Polls agree: NDP in the lead

On April 30, 2015, five days before the Alberta election scheduled for May 5, five new polls have been released, capturing for the first time the Alberta political landscape following a debate all observers agree was won by the NDP’s Rachel Notley.

A poll conducted for the CBC by Return on Insight found the NDP leading with 38 per cent support among decided voters, with 24 per cent for the Progressive Conservatives and 21 per cent for the Wildrose.

Another poll, done by Leger for the Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal, found the NDP at 38 per cent, trailed by the PCs at 30 and the Wildrose at 24 per cent.

Finally, Ekos are also releasing a poll today. I have yet to see the full report on this one, but company president Frank Graves released some of their findings, including top-line numbers, on Twitter. Ekos found 39.6 per cent support for the NDP and 23 per cent for both Wildrose and PCs.

UPDATE APRIL 30, 2:30 EST: Two other pollsters have now also reported nearly identical numbers. ThinkHQ are reporting NDP 39, Wildrose 27, PC 20 and Ipsos report NDP 37, Wildrose 26 and PC 24. The Ekos numbers also appear to have changed in their final report, with Ekos now reporting NDP at 42, PC 23 and Wildrose 21.
UPDATE MAY 1: Mainstreet Technologies have now reported with their final poll of the campaign, showing the NDP leading with 44 per cent support to 26 for the Wildrose and 21 for the PCs. “The NDP surge is staggering,” Mainstreet president Quito Maggi told the Calgary Herald. “It’s going to be an NDP government.”

Aside from Leger finding a stronger PC party than the other two, the results are eerily similar. All polls thus far have shown Edmonton as an NDP lock, and that party’s provincial support may be inflated by the surplus votes they hold in a city where they’re polling close to 60 per cent.

Earlier this week I spoke to Paul Wells, political editor with Macleans, after his return from a trip to Alberta to report on the election campaign. I asked him what we could expect in the campaign’s final week.

“The suspense is killing me, just as it is everyone else. [In the final week of the campaign] I expect Prentice to plainly admit that he’s afraid of losing and of an ‘inexperienced, radical government.’ That is the term he will use.”

But will the PCs be able to pull yet another government out of their hat on election day, like their come-from-behind win in 2012, by appealing to Albertans’ fear of change? Some are beginning to think it won’t be as easy this time.

Notley’s NDP ‘not scary’

Don Braid is senior political columnist for the Calgary Herald and the unofficial dean of the Calgary press club. He published a column this morning entitled “Just how scary is Rachel Notley?” His conclusion? Not very.

Warning of what he described as the coming “ooga-booga campaign” of fear from the PCs, Braid points out the NDP plan to raise royalties is reasonable and couldn’t be carried out more badly than the PCs’ attempt under Ed Stelmach.

“The truth is that Notley isn’t very scary at all,” argues Braid. “Compared to the Wildrose lake of fire, she offers the NDP bubble bath. Poll after poll shows that the majority of Albertans like exactly what’s supposed to be so alarming: slightly higher corporate taxes and future increases to royalties that still preserve the industry’s health.”

With five days left, anything can happen, including the collapse of this NDP surge. Nevertheless, it is noteworthy that thus far it closely parallels the rise of the NDP in Quebec in 2011, about which similar questions were raised regarding lack of a ground game or established candidates.

“The biggest scare tactic of the campaign,” Braid continues, “is the PCs’ constant claim that any hike to corporate taxes — even a one-point hike to 11 per cent — would kill thousands upon thousand of jobs.”

“Of course, the companies are already laying off thousands of people. The real Alberta job killer, as always, is low energy prices. Notley feels that a tax point or two, added to the lowest corporate regime in Canada, would be negligible in a province that has no sales tax and many other tax advantages.”

But the real defeat of the PC scare-machine may have come earlier, when Prentice tried to take a shot at the NDP’s bad math during the debate. He failed so miserably that his “I know math is difficult” remark became an internet sensation.

Throughout the evening, the premier appeared flummoxed by his inability to land the usual shots about the NDP’s “socialist” policies. None of his attacks since then have gained real traction.

Whatever the NDP are selling, Albertans appear to be buying.

PCs fighting a two-front war

“People in Alberta understand that with the price of oil going down, we have to change our revenue system,” Bill Moore-Kilgannon, executive director of Public Interest Alberta, told Ricochet. “And the NDP’s plan for properly establishing progressive taxation, and then setting corporate taxes at the same rate as Saskatchewan, seems eminently feasible.”

Wells meanwhile praised Notley’s performance on the campaign trail, suggesting it has much to do with the support her party currently enjoys.

“Rachel Notley’s the only natural in this race. She is amiable, she has a cutting sense of humour, which I think could conceivably get her in trouble but hasn’t yet, and she speaks about a wide variety of policies, not a narrow set of policies. I found her very impressive. What I was told, by people who have spent a hell of a lot more time on the ground in Alberta than I have, is that the NDP are essentially ready to storm Edmonton, and have some shot at making serious inroads in Calgary and even outside of the big cities.”

With today’s poll numbers, those inroads look more possible than before, but Dave Cournoyer, an independent journalist covering the Alberta election campaign on his blog, daveberta.ca, sounded a note of caution when he spoke to Ricochet this week.

“The challenge for the NDP is going to be expanding their support outside of the urban areas. The Progressive Conservatives, who have been in power in Alberta for 44 years, are really the only party running a province-wide campaign. The NDP have seen their support concentrated in the urban areas, while in the rural areas the Progressive Conservatives are being challenged by the Wildrose party. Wildrose has been damaged by all the floor crossings last year, but is putting up a fight and does have a significant amount of support in those rural areas. The PCs are really fighting a two-front war.”

Leger shows Calgary as the key battleground, with 33 per cent support for Premier Jim Prentice’s PCs, 30 for Notley’s NDP and 26 for Brian Jean’s Wildrose. The CBC poll has the PCs at 32, the NDP at 25 and Wildrose with 24 per cent support in that city.

In the rest of Alberta, Leger has the PCs at 35 per cent, trailed by the NDP with 30 and the Wildrose with 29. CBC, on the contrary, found the NDP leading outside the major cities with 34 per cent, followed by the Wildrose at 28 and the PCs at 22.

So what do we know? The NDP are all but guaranteed to improve on their current seat total, and it’s reasonable to expect close to a clean sweep of Edmonton for Team Orange. Calgary, and to a great extent the rest of Alberta, is now a three-way race. Alberta’s never seen a campaign like this, and it’s impossible to predict how the interplay of support for these three parties will translate into seats in what are bound to be close races.

Equally clear, the NDP are in the pole position heading into the final five days of this campaign. With Edmonton in their back pocket, the NDP control one of three keys to Alberta politics. If they can split either of the other two, as appears likely, they could form Alberta’s first NDP government on May 6.