Thursday, April 26, 2012

Wildrose Voters got Cold Feet

In the days after Alberta's engaging general election for the 28th legislature, everyone is talking about the polls - specifically how wrong they were. And while they did not accurately predict the outcome of the election, it is hard to suggest that the methodology was wrong. The polls, regardless of method employed, were pretty consistent with each other - particularly in the last week. If you have a large number of samples that are reinforcing each other, it is likely that the have a good sense of the question being asked and people's honest opinions on the matter. Let's take a closer look at the numbers.

Most of the polls were reporting percentages based on decided voters, including voters who indicate which way they are leading. A few of the polls reported on the number of undecided voters and where reported that number was somewhere between 16 and 30 per cent. For sake of analysis, let's make a few assumptions and look at the numbers. Assumptions:
  • There are 2,265,000 eligible voters in Alberta.
  • 20% of polled voters were undecided (5 polls that reported undecided percentage reported: 16, 17, 18, 24 and 30% undecided).
  • Polls in the last week showed around the following percentages for decided voters: 41% (WRP), 33% (PC), 11% (Lib), 11% (NDP).
2012 Projected Voters 742920 597960 199320 199320
2012 Actual Voters 442429 567060 127645 126752
Retention 60% 95% 64% 64%

If you assume that people generally don't lie to pollsters, you have to assume that something happened between the pollsters phone call at home and the poll booth. While the PCs retained 95% of voters who told pollsters they would vote PC, the Wildrose only retained 60%.

There is an old adage that parties don't get elected to office as much as other parties are thrown out of office. This would be very appropriate for Alberta. In order to change government, you typically need a high voter turnout. In 1921 the United Farmers were elected with 75% voter turnout; in 1935, when the Social Credit was swept into office, turnout was 82%; In 1971, when the PCs were swept in, turnout was 72%. Estimates for Monday's election are putting turnout at around 57%. In order to toss out the governing Conservatives, the Wildrose would need to get about 40% of votes with a turnout of over 70% - they would need about 634,000 votes. Enough people told pollsters they would vote Wildrose, but not enough did.
Essentially what happened is a big chunk of potential Wildrose voters got cold feet.

Actually, the wedding analogy is pretty apt here. For the most part if a wedding leads to a successful marriage it is because the couple knows each other well, they have dated for a while, they were likely engaged for a while and as time went on the commitment towards getting married grows and solidifies. Alternately, sometimes a nice conservative man meets a young attractive energetic young lady, they quickly fall in love, think the world of each other, get engaged and 28 days later when the wedding is about to start, and the man has had a chance to learn a bit more about his lover, he wonders whether he's making the right choice.
Alberta was tying on the patent leather shoes and figuring out how to tie up the bow tie when it said to itself, "Can we make this work if she doesn't believe in climate change? What else don't I know about her?"

There is no doubt that fear led to the collapse: A number of people who said they would vote Wildrose stayed home, a number went back to date the PCs a bit longer. Also a number of people who said they would vote Liberal or NDP ended up at the ballot box switching to the PCs. Alternately, PC supporters were more motivated to get to the polls, they feared the chance that they might lose grip on the province (especially to a radical WRP) and they got out to vote.

The WRP only retained 60% of voters who told pollsters they would vote WRP. There are three main reasons for this (most of which can be described as cold feet): anger with the PCs was not as big as expected and people stayed home; large poll numbers made people feel complacent and they stayed home; and people who were less engaged (less likely to vote) were inclined to tell pollsters they would vote WRP because of the early hype. This drop of 300,000 WRP supporters was the biggest factor in the PC win.

Another interesting trend is apparent when the bulk numbers from 2012 are compared to 2008:

2008 Votes 64407 501063 251158 80578
2012 Votes 442429 567060 127645 126752
Difference +378022 +65997 -123513 +46174

From this analysis, it is fascinating to see how every party was able to gain supporters with the exception of the Liberal party. While overall participation grew by 366,000 voters, It would be silly to suggest that WRP support came entirely from new voters. While some new voters would vote WRP, they gained most of their votes at the PCs expense. While the PCs lost a chunk of voters to the WRP, they would have picked up a lot of new voters and a lot of voters from the Liberals. Finally, the NDP base is relatively stable (in Alberta they are used to losing ridings and don't mind voting NDP anyway). They would have gained some voters in their stronger ridings from the Liberals and they would have attracted some new voters. The growth in raw vote support suggests that the WRP, PC and NDP can all claim some victory in this election.

