5 points to victory; 6 points to majority

Introduction:

I am not a big fan of seat projections at the best of times. With the changes between 2008 and 2012, I think any attempt at a projection for the 2012 election based more on science than intuition was wishful thinking.

That said, given the eleventh hour collapse of the Wildrose vote, I wondered what the result would have been, if Wildrose support did not collapse. What if it were higher by a few points or by several points? As I already had regions separated out in my results spreadsheet, I put together a a reverse projection model based on percentage point swings. For the sake of brevity, the methodology can be found at the end of this post.

It goes without saying there are many assumptions one makes when doing projections, and there are many limitations of such an exercise. Engaging in post-hoc conjecture is purely just-for-fun, not for publication in Electoral Studies.


Five points to a Wildrose victory

Question: What magnitude of a shift would have been needed to change the outcome of the election?

Answer: A five point increase to the Wildrose’s share of the popular vote in every region at the PCs’ expense.

Table 1: Popular vote by region (+5 pts WR)

Region PC WR Lib NDP
Province 39.2% 39.6% 10.0% 9.9%
Edmonton CMA 38.7% 27.3% 13.8% 17.9%
Calgary CMA 40.4% 43.4% 10.9% 4.6%
Outside CMAs 38.5% 47.3% 5.4% 7.6%

Table 2: Seat distribution (+5 pts WR)

Region PC WR Lib NDP Total
Edmonton (inner-city) 5 0 1 5 11
Edmonton (suburbs) 7 0 1 0 8
Edmonton (metro) 6 1 (+1) 0 0 7
Calgary (inner city) 3 7 (+6) 2 0 12
Calgary (suburbs) 8 4 (+3) 1 0 13
Calgary (metro) 0 3 0 0 3
Northern AB (Fort McMurray) 0 2 (+2) 0 0 2
Northern AB (Grande Pairie) 1 1 (+1) 0 0 2
Northern AB (rural) 2 5 (+4) 0 0 7
Central AB (Red Deer) 0 2 (+2) 0 0 2
Central AB (west, excl. RD) 2 4 (+1) 0 0 6
Central AB (east) 2 3 (+1) 0 0 5
Southern AB (Lethbridge) 0 2 (+2) 0 0 2
Southern AB (Medicine Hat) 0 1 0 0 1
Southern AB (rural) 0 6 (+1) 0 0 6
Province 36 (-25) 41 (+24) 5 5 (+1) 87

Notable swing ridings:

  • Stony Plain swings from PC to NDP (only Edmonton CMA WR pickup)
  • Edmonton-Gold Bar swings from PC to NDP (only non WR pickup)

Regardless of how or why the Wildrose’s numbers imploded on the eve of E-Day, this projection shows that, had they received five percentage points more of the popular vote across all regions, they would have won a minority government.

Of course, there are limits to the caveat of ‘ceteris paribus’, and the model cannot account for factors such as local GOTV effectiveness or special circumstances in individual ridings. Still, five points is not a huge gap, and the resulting popular vote numbers look very similar to numbers we were seeing during the campaign.


Six points to a Wildrose majority

Question: What magnitude of a shift would have been needed to produce a Wildrose majority?

Answer: A six point increase in the Wildrose’s share of popular vote in every region at the PCs’ expense.

Table 3: Popular vote by region (+6 pts WR)

Region PC WR Lib NDP
Province 38.2% 40.6% 10.0% 9.9%
Edmonton CMA 37.7% 28.3% 13.8% 17.9%
Calgary CMA 39.4% 44.4% 10.9% 4.6%
Outside CMAs 37.5% 48.4% 5.4% 7.6%

Table 4: Seat distribution (+6 pts WR)

Region PC WR Lib NDP Total
Edmonton (inner-city) 4 (-2) 1 (+1) 1 5 (+1) 11
Edmonton (suburbs) 7 0 1 0 8
Edmonton (metro) 6 (-1) 1 (+1) 0 0 7
Calgary (inner city) 3 (-6) 7 (+6) 2 0 12
Calgary (suburbs) 5 (-6) 7 (+6) 1 0 13
Calgary (metro) 0 3 0 0 3
Northern AB (Fort McMurray) 0 (-2) 2 (+2) 0 0 2
Northern AB (Grande Pairie) 1 (-1) 1 (+1) 0 0 2
Northern AB (rural) 2 (-4) 5 (+4) 0 0 7
Central AB (Red Deer) 0 (-2) 2 (+2) 0 0 2
Central AB (west, excl. RD) 2 (-1) 4 (+1) 0 0 6
Central AB (east) 2 (-1) 3 (+1) 0 0 5
Southern AB (Lethbridge) 0 (-1) 2 (+2) 0 0 2
Southern AB (Medicine Hat) 0 1 0 0 1
Southern AB (rural) 0 (-1) 6 (+1) 0 0 6
Province 32 (-29) 45 (+28) 5 5 (+1) 87

Notable swing ridings:

  • Edmonton-Mill Woods swings from PC to WR (only City of Edmonton WR pickup)

Pickups that push WR from minority to majority:

  • 3 seats in suburban Calgary (Hawkwood, Lougheed, Northern Hills)
  • 1 seat in inner-city Edmonton (Mill Woods)

One of the most notable things about the distribution of the popular vote is that small shifts can create big changes. It is not reported here, but a four point increase in Wildrose support across the province would still return a PC majority, albeit a significantly reduced one (45 PC, 33 WR, others unchanged). Because of regional variances, drastically different results can occur, in terms of seats won and lost, even though changes in the overall province-wide popular vote are comparatively small.

