Will Liberals save the PCs?
April 4, 2012 2 Comments
When asked about her party’s low poll numbers, Alison Redford calmly dismissed the premise of the question. Is this simply, “staying inside the message box” or she actually confident that the Wildrose’s momentum will eventually implode? While they likely have their own internal polling that is more detailed than the polling reported in the media, it is hard to imagine that the PCs are not at least somewhat worried about the current state of the campaign. After all, the prologue to the campaign was rife with scandal, and the first week was dominated by personal attacks, culminating with an unfortunate remark about Danielle Smith’s childlessness. Still, what are the possible reasons behind Redford’s grace under fire?
Perhaps Redford is counting on colourful local candidates becoming a liability for the Wildrose. While everyone knows there are several Wildrose candidates that are socially conservative, I am unsure of how much this will hurt the Wildrose. First, campaign manager Tom Flanagan and other Reform Party veterans learned the consequences of giving candidates too long of a leash back in the 1993 federal election. I am certain that candidates will have been vetted to root out the more unsavoury types, and that those who are passionately socially conservative have been “talked to” and told that straying from established messaging will ruin their electoral chances. Second, with the recession still on people’s minds, the focus on economic issues not only favours the Wildrose, who have fiscal hawks like Smith and Rob Anderson but also reduces the chances of the discussion drifting into controversial discussions of social policy. Third, having socially-conservative views does not necessarily equate to being unelectable, especially a province known for its conservatism. (The extent and intensity of Alberta’s conservatism is a separate debate, but it certainly has the perception of being very conservative.) Moreover, the Wildrose’s target demographics (men, persons who are middle-aged and above) are known to be more conservative than the groups Redford is popular amongst (young adults and women).
I think the reason Redford is not that worried–or at least gives the impression that she is not that worried–is she is counting on the defection of frightened progressives to stop the Wildrose. There has not been any movement yet, but I have the feeling that two weeks of solid Wildrose polling numbers will have many Liberals and even some New Democrats asking themselves who the lesser evil is between Redford and Smith. Spend five minutes talking to a progressive, and you will see just how afraid some of them are–either of the libertarian Smith or of the socially conservative rank-and-file. Those more afraid of the former say that, should the Wildrose win, health care and education will be privatized, unions will be abolished and Alberta will no longer just be pro-oil, but will be anti-environment. Those more afraid of the latter say that open discrimination against gays will be allowed, access to abortions will be limited, and evolution will no longer be taught in school. One wonders what the Liberals–who have used the strategic voting argument against the NDP in Alberta for so long–will say when the same argument is used against them in a plea for help to stop an even greater enemy. After all, if Tories, Grits and Dippers agree on anything, it is that they are all afraid of the Wildrose.
There is the chance the Wildrose’s momentum could implode for whatever reason, and all of this will be moot. No doubt, some progressives are hoping Smith’s position on “conscience rights” will be what starts the Wildrose’s tumble. However important this issue may be, I am not sure if it is enough of a priority to the average Albertan over, say, the state of the economy. If anything, it might convince university-educated, post-materialistic urban sophisticates who normally vote Liberal or NDP but are saddened by the current horse race numbers to consider voting PC for strategic reasons.
It is likely that the PCs assumed a certain amount of wastage would occur on their right flank, but figured that they would attract enough support from moderates to more than make up for it. However, recent scandals and the government’s responses have eroded public confidence to the point where the average citizen is more concerned with change rather than ideology, hence why the Wildrose continues to enjoy their lead. If the progressives do move over to the PCs to stop the Wildrose, it will be an ironic twist of fate that the some of the most vocal critics of the government for the past twenty years will end up supporting their old enemy.
Indeed, politics can make for strange bedfellows.
*Update for April 18, 2012: There is an “Anyone but Wildrose” strategic voting campaign that hit the web this week: http://ineverthoughtidvotepc.com/