After the dust had settled on May 5th in Calgary, a seemingly shocking result emerged; the NDP won a majority government. A lot has been written analyzing the election and trying to explain just how this occurred.
Some think Calgary Mayor Naheed Nenshi deserves credit for the NDP win, others think it’s a result of the demographic changes in Alberta, or perhaps Albertans just wanted to kick out the PC’s and saw the NDP as the best people to do just that. After crunching the numbers and looking at the polling data, I think a few there are a few key points being missed in the mainstream media’s analysis of the election.
1. The Wildrose campaign in 2012 forged a path for the NDP.
Back in 2012, the province was buzzing over the fact that the scrappy Wildrose Party may topple the longstanding PC Government. However, a rough final week in the election featured a plethora of PC attack ads and Wildrose candidate mishaps, resulting in a PC victory.
Results aside, the election itself served to collectively reminded voters that they don’t always have to vote PC. Voter turnout was up that election over previous ones and Albertans were reminded that they do have a choice when it comes to who they send to Edmonton to govern.
2. Despite the polling saying otherwise, half of Albertans still thought the PCs would win.
Because of the 2012 election, Albertan’s have viewed opinion polls very skeptically. That led to many questioning the results of opinion polls in the 2015 election and these perceptions likely led to the PC vote being inflated. The Wildrose messaging through the final week was “We are in the best position to beat the NDP” and in many ridings they were.
However, the fact that many people still saw a PC government being the probable outcome likely had 2 effects. First, given that the NDP had momentum going into Election Day, anti-PC votes likely went more to the NDP than to the Wildrose. Second, conservative voters who didn’t want an NDP government were more likely to have cast their votes for the PC’s thinking they were the best chance of stopping them.
I would wager that if the province took a mulligan on the election results (something Jim Prentice probably wishes he could do), the Wildrose would have a stronger showing.
3. The PCs had a superior ground game.
If you compare the polls to the outcome of the election, you’ll notice a couple things. First, the polls seemed to have correctly gauged the levels of the NDP and Wildrose support, with some small discrepancies depending on which poll you look at. However, the polls all underestimated the support the PCs received.
From my perspective, this shows the strength of the PC ground game and the common voter’s belief that they would still win the election. While most polls had the PCs in the low 20’s, they finished with 28% in the popular vote. In particular, the results in Calgary and Edmonton show the PCs being much stronger than where the polls had them.
To me, this is an indication of the PCs “Get out the Vote” efforts working in conjunction with the public perceptions prior to Election Day. Without their superior voter ID’s, money and resources, the PC’s likely would have suffered a worse defeat. Instead, they can consider the popular vote results as some sort of a silver lining.
So what does this all mean? To me, it’s clear that the 2012 election had a major effect on the voting public in this election. From a distrust of polling figures to voters being open to changing government, the shadow of 2012 loomed large over the election.
A number of former Wildrose supporters switched their votes to the NDP, who rode a wave that began during the TV debate through to Election Day. The lack of bozo eruptions and tough scrutiny of NDP candidates helped the NDP accomplish what the Wildrose started but was unable to finish: ending the PC dynasty.
In addition, the public perceptions continued to work in the NDP’s favor. Because many still believed the PCs would win, they were able to boost their voter turnout through their superior ground game well above what the polls had them pegged at.
This led to the Wildrose receiving less support than they could have captured, resulting in a number of ridings swinging to the NDP. If the public were less skeptical of the polling data, the Wildrose likely would have received a boost in support at the end of the election, due to polling higher than the PC and the NDP surge.
So while commentators may point to Mayor Nenshi or a variety of other reasons to explain the NDP victory, I think the NDP owe the PC’s and the Wildrose, a huge thank you for their historic win. Without the events from 2012 election, the NDP would have faced a much harder battle and the election likely would have finished with a much different result.
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