrose lead these voters by only 6-points despite leading younger age groups by 22-points.  Will seniors be a decisive voting block on Monday?  Is the risk of Wildrose too great for those who have lived at a time when the PCs weren’t in power?  Or has the PC messaging “not your father’s PC Party” backfired with their most dependable voters?

This campaign has been nothing if not interesting.

As an adopted Albertan who lived in the province during the 2008 election, this is unlike anything the province has seen in 20 years.  Reports have suggested voter turnout will be higher (maybe reaching 60%).  I’m not certain we can project that but here’s to hoping that the first competitive election in a generation is sparking interest that ultimately leads to more people casting a ballot.

For those of you looking to catch up, here are the links to all our releases throughout the campaign:

Pre-Election Poll

Week 1

Week 2

Week 3

Looking forward to sharing our final results with you tomorrow.

David