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Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Leger Poll Results are Reassuring but Not Conclusive of the Final Election Outcome

The CanWest poll published in the Edmonton Journal and the Calgary Herald today has some interesting and some unsettling results. The Alberta election is clearly a two horse race, or more accurately a PC horse (40%) and a half a Liberal horse at (18%) support.

There is no clear ballot question this election and we see there is no clear attitudinal consistency for voters in the election either. I say this because 45% say the PCs should be re-elected and 45% want a change in government. Even more (54%) in Calgary want a change in government but that may be holdover angst from the PC leadership outcome that shocked and unnerved them.

The reality is those who want a change of government have not seen a viable alternative in the other parties. The other reality is the undecided at 27% this late into the election. With no burning issue or no viable alternative to the PCs and about half of them having no inking of which party or leader they are even leaning towards, it is likely the undecided Albertans will stay home.

If the PCs become complacent over getting out the vote or some supporters may want to stay home to send a message to the party, as expected in Calgary, then the overall turnout is going to be abysmally low. That means there are going to be more close races in many places in urban Alberta. The Wildrose Alliance supporters will show up but they don’t have that many candidates running. Will the WAP supporters show for a second choice PC or just stay home? I doubt it.

The other question is how much can we rely on these polls these days. Strategic Counsel did one on the Alberta election in mid January for the Globe and Mail. They had the PCs at 58%, much higher than today. The Liberals at 19% and the NDP were at 9%, same as they are today.

The Strategic Counsel poll had a much stronger likelihood of vote switching at 41% agreeing they might change their opinions on Election Day whereas only 25% in the Leger poll are likely to switch support on Election Day. The Strategic Counsel poll noted PCs were the second choice for 29% of Liberals. A full 32% of PC had the Liberals as their second choice so there is fluidity there too.

I think 40% PC support this close to Election Day is a good sign for the PC Party. Not because it is high. It isn’t. But it should be a sobering reality that spurs on the PC volunteers to get on the phones and get out their vote. The Liberals will be disheartened with this result because it underscores that there time has not come – even with a strong desire for a change of government.

My sense is this poll is not conclusive of anything and that is not a challenge to the instrument design or anything else. I think each party has a core support that will show but there is a sense that the PC support is more “normative” than heartfelt beyond the hard core group. I think many people will make up their minds to vote or not this weekend and if they show up many of them will hold off a final binding vote decision up to the time they pick up the pencil in the voting booth.

As a PC supporter I am reassured by the Leger poll results but I am not confident enough yet to be taking any bets on the final outcome.