Another thing I noticed, but is unreported here, is that the current distribution of the popular vote across regions predisposes Alberta to majority governments. Alberta has a history of electing majority governments, and as the model shows, it does not take a lot to shift the outcome from a PC majority to a Wildrose one. I tried a few more scenarios in the model, and the likelihood of a minority government seems to increase alongside increased regional divisions in partisan support. This is a casual observation; not the result of systematically testing different scenarios, so I could be wrong.

My use of the four- and five-point swings is illustrative and meant to show how relatively small shifts can produce relatively large changes. Time permitting, I may run and write up the results of a few other different scenarios.


Methodology:

  • Regional divisions are defined as in previous posts (separate divisions for inner-city, suburban, and metro Calgary/Edmonton; separate divisions for urban and rural areas outside of the two CMAs)
  • Changes in the popular vote are calculated using percentage points, with region-wide swings being applied uniformly to each riding. (i.e. If the Wildrose is up by five points in inner-city Edmonton, five points are added to their percentage of the popular vote in each inner-city Edmonton riding.)
  • All changes are zero-sum (i.e. if a party gains five points, there must be a total of exactly five points lost by one or more parties).
  • This is a closed system and only ‘reallocates’ the choices of existing voters; it cannot account for an increase or decrease of turnout. It also assumes that all other variables remain constant (e.g. star candidates, strength of local campaigns, strength of central campaign, existence of third-party campaigns, etc.)

2012 regional popular vote averages

The regionalization of parties’ support in the 2012 Alberta election both matches and defies the predictions of many commentators, myself included. What has come true is the north-south split between the PCs and Wildrose in rural Alberta. What has not materialized is the Edmonton-Calgary split, with both cities going overwhelmingly to the PCs.

Figure 1: Regional popular vote averages

Daveberta beat me to posting regional numbers, and this table gets at the same idea, but his compiles the aggregate vote totals in a region, whereas I compare popular vote averages across regions. I compiled similar tables for the 2008 election, which can be seen here. (See the bottom of this post for some notes on methodology.)

The second table reports the party’s percentage of the popular vote in each region relative to the provincial average. This table shows the areas of relative strength and weakness of each party, which gives a different perspective than just looking at their regional percentage of the popular vote without additional context.

Figure 2: Regional popular vote averages, relative to provincial average

The PCs, though having regional variations in their support, did well across the province. Their weakest areas were inner-city Edmonton and the Greater Calgary Region—areas that went NDP/Liberal and Wildrose, respectively. In southern Alberta, where the vast majority of the seats went Wildrose, the PCs were still competitive, and their loss is due to the Wildrose’s strength moreso than their own weaknesses. However, the most interesting feature (at least to me) is that, in both Calgary and Edmonton, there are significant variations in support between the sub-regions of the inner-city, the suburbs, and the surrounding metropolitan areas that are not technically part of the cities’ corporate boundaries. The PCs are stronger in metro Edmonton and weaker in metro Calgary by about the same magnitude.

The bedrock of the Wildrose’s support is in metro Calgary and rural southern Alberta. They also did better than their provincial average in both rural central and rural northern Alberta. The difference in between two regions is that the PCs were weaker in central Alberta than in northern Alberta, which resulted in the Wildrose sweeping central Alberta. The Wildrose’s weakest area, by far, is within the City of Edmonton. However, they were only a few points under their average in metro Edmonton, which is likely as a result of their alliance with local lobby groups, such as RETA, on property rights and power line issues. I believe the over-estimation of Wildrose support in both CMAs is at least partially attributable to polling firms using CMAs as their sampling area, as opposed to just the technical city boundaries. Such errors could lead one (myself included) to believe that the Wildrose could pick up seats in Edmonton (which they did not) and that they would sweep Calgary (which they also did not). Even in Calgary, where they won two seats and have several strong second-place finishes, the Wildrose were still only a few points above their province-wide average, and finished 10 points behind the PCs in both the inner-city and suburbs. The reasons for such are being debated, but Deborah Yedlin’s endorsement of the PCs suggests that, while Calgary has a stereotypically conservative and corporate outlook, Danielle Smith and the Wildrose could be seen as potentially bad for business, given their views and the degree of change that they plan to implement.

The Liberals’ strongest areas are the city of Edmonton and inner-city Calgary. Unsurprisingly, given the strength of the NDP in Edmonton, the Liberals picked up more seats in Calgary because they faced less competition from the NDP. That the Liberals were able to hang on to five seats demonstrates the importance of incumbency and local star candidates, and their three seats in Calgary are arguably held more on a personal rather than party basis.

Similarly, the NDP is strongest in inner-city Edmonton, and Brian Mason and Rachel Notley’s seats are two of the safest seats in the entire province. The NDP also did very well in Lethbridge, where their showing was likely bolstered by local star candidate Shannon Phillips. However, the NDP has a lot of work to do in even inner-city Calgary, where prominent centre-left Liberals David Swann and Kent Hehr likely attract many traditionally-NDP voters.

The Alberta Party’s strongest showing was in West Yellowhead, where leader Glenn Taylor ran. They ran credible local campaigns in Edmonton-Rutherford and Glenora, where they were able to come close to tying with the Liberals. Their eventual goal should be to displace the Liberals, though their showing in this election shows they still have much work to do before the next election.

The non-conservative parties have some soul-searching to do. While ChangeAlberta tried to coordinate the voters on the centre and the left, the tribal loyalties that bind partisans to their party are too strong. Moreover, the centre is getting a lot more crowded with the entrance of the Alberta Party, Brian Mason’s efforts to moderate the NDP, and, most importantly, Redford shifting the centre of gravity of the PCs to the centre. Both the NDP and the Liberals have been wiped off the electoral map before, and, if 1993 is an indicator, the only way for a non-conservative party to have a credible shot at forming government is if it obliterates its rivals on the centre and left.

