Saturday, February 23, 2008

Alberta Debate Results: #1 Stelmach, #2 Don't Know, #3 Taft

The impact of the Alberta election debate is the subject of a CanWest poll published today. My blog post for the CBC YouCast site said the debate changed nothing for the undecided voter but the leaders all reaffirmed and reassured their bases. The poll results confirm this.

Pundits and MSM see political debates as contests between party leaders so, by definition, there has to be a winner and a loser. When there isn’t a clear result the chattering class suffer from a kind of political cognitive dissonance because can’t resolve the values conflict that demands a winner and a loser. I say let them suffer.

Looking at the poll results, ¾ of viewers did not change their minds and 23% are still undecided with about 10 days to go. The numbers say Stelmach “won” for 30.1% of the respondents and 34.6% say they are voting for him. Taft is perceived to have “won” by 23.3% and 23.1% are voting for him. This is showing the core vote for each party is pleased with their guy’s performance – nothing more can be read into this poll result. The NDP and WAP results are inconsequential but there are some interesting strategic implications around them for the two main parties.

The WAP’s Hinman confirmed his fiscal fundamentalist right-wing agenda. His challenge was to reassure the newly merged WAP members that they are a political force and not be discouraged with the President’s resignation and the poor showing on candidate recruitment. Hinman has to sustain his 70K popular vote from the 2004 election and get re-elect to succeed.

The NDP has to reassure core supporters not to vote Liberal for strategic purposes to defeat the PCs. He has done that by taking on both Stelmach and Taft. He has positioned Taft as pretty much a PCer in a red sweater. His core is reassured that an NDP vote is not a waste and they should return to the role of keeping both the Libs and the PC honest. He has to at least retain seats and sustain popular vote levels to succeed.

Taft has performed well this election campaign but the debate is where he will have peaked and is now plateaued. He will sustain this support level to and through Election Day. That potentially means more seats but not government. With no clear ballot question and a considerable but seemingly disengaged undecided segment, the big momentum change the Libs need to form government is not happening. His attempt to position Stelmach as same old…same old has not gelled because Stelmach has proven to be an agent of significant change in the past 14 months.

As for Stelmach, he has kept his true Progressive Conservative party core. With Hinman’s debate performance, the far right voters that abandoned Klein in 2004, are not coming back. That is a god thing because it clearly puts to bed that Stelmach is just a continuation of the past government. Stelmach has recognized that Albertans what change and elections are always about change and choices. The results coming out of this debate and the campaign so far shows Albertans want change but they are coming to realize Ed Stelmach is the kind a prudent, thoughtful and careful change agent we need in these time of turmoil.

It looks like Albertans are prepared to give him a real shot as a change agent and to give him more time to get the needed changes done right, not just rapidly. This time he will have his own team and his own mandate. He will also face a much higher expectation level for deliver on his promises and to stay true to his stated values than any other Premier of Alberta in history.