Putting too much faith in polls can be a fool’s game but it’s safe to say this election will be unlike any the province has seen for decades.
For as long as many Albertans can remember, the outcome of provincial votes was in little doubt. The 1993 election was the closest in recent memory but still saw the Progressive Conservatives earn a solid majority, despite earning only 45 per cent of the popular vote to the Liberals’ 40 per cent. Elections since have seen the PCs cruise to double-digit victories in terms of vote percentages and crushing majorities in the legislature.
But, if surveys of voter intentions are accurate, the PCs now find themselves playing catchup to the upstart Wildrose party. Some polls put Wildrose ahead by double-digit margins.
Of course, politicians who are trailing in the polls like to say the only poll that matters is on election day. But that cliche isn’t exactly true, literally or figuratively speaking.
In the literal sense, April 23 isn’t the only day that Albertans can cast ballots. Advance polls actually open today and continue tomorrow and Saturday.
In the figurative sense, opinion polls do have a direct impact on “the only poll that matters” because they can have a profound effect on the way people cast their ballots.
In this election, in particular, Albertans who lean towards the left of the political spectrum have found themselves considering a variety of strategic voting options in response to the Wildrose upswing. Some Liberal voters may consider voting NDP, while some NDP voters may consider voting Liberal, depending on which candidate they feel has the best chance in their particular constituency. Some supporters of both parties have even been musing about voting PC in an effort to block Wildrose candidates.
Those who lean to the right, meanwhile, now have two competitive, small-c conservative parties to choose from. The challenge for many is figuring out exactly what they would get from either party, were it to form the next government. Wildrose remains a relatively new and unknown political entity, and while the PCs have been around for ages in Alberta politics, the party has taken on a different look and direction under its new leader. Small-c conservatives not only have to evaluate the positions of these two parties, they have to re-evaluate exactly where they stand, themselves, when it comes to particular issues. That’s something many may not have done for several elections now, when their side of the political spectrum offered less choice.
Voters also have another upstart party to factor in to their decision making: The Alberta Party. This is particularly true locally, with the leader running in the West Yellowhead constituency, which represents the party’s best chance by far to earn a seat in the legislature.
Further complicating matters is the prospect of a minority government, and exactly what that would look like.
All in all, it adds up to a difficult choice for undecided voters considering how to best make their ballot count. But this must come as a welcome change for many Albertans who felt in previous elections that the outcome was a foregone conclusion and their ballots barely counted at all.