The Wildrose also has some figuring out to do. For whatever reason, there was a seismic overnight shift the night before the election. (That would make a great poem, if someone wants to write it: “Twas the night before E-Day…”) It is likely that the pressures of being Official Opposition will lead to a moderation of their stances on the contentious social issues that contributed to the implosion of their momentum. It is ironic that the Wildrose themselves did a far better job of proving the PCs’ ‘not-worth-the-risk’ messaging than the PCs themselves ever did. Even if they were able to sweep suburban Calgary, the Wildrose will still need to win a few seats in Edmonton and a handful of seats in rural northern Alberta if they want to form government, which means reigning in some of the more polarizing opinions of the social conservative element in their base. The other irony is that the Wildrose did not learn from Decore that contentious social issues tend to destroy campaigns They would do well to learn another lesson from the Liberals: pushing the leader out because she came up short is not a good idea. If the internal tensions between the libertarians and social conservatives explode to a full-scale civil war in the Wildrose, they will suffer the same fate as the Alberta Liberals after 1993 and walk the road to self-decimation.

The PCs were weakened, but reports of their impending demise were greatly exaggerated. Redford has lost many of Ralph Klein’s loyalists and has brought in many of her own people. If anything, she probably could have lived with losing a few more seats, but the PCs have still managed to reinvent themselves. Moreover, they are in a strong strategic position of dominating the centre of the spectrum. While Alison Redford and Stephen Carter dismiss the importance of left and right, they do so because they are simultaneously both and neither. Given that the NDP will always say spending is too low, and the Wildrose will always say that spending is too high, the PCs can point to the dissatisfaction of both sides and say that a proper compromise was reached. This presents a dilemma for the Liberals, who are being crowded out by the PCs. The Liberals either have to move left and take out the NDP, or dig in on the centre and find a way to cauterize the bleeding to the PCs. Moreover, the fledgling Alberta Party, which hopes to become the new centrist option, faces an even greater challenge in a reinvented and firmly centrist PCs party than they ever did in their original opponent of the Liberals.

Canada has tended to violate Duverger’s Law, which states that single-member-plurality (a.k.a. first past the post) electoral systems tend to be characterized by two-party competition. We have four years to figure out if this four-party configuration will hold, but the academic literature is onside with Alberta’s history in that a multiparty configuration is exceptional rather than the norm. Fortunately, there is much interest in the outcome of this election, so political scientists, pollsters, and pundits have four years to figure out what happened to make sure their 2016 predictions are a little bit closer.



A quick note on methodology:

Elections Alberta has no official definition of which ridings make up each region in Alberta. Lacking access to academic journals, I have not seen a current academic treatment of the political regions of Alberta. In an effort to follow some precedent, I follow the Wikipedia article’s classification with some exceptions:

  • Each city is comprised of three sub-regions: inner-city, suburbs, and the ridings of the surrounding municipalities that comprise each major city’s census metropolitan area. This includes Airdrie, Chestermere-Rocky View, and Highwood in Calgary. ‘Metro Edmonton’ includes Sherwood Park, Strathcona-Sherwood Park, St. Albert, Spruce Grove-St. Albert, Stony Plain, Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville, and Leduc-Beaumont.
  • I find the sub-regional classifications within the two Census Metropolitan Areas to be questionable, but I stick with them, given the lack of established alternative classifications.
  • Banff-Cochrane was previously classified as ‘Western and Central AB’, and I classified it as such in my previous post. It has since been moved to ‘Southern AB’, which makes much more sense.
  • Each region outside of the two CMAs has been subdivided into ‘urban’ and ‘rural’ categories. In these cases, the ‘urban’ section refers to the principal regional centres, i.e. Grande Prairie, Fort McMurray, Red Deer, Lethbridge, and Medicine Hat.

The reported percentages are the mean of the percentage of the popular vote each party receives across all ridings in a region. This is calculated by adding the party’s percentage of the popular vote in each riding and dividing by the number of ridings. (This is slightly different from using the raw vote totals to calculate a regional average, but the two methods produce similar enough results, and my method is a lot quicker to execute.)

Declining a ballot and other means of protest

I have seen some discussion on what one should do if one does not like any of the choices they are presented with. Here are some mechanisms through which a voter can choose ‘none of the above’ in the absence of an actual ‘none of the above’ option.

1) Stay home. This is the easiest option. While there is no way to determine how many voters stayed home out of apathy and how many made a conscious decision to stay home, this still accomplishes the objective of voting for ‘none of the above’.

2) Spoil your ballot. This involves receiving your ballot and marking it in any way other than a clearly marked choice for a single candidate. All invalid ballots are tallied up and recorded in their own category. This also accomplishes the objective of choosing ‘none of the above’, though there is no way to determine if the ballot was spoiled intentionally or if the voter simply did not understand the instructions clearly.

3) Decline your ballot. This involves going to the polling station and telling the clerk you wish to decline your ballot. When the results are tallied up, your ‘vote’ will be counted in the ‘declined’ category, not the ‘invalid’ category. These votes are, unambiguously, a rejection of all options presented to the voter.

I am not encouraging voters to do any of these actions, but I think citizens deserve to know they do have alternatives when none of the conventional options are tolerable to them.

I pass no judgement on voters, whether they vote for a party, vote for a candidate, vote for a policy, vote against a policy, are single-issue voters, are die-hard partisans, vote strategically, vote ‘none of the above’, or even if they decide not to vote at all.

My prediction: PC minority

Here are some election predictions. I thought I had submitted my election predictions to the CalgaryGrit/Daveberta election pool, but I had not, so most of these are items from their pool.

Why do I anticipate the PCs winning? They were able to salvage their ship going into the last week, whereas the Wildrose campaign imploded. I subscribe to the theory that opposition parties do not ‘win’ elections; governments lose them, and the ‘bozo eruptions’ in the last week of the campaign will have many average Albertans thinking the Wildrose are not ready for prime time yet. The last-minute reversal of standings in the polls corroborate that. Moreover, close races tend to favour incumbency.

