Friday, November 18, 2011

Keystone, Alberta, and the NDP

The NDP's concerns over the Keystone XL pipeline are not likely to make the party many new friends in Alberta. 

But are the New Democrats writing off the province, or speaking for an unrepresented portion of the population?

You can read the rest of the article on The Huffington Post Canada website here.

Alberta isn't the most exciting political battlefield in Canada - actually, it is probably the least. But with the New Democrats poised to be the main alternative in 2015 and with the party already occupying one seat in the province, Alberta could be a bit more interesting in four years' time.
Harris-Decima and Ipsos-Reid were the two polling firms to report so far in November, and their Alberta results overlap each other taking into account the margin of error. Though the Conservatives are, in these polls, somewhere between 58% and 66%, their lead is clear and the effect on their electability in its 28 (or, soon, 34) ridings is not changed either way.

But for the other parties it is pretty consistent. The New Democrats have around 19% support in Alberta while the Liberals are between 9% and 10%. Green support is harder to peg, but it is likely closer to Harris-Decima's result than Ipsos-Reid's.

It is interesting to note that prior to the 2011 federal election this was the sort of breakdown we often saw, but with the Liberals in the place of the NDP. They've swapped in Alberta, like they have done in several other parts of the country.

But what would it take for the New Democrats to win a second seat in Alberta in its current 28-seat make-up? Let's play around with the projection model to find out.

The Conservatives only took less than 50% support in two of the 27 seats they won, so the likelihood of some combination of opposition parties winning a big swathe of seats from the Tories in Alberta is very low. What needs to change?

Let's start from the average of these two polls (62% CPC, 19% NDP, 9.5% LPC, 8.5% GPC) and go from there. Let's first assume that the Tory vote is unassailable, and the NDP only takes from the Liberals and the Greens. By giving the NDP 0.5 points at a time each from the Liberals and the Greens, the second NDP seat becomes winnable at 24% for the NDP, with the Liberals at 7% and the Greens at 6%. The second seat is, of course, Edmonton East.

What about a third? Edmonton Centre becomes winnable for the NDP at 32% provincial support, pushing the Liberals to a bare 3% and the Greens to 2%. A fourth seat, Lethbridge, falls in the NDP column when the party reaches 35%, with the Conservatives still at 62% and the Liberals and Greens at 1.5% and 0.5% apiece.

But what if the NDP were able to take votes away from the Conservatives as well as the Liberals and the Greens? Let's bump NDP support up by one point at a time, taking 0.5 from the Conservatives, 0.3 from the Liberals, and 0.2 from the Greens.

With this incremental change, Edmonton East turns orange at 59% CPC, 23% NDP, 8.3% LPC, and 7.7% GPC. Edmonton Centre falls at 56% CPC, 29% NDP, and 6.5% apiece for the Greens and Liberals. The fourth seat, Lethbridge, goes NDP at 54.5% CPC, 32% NDP, 5.9% GPC, and 5.6% LPC.

So, it is plainly obvious how far we are from more than two seats voting anything but Conservative in Alberta. The new boundaries could change things, though, depending on how Edmonton's seats are re-distributed.


  1. Interesting analysis. What makes it even more interesting is that Edmonton Centre and Edmonton East have high populations and with the added HOC seats, at least one will likely be added here, possibly giving the NDP another seat in Edmonton

  2. Interesting analysis on the nature of FPTP and necessary thresholds.

    With redistribution to 34 federal seats Alberta will have fewer urban/rural split ridings, and the NDP has a reasonable chance of moving one or two more Edmonton seats into its column.

    This logic would follow from the distribution of seats in the Alberta legislature, where there are several swing seats in the capital.

  3. I definitely think that the NDP will be the favourites to win in Edmonton Centre and Edmonton East next time with the redistrubution. Unless of course if the Conservatives gerrymander the ridings to avoid that from happening.

    The NDP ran a great candidate in Edmonton Centre who would have a great shot of winning if he ran again. Not sure who would be the nominee in Edmonton East, though provincially the NDP Leader wins with large pluaralities.

    It will depend largely on who will be the next leader, though since the NDP has won most of the seats in Quebec, I think focusing on urban western Canada would be the next logical place to look for support.

  4. If the NDP wins more than one seat in Edmonton, their national margins should be high enough to be forming a government.

    Outside Edmonton is a waste of time and resources for any progressive opposition party.

    I don't think any of the three major party leaders visited Alberta (outside of Edmonton) during the last election.

    - Maple

  5. The only way there are more than marginal changes to this picture (i.e. the CPC winning all but 1-3 of Alberta's seats) is if a national version of the Wild Rose arises. Unless someone does to the CPC what Reform did to the Tories, there isn't a chance for the lock on Alberta to be broken.

  6. Before the NDP supporters get too carried away about winning more seats in Alberta, they should recognize that Edmonton-Strathcona has the smallest population of any riding in the province and is centred around a "low growth" part of city. Any redistribution will need to expand Edmonton-Strathcona well beyond its current boundaries in order to stay within the electoral quotient.

  7. @Anonymous 19:23:

    I don't know that it is true that Strathcona will expand "well beyond" it's current boundaries. If Alberta gets its four new seats (under the CPC proposal), Strathcona will only be about 10,000 people lower than the quotient, so that is not a massive expansion. Looking at what seats are nearby, the most overpopulated is Edmonton East, which is 17,000 over the electoral quotient, so likely there would be a transfer from East to Strathcona. Depending on which parts of East vote how, and given that Duncan has a reasonable cushion between herself and the CPC, the redistribution could actually make East more likely to go NDP.

  8. That's actually not true at all. Edmonton-Strathcona is only slightly smaller in population than other current Alberta ridings, but it still has a big population by Canada-wide standards - but Alberta is about to get 6 new ridings which will reduce the average population of each riding A LOT. Most AB ridings will get reduced in size to make room for the six new seats - Strathcona will probably just stay the same size as it is now.

  9. In response to DL and TS, I would note that the estimated electoral quotient for Alberta (based on the April 1, 2011 population estimates from Statcan) would be 110,536. The rules governing redistribution state that each riding should be as equal in population as possible subject to variations for sparsely populated areas etc. In 2001, the variation in Alberta ranged from +12.2% (for Edmonton East) to -16.3% (for Fort McMurray). Assuming a similar pattern for the next redistribution but limiting the variation to a range of + or -10%, the Edmonton and Calgary ridings will have populations closer to the 120,000 range.
    Edmonton-Stratcona had a population in 2006 of just over 99,000 an increase of less than 300 from the 2001 census. Since the 2006 election to the May 2011 election, the number of eligble voters declined from 77,560 to 71,050. While the number of eligible voters is not the most accurate predictor of population growth, an 8.4% decline over the five-year period would not usually be a harbinger of a stable or growing population. We will know which of us is correct on February 8, 2012 when the 2011 Census numbers are released.
    In any event, the addition to 6 seats to the existing 28 will have "knock-on" effects even when an existing riding may fall within the proper population range. The increase in population in Edmonton will justify an additional riding. The remainging ridings will all have to "shift", to a greater or lesser degree, in order to accommodate it.


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