Tuesday, April 17, 2012

Gap narrows, but Wildrose still in control

Since the weekend, two polls have been released indicating that the margin between Wildrose and the Progressive Conservatives has shrunk to seven points in Alberta's provincial voting intentions. That means that, though Wildrose is still on track to win a majority government, the race has tightened up.

Since Apr. 13, the projection that incorporated all pre-debate polling, Wildrose has dropped 2.2 points and now sits at a projected 39.7% of the vote. The Tories have picked up 2.1 points and are now at 35.3%, their highest level of support since Mar. 29.

This reduces the gap between the two parties to 4.4 points. That is certainly less than the seven points forecast by the two recent polls, so now is a good time to remind readers that the vote projection model includes an adjustment that increases or decreases projected vote share. This adjustment is based on where a party sits in the legislature, and so indirectly incorporates a whole slew of intangibles: organization, enthusiasm, fundraising, and incumbency. Past federal and provincial elections have indicated that there is some relationship between polls over- or under-estimating a party's support and the position of that party in the legislature at dissolution: bigger parties tend to be under-estimated, smaller parties are over-estimated.

The New Democrats have moved into third with a gain 0.2 points. They now have a projected 11% support, just ahead of the Liberals at 10.8% (-0.3).

This tightening of the race means that the Tories have picked up nine seats in the projection since the debate, all at the expense of Wildrose. Danielle Smith's party is now projected to win 47 seats against 36 for the PCs and four for the NDP (unchanged).

The two new polls disagree with one another strongly at the regional level, but less so province-wide. The result is that Wildrose is projected to take between 36.7% and 42.7% of the vote, compared to a range of 31.8% to 38.8% for the PCs. The two parties overlap one another once again.

The NDP range has moved ahead of the Liberals, as the NDP would take between 9% and 13% of the vote if an election were held today, while the Liberals would only take between 9.5% and 11.9%.
Though the likely seat ranges for the Liberals and NDP remain unchanged, the Wildrose range has stretched downwards. They are projected to win between 27 and 74 seats, while the Progressive Conservatives can win between nine and 58 seats. This gives both parties the chance of forming a majority government, though the votes would have to swing heavily in the PCs' favour for them to win it.

Calgary vote projections
The biggest shift in support has taken place in Calgary, where Wildrose dropped 3.3 points and seven seats to 44.5% and 19 seats. The Tories picked up 4.3 points (thus, it would appear, stealing votes from the left as well as the right), and is now projected to take 34.8% of the vote in the city, as well as eight seats.

The Liberals are down 0.6 points to 11%, while the New Democrats are down 1.1 points to only 6.1% in the city.

The ranges are widest here, however, as the Tories could conceivably take between 24.8% and 44.8% of the vote in the city, giving them between zero and 19 seats. Wildrose, meanwhile, could take between 37.5% and 51.5% of the vote, giving them between eight and 27 seats. The race in the city is quite difficult to pin down at this stage.

Edmonton is a little clearer - but only a little. The Tories are up 0.3 points to 39%, while Wildrose is down 0.9 points to 26.4%. The New Democrats are virtually unchanged, down 0.1 point to 16.3%, while the Liberals are up 0.3 points to 14.2%. The Alberta Party has picked up 0.3 points and stands at 2.6% support. This all adds up to 20 seats for the Tories, five for Wildrose, and four for the New Democrats.

But with the recent polls disagreeing on who leads in the provincial capital, the ranges for the Tories and Wildrose now overlap: 32% to 46% for the PCs and 19.1% to 33.7% for Wildrose. This means between eight and 26 seats for the Tories and between one and 18 seats for Wildrose. The NDP, meanwhile, could win as much as 19.9% of the vote and seven seats, while the Liberals could take 18.2% of the vote and three seats.

In the rest of the province, things are more clear cut. Wildrose is down 2.9 points to 47.3% and two seats to 23, while the Tories are up 0.2 points to 30.9% and two seats to eight. The New Democrats are up 2.4 points to 10.4%, while the Liberals are up 0.2 points to 7.4%. The ranges put Wildrose support at between 43.2% and 51.4% (18-29 seats) and the Tories at between 27.8% and 34% (1-13 seats), meaning we can definitively say that Wildrose is ahead outside the two cities.

The Return on Insight poll done for the CBC puts Wildrose at 43% to 36% for the Tories, with the Liberals at 11% and the NDP at 9%. It is impossible to really look at trends with this survey, however, as RoI was last in the field at the end of January. But contrary to virtually every single poll out in this campaign, RoI puts the Tories ahead in Calgary and Wildrose ahead in Edmonton.

Forum is a little more conventional, but also shows that seven point gap. They have Wildrose at 40%, down three points since Apr. 9, and the Tories at 33%, up two points. The NDP is up one to 12% and the Liberals are unchanged at 10%. Like other polls, they show the comfortable Wildrose and Tory leads in Calgary and Edmonton, respectively.

While it is difficult to figure out what is going on in the two main cities (though it is safe to say that Forum is probably closer to the mark), it does appear that the margin between the two parties is closing. Will it close fast enough for the Tories? The next few days will tell us - and as the headlines aren't exactly positive for Wildrose at the moment, things could move quickly.