With the two latest polls published yesterday morning, it is very hard not to conclude the far-right Wildrose Party is in fact making a major breakout in Alberta public support.
On top of two polls published Tuesday and four others since the start of February, yesterday’s polls bring to eight the number of similar public opinion surveys suggesting a surge in Wildrose support. They may not all be the best polls possible, but surely they have spotlighted a real phenomenon.
If nothing changes, the selection as leader and premier of Alison Redford by the long-ruling Progressive Conservative government seems to have provided nothing but a minor and transitory bump in support for the Conservatives.
Of course, some things are bound to change in this campaign, as Premier Redford’s Tories, unexpectedly finding themselves in a corner, pull out all the advertising stops and attempt to scare the bejesus out of the legions of “soccer moms” on whom they’ve been counting for votes.
And I don’t know about the soccer moms, but, by God, the idea of a Wildrose government frightens me!
Just the same, perhaps after all one of those great tectonic shifts in Alberta’s political mood is under way and Alberta’s second female premier will be the one that actually has a chance to implement her program – a prospect that should deeply trouble supporters of public health care and other public services in every Canadian province.
While a poll published earlier in the week shows health care as the front-of-mind issue for a majority of Alberta voters – especially the undecided ones – this doesn’t seem to have dampened the enthusiasm of very large numbers of the same Albertans for change, or for the market-fundamentalist, pro-privatization Wildrose Party as its most likely agent.
At any rate, according to the poll conducted by Forum Research Inc. and published by Sun Media yesterday morning, the Wildrose Party under Danielle Smith is on the cusp of being able to form a majority government in Alberta.
The one-day push-button poll conducted Monday suggests Ms. Smith’s party would take 58 seats in the Alberta Legislature if the election were held today, with Ms. Redford’s Conservatives coming a distant second with 22 seats, the Suns claim.
The survey, which judging from past Forum polls overestimates Wildrose support, nevertheless shows the party with the backing of 41 per cent of committed voters, compared to 31 per cent for the PCs, 12 per cent for the Liberals, 11 per cent for the NDP, and 2 per cent for the Alberta Party.
Notwithstanding its use of methodology questioned by credible pollsters, coverage of this particular poll by the Sun was uncritical and highly favourable to the Wildrose Party. But then, parent company Sun Media has assigned itself the role of active Wildrose partisan, quite prepared to campaign openly in its news columns for the far-right party as it did for Prime Minister Stephen Harper’s so-called Conservatives in the last federal election.
But while we might be tempted to add the Suns’ ideological excesses to the poll’s methodological flaws and come up with the proverbial grain of salt, a more sound Leger Marketing telephone survey commissioned by the PostMedia News Alberta papers also released yesterday shows Wildrose support rising to 34 per cent, with the Tories still barely in the lead at 37 per cent.
While this is not as good a result from the Wildrose perspective as the day’s other poll, it certainly also suggests the Conservatives’ strong lead of a few weeks ago has evaporated. Wildrose support is coming mainly from disaffected Conservatives and the momentum now clearly supports the Wildrose Party, Leger Marketing concludes.
The Leger survey of 1,215 Albertans was conducted in the four days before the election was announced on Monday, the Herald said, and it shows 37 per cent support for the Tories and 34 per cent for the Wildrose Party among decided voters. The Liberals under Raj Sherman trail with 12 per cent and the NDP under Brian Mason at 11 per cent.
Of course, such results may or may not translate into big Wildrose gains after the April 23 provincial election. To a significant degree, that depends on what the Conservatives do now.
So if you thought the 2008 election was messy – what with all the whining about those labour-financed “Albertans for Change” ads whispering “no plan, no plan” whenever former premier Ed Stelmach appeared – just wait until you see what the Conservatives do when they really find themselves in a jam.
It won’t be pretty. Both Conservatives and Wildrosers are past masters of campaigns based on fear. They’re basically the same people, after all. As Wildrose campaign manager Tom Flanagan once put it, “this is the reality of politics. The fear factor is everything.”
In a dire situation like this, the deep-pocketed Conservatives can be counted upon to fight as hard and dirty as Dr. Flanagan to try to make sure the Wildrose surge is stamped out.
If the hammer doesn’t work, count on them to use the advertising equivalent of an atomic bomb.
This post also appears on Rabble.ca.