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Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith speaks to supporters as the Alberta election kicks off in Calgary on March 26, 2012. (Chris Bolin/Chris Bolin for The Globe and Mail)
Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith speaks to supporters as the Alberta election kicks off in Calgary on March 26, 2012. (Chris Bolin/Chris Bolin for The Globe and Mail)

Crunching Numbers

A week in, Alberta election is Wildrose's to lose Add to ...

With Alison Redford’s Progressive Conservatives in freefall and Danielle Smith’s Wildrose gaining steam, Alberta is on pace to replace its government for the first time in 41 years.

ThreeHundredEight.com’s vote and seat projection model, which aggregates, weighs and adjusts all publicly released opinion polls, indicates Wildrose would have the support of 37.3 per cent of Albertans if an election were held today. The Progressive Conservatives, who have governed the province since 1971, would take only 33.7 per cent of the vote, a dramatic 19-point drop since the 2008 election.

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With these levels of support, Wildrose would likely capture 44 of the Alberta legislature’s 87 seats, giving Ms. Smith the narrowest of majorities. Ms. Redford would be bumped from the premier’s office to the role of Official Opposition, with her party winning 36 seats.

Albertans are headed to the polls on Apr. 23.

Since Feb. 6, the PCs have seen their support slip by 11.6 points and their projected seat haul by 37 seats. Plagued by questions over an inquiry into the health-care system, MLA pay for non-sitting committees and fundraising methods used by the party, the Progressive Conservatives have taken a big hit from Wildrose’s message of fiscal restraint and accountability. Since early February, Wildrose has picked up 14.6 points, a significant shift in a matter of only eight weeks.

Wildrose has supplanted the Tories in two of their fortresses: Calgary and the rural parts of the province. In Alberta’s major city, Wildrose has picked up more than 14 points since February and now leads with a projected 43 per cent of the vote, enough to give the party 21 seats in the area. The PCs have dropped 13.9 points to 31.5 per cent, and are projected to win only six seats.

Outside of Calgary and Edmonton, Wildrose is up almost 15 points to 42.7 per cent, well ahead of the Tories, who stand at 34.2 per cent. Here the division of seats is more even, with Wildrose projected to win 18 and the Tories 13.

But Wildrose is also making inroads in Edmonton, the provincial capital that is traditionally where most of the Liberal and NDP opposition has been elected. Though the Progressive Conservatives still lead with a projected 34.5 per cent of the vote and 17 seats, Wildrose is nipping at their heels with 26.9 per cent support. If Wildrose can hold these votes until Apr. 23, they could win five seats in the capital.

The Liberals and New Democrats, however, would combine for a larger representation in Edmonton. Provincewide, the Liberals under Raj Sherman are projected to take 14.1 per cent of the vote, a gain of less than a point since February but still down more than 12 points since the last provincial election. They are on track to win three seats, all of them in Edmonton where the Liberals are third with 18.5 per cent support.

The New Democrats are projected to have the support of 11.1 per cent of Albertans, enough to double their representation in the legislature and give them four seats. All of them would also be elected in Edmonton, where the NDP stands at 16.5 per cent support.

But the polls are not in complete agreement. Three surveys, all taken after the writ dropped last Monday, have placed Wildrose ahead of the Tories by a significant margin. However, three polls conducted just before the election campaign began put the PCs narrowly up on Wildrose. The three post-writ polls all used the interactive voice response method, while the three pre-writ polls were conducted either by telephone with live callers or online. A wider methodological post-writ spread would help confirm Wildrose’s lead.

This degree of uncertainty suggests that, if an election were held today, a wide range of outcomes are conceivable. Indeed, there is enough volatility in the polls that the Tories could win anywhere between 12 and 64 seats and Wildrose between 20 and 70. The Liberals could be shut out entirely or win 10 seats, while the NDP could win as many as eight. Nevertheless, the projected outcome, or something very close to it, is most likely.

Has Wildrose peaked too soon? Changes in government in Alberta are so rare (the current PC government is, in effect, only Alberta’s fourth since 1905) that there is little example upon which to draw. If Albertans have determined that the life of the Progressive Conservative government has come to a close, Wildrose could coast to victory between now and Apr. 23. On the other hand, if progressive voters become concerned that the right-wing Wildrose will form the next government, they could flock to the Progressive Conservatives and their more centrist leader.

Outside of the two main cities, the fight is clearly between the Tories and Wildrose. Support for the NDP and Liberals is in the single digits here. In Calgary, however, support for the Liberals stands at over 14 per cent, enough to play the spoiler in some of the closest contests. And the four parties are transforming Edmonton into a chaotic four-way race further complicated by the presence of the centrist Alberta Party. If the Progressive Conservatives can benefit from vote-splitting in the city, they may be able to survive on election night.

The campaign is only a week old, and already the race is the province’s most interesting – and perhaps its most important – in almost two decades. Danielle Smith and her Wildrose Party have started on the right foot, but maintaining this momentum for the next three weeks against furious opposition from Alison Redford’s Tories will be a challenge.

ThreeHundredEight.com ’s projection model aggregates all publicly released polls, weighing them by sample size, date, and the polling firm’s accuracy record and adjusting them according to past discrepancies. The seat projection model makes individual projections for all 87 ridings in the province, based on the provincial and regional shifts in support since the 2008 election and including the application of factors unique to each riding, such as the effects of incumbency. Projections are subject to the margins of error of the opinion polls included in the model, as well as the unpredictable nature of politics at the riding level.

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