Sunday, May 13, 2012

Alberta election results

For most what was striking about the Alberta election outcome was that fact that there was almost no hint of what was coming in the polls. The polling error was significant and TC can't really account for why it happened. There are good discussions of what might have happened here and here. However, it was not without some precedent in recent history.

It should not be forgotten that there was significant polling error at the time of the last federal election. It was most important in Ontario but significant elsewhere (of course we know now that voter interference may have been involved).  The polls had the average lead in Ontario for the Conservatives as 9 per cent while on election day their actual lead was 18 per cent, enough on its own to make the difference between majority and minority.

In Alberta comparing the results of the 2008 election with 2012 reveals that the key region in the election was Calgary.  The PCs significantly overperformed in the city relative to their overall provincial performance.

As one can see in the table below the PCs lost 8.7% province-wide but actually gained a little vote share in Calgary.

Change 2012 minus 2008 PC Liberal NDP Wildrose Green Other
Alberta -8.7% -16.5% 1.3% 27.5% -4.2% 0.5%
Calgary 0.3% -22.0% 0.6% 26.7% -4.2% -1.3%
Edmonton -2.4% -17.2% 3.9% 16.8% -2.8% 1.7%
Lethbridge/Red Deer -8.0% -22.5% 8.4% 24.5% -4.2% 1.8%
Rest of Alberta -18.7% -11.4% 0.0% 33.9% -4.9% 1.1%

This does suggest to TC that the endorsement from Peter Lougheed mattered in Calgary as did the comments of Calgary Mayor Nenshi attacking the extremist comments of two Wildrose candidates.  So too did the climate change comments of Wildrose leader Danielle Smith.

Interestingly, the Alberta outcome has led to some despair among more right-wing Canadian conservatives such as Gerry Nicholls, a former VP of the National Citizens' coalition. For him the result in Alberta meant 'Canadian conservatism is dead':
Time of death: April 23, when Alberta’s conservative-leaning Wildrose Party, after being swept up high on the winds of the polls, came crashing down to Earth with a disappointing thud. What made this event the equivalent of an ideological house crushing is not so much the result of the vote, but rather how that result is being interpreted. Experts are blaming the Wildrose loss on its conservative agenda. They say Wildrose was just too radical to win.

For instance, in its electoral postmortem, the Toronto Star gloatingly pointed out that Albertans didn’t share “Wildrose’s enthusiasm for rehashed ‘firewall’ policies, privatized health and charter schools.” Of course, you would expect those on the political left to make such an argument. But surprisingly Wildrose leader Danielle Smith is also saying much the same thing. As she put it, “We have some soul-searching to do as a party. Our members have now seen that some of our policies were rejected by Albertans, quite frankly .… We will be revisiting some of those. You can’t run a government if you don’t get sanction from the people.”
He is right that what really matters is that the Wildrose leader herself acknowledges that her party is too extreme for the Alberta electorate.

Nicholls goes on to offer an alternative explanation but perhaps he is on to something.  Despite that great triumph a year ago for his former Citizens' Coalition colleague Mr. Harper, there are signs that Canadians are beginning to tire of this kind of politics.

One more footnote on Alberta, it provided yet another example of the continuing carnage being experienced by Canadian Liberals.  The Alberta party lost 16.5 % from one election to the next.  The focus was on PC/Wildrose but note also that in contrast to the Liberals, the NDP made a modest advance in a context where there was an incentive for voters on the left to vote PC to block Wildrose.