Wednesday, March 20, 2019

Poll Dancing

Nation, the first poll of the Alberta 2019 General Election has been released, showing the United Conservative Party of Jason Kenney holding a significant lead over Rachel Notley's NDP overall, at 49% to 38%.

The numbers broken down regionally are somewhat more positive for Notley, as her party holds a commanding 52 to 34 lead in the Capital Region, though those numbers are mirrored in the greater Calgary area, with the UCP holding the edge 54 to 33 over the NDP.

Worth noting, though, are the following caveats:

  1. Polls are a snapshot in time, not a predictor of the eventual outcome. If an election were held today, the decided voters were leaning this way, though a full 22% of voters indicated they were undecided.
  2. An election is not being held today.
  3. Not everyone votes. Conventional political wisdom suggests that the older you are, the more likely you are to vote - and such groups tend to lean conservative in this province.
  4. Campaigns matter. They really, REALLY matter.

Consider that in 2015, at this stage in the provincial election, the polls showed the Wildrose Party of Brian Jean ahead in the polls at 31% versus the Prentice PC's at 27% and the Notley NDP at 26%. The final result of that campaign saw the NDP pulling 41% of votes cast, to the PC's 28% and the Wildrose's 24%. In 28 days, the NDP went from third to first, and won a majority government while outperforming that initial poll by 15%.

On a municipal level, four weeks before the 2010 Calgary election, long-time City Councilor Ric McIver led the field with 43% in polls, compared to Barb Higgins at 28% and unknown MRU Professor Naheed Nenshi a distant third at 8%. Once the votes were counted on election day, Nenshi had won the mayor's chair with 40% of votes cast compared to McIver's 32% and Higgins' 26%. In 28 days, Nenshi went from third to first, and won while outperforming that initial poll by 32%.

This is not to suggest that the third-place candidate or party - in the case of the 2019 Alberta election, this is the Alberta Party (polling at 8% province-wide) - is a shoo-in, by any stretch. It simply goes to illustrate the point that the narrative being desperately pushed by both the NDP and the Conservatives, that this is a two-horse race that no one else has a shot at - it just that: a campaign narrative, hoping to steer people away from considering other options.

Of course, on the balance of probabilities, the top 2 finishers in this contest are going to be the NDP and the United Conservatives. 99 times out of a hundred, these sorts of leads in polls are relatively safe, and voters flock to one side in hopes of stopping the other side from winning. That's why both parties are pushing the narrative that this is a two-horse race: Because most of the time, that simple narrative WORKS. Wonks like myself like to delude ourselves into thinking that people will vote for the best policies, or will cast their vote for aspirational reasons, but by far the best motivator is fear.

I fear what four more years of the NDP will do to the economy, so I'm voting Kenney.

I fear what Kenney's party might do to public services and minority rights, so I'm voting NDP.

Can the Alberta Party win this election?


I mean, it's possible. They'll have candidates in all 87 constituencies - which is basically a requirement for any party hoping to seriously have a shot at forming government. But a LOT will have to go right for them, and wrong for their opponents, over the next four weeks.

At this stage, I'd put their chances alongside those of my Oilers making the Stanley Cup Playoffs this year.

It's not likely.

But it's POSSIBLE.

But it's going to take a lot of hard work, a lot of people performing at or above the highest level they thought possible, and some significant mis-steps from their opponents.

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