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Alberta Conservative leader Alison Redford participates in a local all-candidates forum while making a campaign stop in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, April 10, 2012. Albertans go to the polls on April 23. (Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS)
Alberta Conservative leader Alison Redford participates in a local all-candidates forum while making a campaign stop in Calgary, Alta., Tuesday, April 10, 2012. Albertans go to the polls on April 23. (Jeff McIntosh/THE CANADIAN PRESS)

ALBERTA ELECTION

Alberta Tories closing gap after initial collapse in voter support Add to ...

Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives have stopped their election campaign freefall, but pollsters are divided over where voters stand.

A poll set to be published on Wednesday by Forum Research based on randomized landline phone interviews puts the right-wing Wildrose Party ahead 43 per cent to 31 per cent over the PCs, who saw a slight improvement since last week. While most voters surveyed said they opposed some of Wildrose’s major ideas, such as oil sands rebate cheques and conscience rights, the wide lead would mean the party is still on track for what the polling firm called a “crushing majority.”

A Leger Marketing poll published on Tuesday based on responses from an online panel showed a tighter race, with Wildrose ahead 36 to 34.

The polls were done a few days apart with different methodologies. Nonetheless, both show Alison Redford’s PCs either stabilized or closer to Danielle Smith’s Wildrose after collapsing over the past two months. “Now we look like we’re in kind of a trench warfare situation,” said Lorne Bozinoff, president of Forum Research.

Ms. Redford and Ms. Smith, along with the NDP and Liberal leaders, are preparing for the crucial first debate of the campaign on Thursday evening with the knowledge that the New Democrats’ surge in Quebec before last year’s federal election was credited largely to leader Jack Layton’s French debate performance.

“It’s huge, it’s absolutely huge,” said Ian Large, Leger’s vice-president, Alberta. “If any one of the four of them emerged as truly dominating in the debate, it could swing the numbers significantly.”

The difference in the methodologies – landline and Internet – reflects a theme that underpins the campaign: Ms. Smith has stressed traditional Alberta values, while Ms. Redford says the province has changed in the past 20 years. The parties are chasing different sections of the population, making the race difficult for pollsters to assess.

Forum’s poll shows Wildrose with a strong base, particularly among male and southern Alberta voters who back its ideas even though a majority oppose them. “I’m just struck at how the Wildrose party supporters really march to their own drummer,” Mr. Bozinoff said.

The PCs, meanwhile, appeal more to women and are much more competitive in Edmonton, where Forum projects them to win 14 of 27 seats, compared to six for Wildrose.

The Leger poll showed that only three of the promises made so far in the campaign – new family care clinics (made by the PCs), new schools (PCs) and the elimination of school fees (Liberals, then NDP and Wildrose) – were supported by a wide majority of Albertans, while Forum showed an overwhelming majority support a law to allow citizens to force a referendum (proposed by Wildrose).

The Leger poll showed 20 per cent of voters remain undecided about which party to support on April 23.

The Forum poll surveyed 1,915 people through automated voice-response calls on Monday evening, with a margin of error of 2.2 per cent, 19 times out of 20. The technique accurately forecast the outcome of last year’s Saskatchewan election, Mr. Bozinoff said.

The Leger poll, meanwhile, surveyed the online responses of 902 eligible voters, selected to reflect Alberta demographics, over the Easter long weekend. Such online panels were the first to mark the surge of Naheed Nenshi in Calgary’s mayoral race in 2010, Mr. Large said. Because it’s not randomized, there’s no formal margin of error.

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