The drama will not stop at this election, though. A minority government will be incredibly unstable, and I think it is within the realm of possibility that the NDP and Liberals could cooperate with the Wildrose, if the government lost the confidence of the house. Then there is the issue of leadership: Alison Redford’s leadership has been called into question during the campaign, and she will have to retain the confidence of her party. Even Smith, who supposedly had the election in the bag, could come under scrutiny for a last-minute collapse in the campaign.

All of that being said, I am not very confident in this prediction–I am only more confident in this one over the other scenarios I have envisaged. The Wildrose could win. There could be a majority government. However, regardless of the outcome, Alberta politics will continue to be much more exciting than anything we have seen in the last two decades.

Overall outcome: PC minority, with a north-south split between the PCs and Wildrose and the PCs facing decimation in rural central/south Alberta.

PC: 43

Wildrose: 38

NDP: 3

Liberal: 3

Alison Redford: Holds Calgary-Elbow, but her biggest fight yet will be her leadership review, which she may not survive (unless I’m wrong about all of this and the PCs lose).

Raj Sherman: Loses Edmonton-Meadowlark; will step down as Liberal leader shortly after the election.

Ted Morton: Loses Foothills-Rockyview.

Edmonton-Glenora: Heather Klimchuck will hold for the PCs.

Best PC showing: Ray Danyluk in Lac La Biche-St. Paul-Two Hills.

Best Alberta Party showing: Michael Walters in Edmonton-Rutherford with 15 percent of the vote.

Neither Allan Hunsperger nor Ron Leech will win their seats.

The Wildrose will win one senate seat (likely Vitor Marciano).

The conservative civil war is older than people think

Every news story, editorial, or blog post about this election has said that it will be a watershed in Alberta’s political history. The province of political dynasties is on a precipice that happens only once every few decades, and this election will either be a repeat of 1993 when the reigning dynasty was able to reinvent itself or of 1971 when even the weight of history could not withstand the winds of change.

What is this election about? From a purely political standpoint, this is a battle between the factions of the conservative movement in Canada that have been at war with each other for decade. Alison Redford is the vanguard of the possible return of Torydom to Alberta. By ‘Tory’, I do not mean the colloquial term describing Canadian conservatives in general, but the specific strain of Canadian conservatism that traces its lineage all the way back to John A. MacDonald, but is most personified by the Tories of the second half of the twentieth century like Robert Stanfield, Dalton Camp, Joe Clark, Brian Mulroney, and  Peter Lougheed. Redford is merely the latest standard-bearer of a prestigious political pedigree.

Danielle Smith and the Wildrose, on the other hand, are part of the ‘new right’, the rise of which has been ascribed to populist champion Preston Manning and his intellectual allies such as Tom Flanagan, Barry Cooper, Rainer Knopff, Stephen Harper, and, ironically, now-Tory Ted Morton. However, this western Canadian brand of conservatism is older than the 1980s, and can be traced back to prairie populists like John Diefenbaker, Ernest Manning, and William Aberhart.

(Colby Cosh’s piece on the Wildrose and Kevin Libin’s piece on Alison Redford discuss the political pedigrees of both leaders.)

The details are usually only of interest to political scientists, historians, and journalists, but suffice it to say that the 2012 Alberta Election is merely the latest flare-up of a long-standing conservative civil war. The fight between moderate Tory elites and populist and ideological conservatives does not just describe the duel between Redford’s PCs and Smith’s Wildrose but is the same battle fought by Robert Stanfield’s faction of the federal PCs against the Diefenbaker loyalists in the 1960s.

So what about the Ralph Klein years? How could Ralph’s PC party—a party that led a decade-long scorched earth campaign against the debt decried even by his successors—be the same party as that of Peter Lougheed, who started government corporations and supported the National Energy Program?

It wasn’t.

The anointed successor to Don Getty was fellow Tory Nancy Betkowski, but she was defeated by populist Ralph Klein. Ralph Klein was more of a populist than a true conservative because, though he was (in)famous for slaying the dragon that was the deficit, he was known as a Liberal before entering provincial politics, and government spending during his final term could hardly be called conservative. His populist appeal, however, remained constant throughout his political career.

Moreover, there was a zeitgeist in the 1990s of paring back the welfare state. 1993 was the peak of the Alberta Liberals, and, like Klein, opposition leader Laurence Decore also ran on a platform of deficit-slaying. One has to wonder if anything would have changed in the 1990s had Decore won; I personally believe the Liberals would have slashed-and-burned just as much as Klein did, if not moreso, just to prove that Liberals could govern austerely. This popular sentiment was seen on the federal level too, where—in one of the greatest ironies in Canadian political history–the spiritual successor of the Liberal Party’s left wing, Jean Chretien, also slashed-and-burned and led one of the most fiscally conservative governments in Canadian history during his first two terms.

But, I digress.

The battle between Redford’s PCs and Smith’s Wildrose is a proxy for the struggle between the two visions of Canadian conservatism. The former is more moderate and driven by a cadre of elites who broker between segments of society. The latter is more ideological and populist, relying on plebiscitarian mechanisms to make decisions rather than brokerage done by elites.

This tension is easily seen in the controversy over social issues that has dominated the coverage of this election campaign. In the increasing social liberalism of today, it is not surprising that social conservatives have made their home in populist parties. As the members of the new right have argued, (ironically, one of the biggest champions of this argument is Ted Morton) there is an alliance between Liberal elites and ‘rights-seeking’ individuals (gays, feminists, environmentalists, etc.) to use the courts to bypass the usual legislative channels in order to achieve social change and expand the welfare state to provide service to the aforementioned groups. Thus, while libertarians, social conservatives, and fiscal hawks may have disagreements with each other, they are united in their common opposition to the welfare state and its allies. They argue that old-school Tories, because they rely on brokerage, do not have the backbone to stand up to ‘special interests’ and that these groups do not even have to go through the courts anymore because they can simply approach a government that is all too happy to accommodate their requests.

