As the days count down and the gamesmanship goes up, the political junkies following the give and take of this Alberta election are hopeful of one thing: a large voter turnout.
For the past two provincial elections, voting numbers were stunningly low (40.59 per cent in 2008) then reasonably high (54.37 per cent in 2012). Heading into Tuesday's vote, the New Democrats find themselves leading in the polls and the once unbeatable Progressive Conservatives in danger of losing their nearly 44-year grip on the province.
That's not only an historic shift; it's a compelling reason for Albertans to vote, given how important that vote can be.
"Perhaps now that the race has become more competitive, the turnout will rise," said Duane Bratt, professor and chair of Mount Royal University's Department of Policy Studies. "I had predicted below 40 per cent but I am not sure now because of the competitiveness."
The NDP has staked its claim as a viable alternative while the Wildrose has produced a surprisingly strong front after losing both its leader, Danielle Smith, and the bulk of its ranks to the PCs before the election was called. As this race has tightened up, PC Leader Jim Prentice has turned up the heat, saying Alberta will never be an NDP province. Since then, he has acknowledged the NDP's hold on various parts of the province, and implied the Tories could work with Rachel Notley's party if joining forces is needed.
What the PCs need is the significant number of undecided voters marking their x for Mr. Prentice. The Tories are not likely to put any stock in the belief that the fewer the voters, the better it is for the incumbent government. There may not be any hard data on that correlation, but political observers say it happens.
"Tradition would say that voters will side with the incumbents," said Bob Murray, vice-president research at the Frontier Centre for Public Policy and an adjunct professor of political science at the University of Alberta. "[The incumbents] are the ones who called the election, which means they would be out faster to get their campaigning started."
Prof. Bratt agreed that "low voter turnout tends to support the governing party." Asked why, he explained: "Because what drives people to the polls is either anger or inspiration. Anger and inspiration are about forming a new government."
The likely outlook then is there will be no repeat of 2008's low and no breaking of 2012's high. Tuesday's final tally will be nestled somewhere between those two counts.
"I don't have any expectations for voter turnout," said Elections Alberta spokesman Drew Westwater. "We always plan for a 100 per cent turnout."
Elections Alberta spent $1-million on multimedia ads advising the public not to "let someone else decide for you."
And the winner is …
The PCs were poleaxed Thursday when poll after poll had them chasing the NDP. Then along came Friday's survey conducted by Mainstreet Technologies, and things got worse for the Tories.
Having contacted 3,143 Albertans, Mainstreet reported the NDP "leading in every region of the province with the PCs in a clear third." Among decided voters, the NDP had 44 per cent, Wildrose had 26 per cent and the PCs 21. The poll carries a margin of error of plus or minus 1.85 per cent, 19 times out of 20.
Mainstreet president Quito Maggi called the election "a disaster for Jim Prentice" then added, "The [PC] dynasty in Alberta will come to an end on Tuesday with the election of an NDP government; what seemed like the unlikeliest outcome is now the only possible outcome."
Mr. Dirks's tough week
PC candidate Gordon Dirks drew unfriendly fire this week when he missed an education forum in his Calgary Elbow riding. Mr. Dirks is Alberta's Education Minister and his absence was viewed as a sign of indifference.
On the heels of that was a social media backlash against Mr. Dirks, who claimed in his promotional material that he "made sure students who want to form a gay-straight alliance club at their schools can do so." The Twitter-verse went after Mr. Dirks saying he was late to the cause, but quick to take credit.
On election day, Mr. Dirks is up against Greg Clark, the leader of the Alberta Party. A recent poll had them neck heading into the home stretch.
What would dad say?
Angie Klein, whose father was Ralph Klein, a PC premier and Calgary mayor, has let it be known she will vote for the NDP.
Ms. Klein was videoed saying she was "very proud" of what her dad accomplished in his 14 years as the premier. But what she wasn't so keen about was the flat tax – a single tax rate of 10 per cent – he implemented in 2001.
Ms. Klein's video can be found on YouTube.