There is a bit of data here and a lot of speculation, so I would love to hear your comments.

Monday, April 23, 2012

Election Predictions and Ridings to Watch

Today is election day in Alberta and quite a day it will be. I am guaranteed to be glued to my television screen and interweb module well into the wee hours of the morning. I suspect that it will be late before we know who the premier will be and whether they will have a majority or minority government. I pity the people who will have to make projections for the media outlets. They will juggle the balance between trying to be first to call the election, while ensuring that their call is not a wrong call.

Nonetheless, for funsies, I am prepared to make a prediction:
  • Wildrose - 45 seats
  • PC          - 36 seats
  • NDP       - 4 seats
  • Liberal    - 2 seats
While I have ended up at nearly the same result as Eric at, I feel it is important to note that I have done so by crunching my own numbers using 2008 results and current poll projections. The totals are nearly the same, but the ridings that make up the totals are different.

Having said that, there are a few things that I will be watching closely on election night.

1. Bellwether Ridings - ridings where early results will help determine the scope of the election. Wildrose wins in these close Calgary ridings will help to indicate the mood of Calgarians for change. Similarly, if PC can hold these two close central Alberta ridings, it should indicate that rural Albertans might be less ready to risk it with the Wildrose.
  • Calgary Cross
  • Calgary Currie
  • Calgary East
  • Calgary Foothills
  • Lacombe Ponoka
  • Wetaskiwin Camrose
2. Other interesting ridings
  • Edmonton Centre - Everyone is talking about Glenora, but I think it is safer for the incumbent than this seat which is as likely to go PC or NDP as opposed to staying with Liberal Laurie Blakeman. I say Blakeman stays.
  • West Yellowhead - Should be a safe PC riding, but has had a strong showing for the NDP in the past. If Alberta party leader Glenn Taylor can convince labour supports to vote for him, he could steal the riding. My prediction is for Robin Campbell.
  • Calgary Elbow - Having been the home of former Premier Ralph Klein, Elbow must be getting accustomed to hosting the premier. Will their member be Premier, leader of the opposition or a giant killer in a new Wildrose government? I say Redford holds.
  • Edmonton Glenora - Of course, this one is being dubbed as the five way race so everyone will be keeping an eye on it. I believe that Klimchuk will be able to hold it and it won't be as close as everyone is anticipating.
  • Edmonton Meadowlark - It is hard to say how many voters who voted for Raj Sherman as a PC will stick with him as a Liberal, but floor crossers are rarely punished in Alberta and he will have the advantage of being a party leader. I say Sherman holds.
  • Edmonton Riverview and Edmonton GoldBar - Both ridings were previous Liberal strongholds, but popular MLAs Taft and MacDonald are not running. The NDP is making big pushes in both ridings, but progressive voters might coalesce around the PCs to stave off the Wildrose. I'm picking PC in both ridings.
  • Fort Saskatchewan-Vegreville - People here loved Ed Stelmach, some will backlash against the Tories for turfing him and reward the Wildrose who have fielded a strong candidate in Shannon Stubbs (seeking to beat the Premier at home), but others will see the Wildrose as the enemy that got rid of their guy and stay true blue. I think Fenske will keep the riding PC.
We shall check back on Tuesday to see how these predictions hold up.

Sunday, April 22, 2012

Will recall remain a priority for a Wildrose government?

Democratic reform is a popular part of opposition party platforms, especially for populist parties who are trying to toss out a long standing party in power that is seen to have accountability issues. And so it goes for the 2012 Alberta general election. The Wildrose party is attempting to push aside the Progressive Conservatives whom have governed this province for over 41 years.

The Wildrose is sending the message that 40 years is enough and advancing rhetoric like, "The politics of entitlement and corruption must be replaced by a culture of accountability where doing what’s right is the rule, not the exception."

Quite often however, a party that runs on a platform of democratic reform is slow to bring in the reforms once they gain power. The Reform/Conservative party at the federal level is a good example of this. They too proposed ideas like citizen initiatied referenda, recall legislation, a triple-e senate and free votes. Yet after more than 6 years in office, Prime Minister Harper has made little substantial progress on any of these concepts.