The Tories, meanwhile, argue their support for these groups is not anything revolutionary, but simply an acceptance that society has changed. Furthermore, as the Tories are more typified by technocratic governance through elites, academics, and professionals rather than the ‘common sense governance’ advocated by populists, Tories more readily accept the intellectual push for change that tends to predate popular acceptance.

Anyone who has been following Alberta politics has seen Redford’s technocratic tendencies and Smith’s repeated invocation of the populist mantra of ‘common sense politics’.

Progressive ‘conservatives’ versus ‘real’ conservatives.

Elites versus populists.

Brokerage versus direct democracy.

Technocracy versus common sense.

No matter how you describe it, the Alberta 2012 election is another chapter in the long-standing internal rivalry within the Canadian conservative movement—a rivalry that has been a civil war since the post-Diefenbaker days, and a rivalry that was only recently pacified at the federal level when the Canadian Alliance absorbed the Progressive Conservatives in 2003. Which side will win in Alberta remains to be seen. Toryism outside of the Maritimes is confined to Alberta and Manitoba. Elsewhere, it has had to ally with the Liberals (as is the case in British Columbia and Saskatchewan) or has been taken over by the new right altogether, as is the case with the Ontario Progressive Conservative Party.

Popular interest in politics might wane after April 23, 2012, but the followers, practitioners, and students of politics will watch with interest as the two conservative factions continue to do battle in Alberta’s 28th Legislative Assembly.

Danielle Smith versus the social conservatives

Wildrose leader Danielle Smith continues to come under fire for not doing more to reign in (or expel outright) controversial candidates such as Allan Hunsperger and Ron Leech. In the rush to discuss the ethics of Smith’s inaction, there seems to be little discussion of the motivations thereof, so here is another post about the inside baseball that goes on in politics.

Before I begin, I want to emphasize that the discussion of the ethics of Smith’s response is a very important one. I write about the backroom dynamics because they are another layer of politics that can explain—though not necessarily ‘justify’—why certain political actions do or not happen. I am not saying that the backroom dynamics are more important, but that they cannot be ignored.

From a purely political and strategic perspective, Hunsperger and Leech’s comments could cost the Wildrose the election. The PCs have tried from the onset of the election campaign to attack Smith on hot-button social issues. The attacks have largely failed against Smith, given her well-known social libertarianism. However, the Wildrose’s candidates were wild cards, and Canadian politics has several examples of staunch conservatives putting their feet in their mouths because they either had poor media training and well-meaning statements came out sideways, or in a few cases, they were actually bigots. Alberta Liberal leader’s ill-fated foray into the abortion issue in 1993 is well-known, but it seems that Hunsperger and Leech forgot that homosexuality and race on the same list of ‘topics banned from election campaigns’ as abortion. Thus. the hits the PC campaign could not land on Smith ended up being self-inflicted by the Wildrose’s own candidates. One would think that the sin of torpedoing your party’s election campaign merits some sort of sanction, but none has come.

My best guess is that Smith is afraid of her party’s rank-and-file, and throwing prominent, albeit inarticulate, social conservatives under the bus would risk a leadership review and possible expulsion from her post. Given their populist nature, the Wildrose constitution has easy mechanisms for both the party and the caucus to compel, restrain, or even depose the leader, and I would bet on the social conservatives being able to outmaneuver and out-muscle the libertarians, fiscal-hawks-but-social-liberals, and disgruntled-but-not-ideological-former-Tories in the Wildrose.

If the PC-Wildrose feud is a messy divorce, then the Wildrose electoral coalition is an awkward marriage of the four aforementioned groups. While Smith won an overwhelming leadership mandate, she was elected in the midst of an economic crisis that untied the factions within the Wildrose on the common ground of economic hawkishness and antipathy towards Ed Stelmach. With Ed gone and the economy improving, the unifying forces within the Wildrose may be giving way to the long-standing divisions between the factions within the party.

Moreover, the social conservatives know that they are in the minority these days and that choosing Smith was a compromise they had to make in order to deal with the greater evil of the progressives who have taken over the PCs. Now that they can smell victory, I am sure the temptation exists to replace Smith with a more ideologically pure leader who is conservative on both sets of issues. Leader says all things that seem to mean something but really mean something else, and, “I stand by my members,” or “My members are behind me when I say…” often mean, “I was told by members to…” or “My members have threatened to depose me unless…” I will not name any names, but even casual observers of politics know of the ambitions of certain Wildrose members. Thus, do not think it so much that Smith supports Hunsperger and Leech, as much as she cannot public oppose them and hope to survive the wrath of the well-mobilized social conservatives within her party.

The irony, of course, is that the constraints imposed on Smith by social conservatives is similar to the constraints imposed on Redford by her old guard, albeit, the latter case is more of a purely political issue rather than an ideological one. If I feel up to it, I might write that post tomorrow.

Smith, and her fellow libertarian, Tom Flanagan, know that social issues are a political minefield in Canada, and the impressive discipline of the Wildrose campaign in the first three weeks are a testament to the lessons learned from Reform’s ill-disciplined 1993 federal campaign.  If the PCs do manage to complete the Hail Mary pass on Monday, the Wildrose might have to go through the same long and arduous learning process that their federal counterpart spent the better part of 11 years doing. If history is an indicator, the opportunity to change governments in Alberta only comes once every twenty years or so, and the would-be-government’s ship can easily crash on the rocks just before reaching port.

