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.

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About jbsantos
Polling, politics, PR and outdoor pursuits.

One Response to What 2008 might show us about 2012

  1. Pingback: 2012 regional popular vote averages « Santos Sez

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