During the final weeks of Alberta's election campaign, opinion polls reached a consensus: Danielle Smith would lead the Wildrose Party to victory Monday and end more than four decades of Progressive Conservative rule.
Come Tuesday – after Alison Redford led the Tories to a comfortable majority government on election night – it will likely get much harder for pollsters to find common ground, especially on how it all went down.
There will, no doubt, be much finger-pointing over competing methodologies: some pollsters use traditional live interviews over the phone; others use automated messages; and still others do their surveys online. And there will, of course, be accusations of rogue polls – that famous caveat that one time out of 20 a scientific survey gets it all wrong.
But it may have something to do with the vast number of voters – as many as a fifth – who remained undecided in the final days of the campaign.
At least two pollsters, however, said a last-minute flood of voters to the PCs seemed to be responsible for continuing the party's long-running dynasty.
“I think in the last day of the campaign, maybe right up until election day, Wildrose cratered,” said Lorne Bozinoff, president of Forum Research. “We did get part of that [trend] but it continued.”
On CBC Monday night, Calgary pollster Bruce Cameron said the Tories won the battle at the last minute.
“This will go down in history as the most successful hail-Mary pass,” he said.
Another was more blunt: “We're going to be trying to figure out what happened over the coming days,” Calgary pollster Janet Brown said. “Were the polls simply wrong? Or was there a big shift among voters?”
While there have been instances of polls getting things wrong – say, predicting a majority instead of a minority or vice-versa – she couldn't think of one where the result had been so difference from the consensus among pollsters.