All Leger polls during the election campaign

The post-debate polls are out, and both Return on Insight and Leger are showing that there have been some shifts. Both are showing that the race has gotten tighter in the two major cities, which means the Tories are catching up in Calgary and the Wildrose is catching up in Edmonton. There is more than enough commentary on polls, but, unless you are watching  TV, you rarely see charts, which really show just how dramatic this race has been. Since I actually do this in my spare time so I know what the current numbers stand, I figured I would post them for everyone’s enjoyment.

The caveat is that these polls are pre-Hunsperger and pre-Leech, so there is a high likelihood that the numbers have shifted since them, given the brouhaha over those incidents in mainstream and social media.

The Wildrose have recovered in both Edmonton and outside of the two major cities. Regional subsamples have a higher margin of error, so caution should be approached when evaluating those numbers. Still, the jump is high enough that a margin of error would only change the degree and not direction of the shift. The PCs, on the other hand, have recovered in Calgary, while the Wildrose numbers have been remarkably consistent, resulting in both of them being in a dead heat.

What is also interesting is where the movement is coming from. I wrote earlier that Liberal and even New Democrat voters might cast a strategic vote for the PCs to stop the Wildrose, and we see evidence of that in Calgary, with the PCs being up 11 points and the centre/left vote collapsing by 10 points between both the Liberals and the NDP. The story is a little different in Edmonton where both the Wildrose and the PCs are up, and both the NDP and Liberals are down. It is curious that the PC and Liberal shifts are equal and in opposite directions, as are the Wildrose and NDP shifts. As it is impossible to tell individual level shifts over the course of the campaign, it would be dangerous to suggest that there is vote trading going on between certain parties, and it is possible that several shifts have happened for a variety of reasons, which has led to this shift on the aggregate level.

The biggest problem for the Wildrose, in the context of the events that happened after this poll, is that they may have peaked too soon. The Wildrose’s detractors smiled in delight as the wheels fell off the Wildrose bus this week, on account of Hunsperger and Leech’s comments. I can only imagine the consternation of the strategists in the Wildrose war room, who are re-living the nightmares of Reform Campaign Past, complete with randomly appearing spectres of unshackled and colourful candidates who have not yet learned to couch their language.

*A note on why I use Leger’s polls: Leger has published weekly updates on the horse race numbers, which is why I use their numbers. Once Abacus releases their latest numbers I plot both sets on charts.

A sampling of curiosities and contradictions.

Last night, I was talking to someone who does not follow politics. They are very intelligent, but are very busy and do not have a lot of time to keep with the news. As I was explaining some of the issues, they remarked that the complexity of politics made it difficult to follow along. After the conversation, I took off my political scientist and former staffer hats and saw that, to many casual observers, there are probably a lot of things that do not make sense at first glance.

Here is a sampling of seeming curiosities and contradictions that we have seen in this race so far.

Danielle Smith is a pro-choice, pro-same-sex-marriage libertarian leading a party with several prominent social conservatives. She has pledged not to legislate on contentious social issues, yet it is Wildrose policy to support the ‘conscience rights’ of public servants.

Alison Redford initially criticized Smith for being too socially progressive (re: legalizing prostitution) and then says the Wildrose is socially regressive on the issue of conscience rights (amongst others). This is especially notable, given her energy minister’s staunch social conservatism and his previous attempts to introduce conscience rights. (I also wrote an earlier post about both parties’ connections to private health care providers, though I also said that was an inside baseball issue that few really care about.)

Raj Sherman, a former Tory, was elected Liberal leader on a platform of being fiscally conservative and socially progressive, but the Liberals are running on a platform that includes raising taxes and re-regulating electricity.

Brian Mason, who usually characterized the Liberals as being no different from the Tories, is criticizing the Liberals’ proposed tax reforms for increasing tax revenue too much.

The Alberta Party, which has proposed less centralized leadership and ‘new politics’ has a candidate that is running to be a spoiler and has called for a candidate nomination to be overturned.

Now, I am not saying that there are no explanations for these happenings—indeed, I can think of valid explanations for all of them—but I can see how it would be perplexing to someone who does not follow politics all that closely.

What 2008 might show us about 2012

This weekend, I was looking at my spreadsheet of results from 2008 and wondered how the regional vote varied by region. (Yes, I lead a very exciting life!) Regional support patterns have varied considerably in this current election, and, if the election were held today, Alberta would have:

  • A Wildrose government based mainly out of Calgary and Southern Alberta
  • A PC opposition based mainly out of Edmonton and Northern Alberta
  • The NDP as a third party with anywhere from two to six seats
  • Possibly a few Liberals in Calgary and Edmonton

However, regionalism is nothing new in either Alberta or Canadian politics. In fact, good or bad, it is one of the defining features of our politics. The 1993 election saw a PC government overwhelmingly from Calgary, a Liberal opposition overwhelmingly from Edmonton, and rural Alberta carved up in a two-thirds to one-third split favouring the Tories. The 1971 election was an urban/rural split, with the PCs dominating cities and towns.

That being said, what did regional support patterns look like in 2008? Moreover, how do the current horse-race standings compare to the popular vote in the last election? First, here is how the parties stack up against each other, as of the Postmedia/Leger Marketing poll published April 9, 2012 in the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal.