These ideas make for good policies to run on in an effort to unseat a ruling party, but they have no value for the party that is in power. And so, when a party assumes office, they have little impetus to change the system that got them there.

 With many pundits predicting either a minority government or slim Wildrose majority, some real considerable action is likely to occur after the election. The website is predicting that the Wildrose party will form a majority government by two seats (winning 45/87 seats). I have come to the same conclusion based on independent analysis. This situation will leave the results from election day in a tenuous position. The speaker election and potential floor crossings mean that the seat count on election night won't necessarily represent the makeup of the legislature for too long.

Some important questions arise.

Would a Wildrose government in minority or slim majority position risk their potential tenuous hold on the legislature by carrying through with democratic reforms like free votes or recall? Could the Wildrose Accountability Act pledge be the first flip-flop for Danielle Smith? If Wildrose does carry through with the legislation, how long will it take for a "bozo eruption" to occur inspiring a recall effort against an MLA elected by a small margin to begin with?

Sunday, April 15, 2012

Why I am eating my ballot.

With one week to go in the Alberta general election campaign, I’m wondering what you perceive the biggest issues to be. Perhaps it is F-35 fighter jets, maybe it is the abolition of the gun registry, the omnibus crime bill, perhaps it is public service cuts related to food safety inspectors or the CBC.

…So, I’m being told that those are not issues in the Alberta election… uh, huh… right, apparently, these are federal issues and not provincial issues… okay.

Well this makes sense, since we are contesting a provincial election, we should be discussing provincial issues like education, healthcare, energy and agriculture.

…what’s that… okay, but… No you just said this was a provincial election… WTF?... So apparently, I am now being told that there is a federal contest in this election.

At the same time there is a provincial general election (and a hotly contested one, at that) we are also selecting nominees-in-waiting forthe federal senate. Alberta is the only province in the country that partakes in this practice, and since confederation only three elected senators have ever been appointed to the senate. Otherwise, appointments are made by the Prime Minister without any democratic participation.

It is a little ridiculous that we are holding this federal contest in the middle of a provincial campaign. There has been absolutely no attention paid to the contest, the candidates or the issues. The purpose of a democratic campaign, in my mind, is that every 4 years (or so) we engage in a public conversation around issues of importance and then citizens decide on who they think will best represent those views. If there is no public discussion of the issues, then the outcome of the process fails to have legitimacy.

Another peculiarity of this exercise that questions the legitimacy of the practice is that the people who are being elected next week, could be left in waiting for up to 6 years or longer. Who is to say, that the candidates elected by Albertans in 2012 will still be supported in 2018 or for that matter decades later as they still sit in the chamber. Perhaps the opinion of the candidate on certain issues will have changed; perhaps the opinion of Albertans will have changed. In a legitimate democratic campaign, the candidates need to discuss publicly the relevant issues of the day that they will be deciding on - that is not what is happening in this process. This delay between when an election is made and when an appointment is made brings further questions to the legitimacy of the election.

Now, I understand why we are doing this. There is a genuine interest in reforming the senate and most Albertans have seemingly supported the concept of a triple-E senate as advanced by the Reform party in the 1990s. But the little exercise we are engaged in today is haphazard and only achieves a miniscule element of piecemeal reformation. All it does is add some little bit of credibility to a system that is completely broken without committing to the full set of reforms that are necessary.

At the end of the day, we should talk about real senate reform instead of piecemeal ad hoc revisions and perhaps we should even talk about abolishing the senate. The Senate is Canada’s version of the British House of Lords. The House of Lords was the first version of parliament in the English monarchy. In the 11th century, this house included religious leaders and key advisors to the king, appointed by the king. It wasn’t until the 14th century that cities and boroughs demanded representation that the house of commons (representing commoners) was created. For centuries the house of lords included those who held particular church positions, those appointed by the king and those who inherited their seat from their parents. In fact, up until 1999 a chunk of seats in the house of lords were still being passed down within aristocratic families. (This page outlines how seats are given out in Britain today). The house of lords maintained power over the house of commons for many centuries and the struggle of prominence is an important piece of British history. Ultimately, the house of lords is about maintaining power in the hands of the wealthy and elite and those who have become accustomed to holding power. It serves well to maintain the class lines that are so prominent in Britain throughout history and even into today.

In today’s Canada, we have no need for a house of lords or a senate – elected or not. That is why I plan to spoil my senate ballot on April 23rd and I hope you will too.