Table 1: Postmedia/Leger Marketing poll published April 9, 2012

PC

Liberal

NDP

WAP

AP

Province

34%

36%

13%

13%

3%

Edmonton

33%

15%

23%

24%

4%

Calgary

29%

15%

8%

43%

2%

Outside Calgary/Edmonton

41%

16%

8%

40%

2%

Next, here is the distribution of the 2008 popular vote on a regional basis. In an effort to follow some kind of precedent, I used the regional description in Wikipedia’s article on the 2008 election, though I have issues with how some ridings are classified (e.g. Calgary-Fish Creek in “inner-city Calgary”). The table excludes votes for the Social Credit, Separation, Alberta, and Communist Parties and independent candidates, which only amount to a total of one percent of the popular vote. The regional averages are calculated by averaging the percentage of the popular vote a party garnered across all ridings in a given region. Admittedly, it would be more accurate to do the calculation with raw vote totals, but the two methods do not produce significantly or substantially different results, and the method I used was more expedient.

For the purposes of this analysis, ‘rural’ is ‘an area not in either of the two major cities, or the principal regional urban areas’ (i.e. Fort McMurray, Grande Prairie, Red Deer, Lethbridge and Medicine Hat).

Table 2: 2008 popular vote by region

PC

Liberal

NDP

WAP

Green

Province

53.33%

25.47%

8.66%

6.97%

4.48%

Edmonton (inner-city)

38.32%

35.40%

20.69%

1.90%

3.54%

Edmonton (suburbs)

49.54%

31.51%

13.30%

1.19%

3.00%

Edmonton (all)

45.46%

32.92%

15.99%

1.45%

3.19%

Calgary (inner city)

43.95%

36.86%

4.46%

7.11%

5.27%

Calgary (suburbs)

48.41%

29.71%

4.61%

10.21%

4.57%

Calgary (all)

46.08%

33.44%

4.53%

8.59%

4.93%

Combined inner-city

41.70%

36.27%

10.95%

5.02%

4.58%

Combined suburbs

49.04%

30.72%

9.48%

5.16%

3.69%

Combined YEG/YYC

45.78%

33.19%

10.13%

5.10%

4.08%

Northern AB (Fort McMurray)

63.41%

24.67%

7.72%

0.00%

4.21%

Northern AB (Grande Pairie)

63.07%

15.24%

10.56%

6.54%

4.60%

Northern AB (cities)

65.20%

18.23%

9.95%

3.27%

3.35%

Northern AB (rural)

66.69%

11.77%

12.07%

6.38%

2.70%

Northern AB (all)

65.64%

13.75%

11.34%

5.78%

3.23%

Central AB (Red Deer)

57.06%

24.31%

5.79%

7.60%

5.24%

Central AB (west)

58.77%

16.59%

5.93%

11.13%

7.21%

Central AB (east)

70.76%

12.15%

5.99%

4.45%

6.66%

Central AB (rural)

64.24%

14.14%

5.76%

8.24%

6.96%

Central AB (all)

63.44%

15.27%

5.76%

8.17%

6.77%

Southern AB (Lethbridge)

41.45%

40.78%

8.01%

6.84%

2.93%

Southern AB (Medicine Hat)

51.18%

34.43%

4.60%

7.09%

2.71%

Sotherrn AB (cities)

44.69%

38.66%

6.87%

6.92%

2.85%

Southern AB (rural)

61.98%

13.22%

3.57%

17.65%

3.58%

Southern AB (all)

56.79%

20.85%

4.56%

14.43%

3.36%

Smaller cites (all)

54.72%

27.47%

7.63%

6.13%

4.06%

Rural AB (all)

64.28%

13.37%

6.72%

10.00%

5.18%

Outside Calgary/Edmonton (all)

62.27%

16.34%

6.91%

9.19%

4.94%

*Note: This chart is available in a pretty colour-coded version that shows regional support relative to provincial levels. See the bottom of this post for that chart.

The PCs’ strongholds are Northern and Central Alberta. While they still won big in the two major cities, there is a nine-point difference between PC support levels in the suburbs versus the inner-city. When the PCs’ inner-city support is compared against their rural support, there is a difference of over 22 points. PC support levels in Lethbridge are similar to that of the two major cities, and while the PCs still dominate Medicine Hat, their support there is still 13 point lower than the rural average. Outside of the two major cities, the PCs support levels follow a gradient, increasing in intensity from south to north.

Surprisingly, on the chart, the Liberals’ strongest support levels are in Lethbridge. While the Liberals won Lethbridge-East and were competitive in Lethbridge-West, this is an artifact of the regional classification system, which makes some questionable classification decisions in the cities. 2008 was unique in that it shifted the opposition’s centre of gravity to Calgary. The Liberals have not historically done well in Calgary, and, in 1993, Laurence Decore actually won more seats in rural Alberta than he did in Calgary, so it is interesting to see that Liberal support is remarkably consistent between the two major cities in 2008.

The NDP has historically been a party of Edmonton and Northern Alberta, and their 2008 regional support patterns are a continuation of that trend. Though they only won two ridings in 2008, they were competitive enough across the capital to play spoilers against the Liberals. Historically, there has not been room for both a strong Liberal Party and a strong NDP, and some have taken it upon themselves to coordinate the non-conservative vote in an effort to reduce vote-splitting amongst the left. The NDP also had double-digit support levels in former NDP leader Grant Notely’s old stomping grounds of Northern Alberta, where there are groups active in both the environment and the public health care lobby.

Though the Wildrose Alliance received less than nine percent of the popular vote in 2008, they had a significant presence in a few key areas, and had double-digit support levels in suburban Calgary, West-Central Alberta, and rural Southern Alberta, where then-leader Paul Hinman was the incumbent in Cardston-Taber-Warner. They were also competitive in the far northern riding of Dunvegan-Central Peace. Though small compared to the Liberals, the WAP’s 2008 support foreshadows the Wildrose’s current standings of being, principally, a party of Calgary and Central and Southern Alberta. In fact, the Wildrose and NDP, in addition to being ideological foils to each other, are also regional foils with the Wildrose being stronger in the south and the NDP being stronger in the North.

The Greens, though stereotyped as a party for inner-city hippie types, actually fared best in Central Alberta, where they fielded notable local figures such as Edwin Erickson and Joe Anglin as candidates. With the dissolution and reincarnation of the Greens and the departure of these same two party notables (Erickson to the Alberta Party and Anglin to the Wildrose), the future of Alberta’s small but dedicated green movement is uncertain.

So what’s the bottom line? For all the talk of change in the air, come April 23rd, the 2012 election results may have been foreshadowed to some extent by the 2008 results. Even in 2008, the PCs support thinned (in a relative manner of speaking) from north to south, where as the WAP was stronger in the south and weaker in the north. The NDP’s support follows the same trend as the PCs, whereas the Liberals have similar support levels across both major cities. While the intensity of these patterns has changed exponentially, the nature of the patterns has remained relatively static between 2008 and 2012.

The one party for which there is no benchmark is the Alberta Party. Most polls show that their support is concentrated in the two major cities, so comparing them to the Greens in a regional sense does not work.

Notwithstanding the chance for seismic shifts in the final week of the campaign, these regional disparities in party support will have serious consequences for political debate in the next Legislature. The Calgary-Edmonton rivalry could become a proxy for the civil war in the conservative movement in Alberta, which has become far more heated than the rivalry between the PCs, Liberals, and NDP ever was. Given the increasingly antagonistic and divisive tenor of the election campaign, one cannot help but fear what effect this will have on our politics over the next for years—especially with the very real possibility for a minority government.

The privatization conspiracy theory, Oberg, Jivraj, and inside baseball

Before I begin this post, I want to emphasize that I am not wading into a public policy debate here. The private versus public health care debate has been done enough times that my input would add little to that conversation. Instead, I want to discuss inside baseball and the privatization of public health care conspiracy theory.

The PCs have been running firmly in the centre throughout this entire election campaign. Alison Redford’s tactics in the debate have matched the campaign’s strategy of portraying the Wildrose as an untested commodity that, if elected, will take Alberta back to the past, threaten the rights of gays and women, and privatize health care. Their latest offensive against the Wildrose attacks Danielle Smith’s ties to former PC MLA-turned-health-care-entrepreneur Lyle Oberg. Oberg had a rocky relationship with his former party, having famously alleged that he knew where the skeletons were in the government’s closet, only to be subsequently suspended from the PC caucus. That, in addition to the fact that he was one of the more right-leaning PCs, meant it was not much of a surprise when he jumped to the Wildrose. (Incidentally, Oberg’s wife works for Wildrose MLA Guy Boutilier, who supported Oberg’s failed leadership bid back in 2006). Anyway, the point is, Oberg, a doctor, is now in the for-profit health care business, which, given his ties to the Wildrose, gives further proof of the Wildrose’s plan to privatize health care. Right? Sure, why not?

Except, I am not sure this argument will fly, especially given the messenger. In Calgary, where the PCs are far behind, most people either do not buy the privatization conspiracy theory or they support it. At least that was the case several years ago when I was campaigning for the Liberals, and the privatization conspiracy was standard Liberal messaging du jour. Given that much of Calgary supports the Wildrose, who has labelled Redford a Liberal, I do not think the simple privatization conspiracy line would work again, even if it were the PCs using it.

So, if not Calgary, then perhaps it would work in Edmonton? In the capital, the PCs have a ten point lead at 33 percent, with the New Democrats and Wildrose tied at around 23 percent. The Liberals are in third at 15 percent, and both the Liberals and the NDs have momentum, whereas the Wildrose is static, and PCs are slipping. Bringing up the Wildrose’s hidden privatization agenda will at least hurt the Wildrose, which could be enough to help the PCs, even if it does not actually bump up the PCs numbers.

So if it could help the PCs in Edmonton, then what is the problem? The problem is inside baseball.

“Inside baseball” is a term used to describe issues that politicos and pundits care about, but that are largely irrelevant to the average citizen–like a complicated web of backroom connections. However, it is not just that the average person does not care about inside baseball, but that the Tories have their own inside baseball issues that pertain to private health care.

During the PC leadership race, many donations were made by numbered corporations. Among these, were three donations of amounts of $10,000, $12,500, and $12,500 made to three different leadership campaigns (including that of Alison Redford) made by three different numbered companies controlled by Dr. Kabir Jivraj. Jivraj is the managing director of AgeCare, which is a company that operates for-profit long-term seniors care facilities across the province. Jivraj and his companies have also donated close to $16,000 to the PCs from 2004 to 2009. Jivraj was also a principal shareholder of Surgical Centres Inc., a private surgery clinic operating out of Calgary. Moreover, Redford is a proponent of the “aging-in-place” concept for seniors’ care, which, is the same model used by the private company AgeCare–a model that critics allege will lead to increased privatization.  Surely, this link between Redford, the PCs, and private health care providers is just as good, if not better than the link between Smith, Oberg and private health care providers. In a final parallel, both Redford and Smith have denied being influenced by Jivraj and Oberg, respectively. There are enough parallels that a cynic might wonder if anyone would be able to distinguish one case from the either, if all of the names were stripped from the story.

This leads me back to my original point about inside baseball and whether Redford’s use of the privatization conspiracy against Smith will work. To the average voter, this intricate web of backroom ties is irrelevant, which means that the average voter likely does not even know about Lyle Oberg or Kabir Jivraj’s private health care operations, let alone care. However, anyone who follows inside baseball would likely know both cases and be able to see the parallels. Furthermore, the inside baseball fans on the left probably think that both Oberg and Jivarj and their respective political allies are all dangers to public health care.

To most people, Redford’s use of the privatization conspiracy theory is just too much inside baseball, and, many people who follow inside baseball already believe that the PCs have been part of that conspiracy all along.

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