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Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley at a campaign rally in Calgary on Saturday, May 2.Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press

Every week during the campaign, The Election Index highlighted important numbers to help you understand the shape of the race. Now we sift through the results.

Where the NDP won

The NDP surged in popularity in every riding across Alberta. The party's biggest improvement over 2012 was in Edmonton-Rutherford, which had previously swung between Liberals and PCs, where the NDP vote increased 55.9 per cent.

Huge swings toward the New Democrats did not stop there: Support increased more than 30 per cent in 40 ridings. The party's smallest increase was in Calgary-Elbow, where it was held to an 11-per-cent jump.

The drop in Progressive Conservative support was equally intense. The party's vote share increased in just one riding – Chestermere-Rocky View, a seat just north of Calgary that was represented by a floor crosser – and PCs received only a 0.6 per cent higher vote share than in 2012. The PCs still lost the seat. Fifty-four of the seats saw heavy losses of 15 per cent or more. The Wildrose experienced small losses despite winning more seats than in 2012, gaining in popularity in just four constituencies compared with last time.

Big shifts in voting patterns were related to education levels. Ridings that have above-average proportions of university-degree holders went overwhelmingly PC in 2012 – 32 of the 43 ridings – and 29 of them went NDP this time. Ridings with lower levels of university education, according to Statistics Canada, shifted toward the NDP as well, but remained a strength of the Wildrose in both elections. Otherwise, any demographic analysis of vote patterns leads to the same conclusion: the NDP support was strong among all types of voters.

The new legislature

This election has produced one of the biggest turnovers in any vote across Canada in decades. Depending on the outcome of a recount in Calgary-Glenmore – a tie between PC and NDP candidates – either 69 or 70 of the province's 87 MLAs will be new to the legislature. And if a newcomer wins the by-election in the riding Jim Prentice has vacated, four in five of the members of the legislature will be very keen to take the legislative tour.

This is an even more massive shift than many comparable federal elections. Only half of the House came back after the 1984 vote that gave the Mulroney-led Progressive Conservatives a smashing majority. The complete earthquake election in 1993 that swept the Chrétien Liberals into power and decimated the federal Progressive Conservatives – and welcomed the Reform Party and Bloc Québécois to the scene – had 67 per cent new MPs.

The upcoming legislature will also have a record number of female MLAs, breaking the record set in 2012. At a third of all members, Alberta will be behind only British Columbia and Ontario for female representation. (These three provinces are also the only ones currently with female premiers.) The NDP is further notable because it will have by far the largest proportion of women in any government caucus across Canada. This follows an election campaign in which women made up slightly more than half of the party's candidates.

When Notley won voters over

The debate on April 23 was seen as a crucial point in the campaign almost instantly, with many commentators saying Rachel Notley was the winner. Polling numbers suggest this debate effect was real. When comparing the six polls taken between the election call and the debate with those done after the debate through to election day, support for the NDP was 10.5 per cent higher after the debate than before. The PCs' vote share dropped 1.7 percentage points, while Wildrose support fell 6.3 points and the Liberals were down 2.4 points. In fact, it points to one of the extraordinary aspects of this election result: every party declined in popular support after the debate except the NDP, which seemed to hoover up those changing votes.

Online data also back up the idea that Albertans took another look at Ms. Notley after the debate. Google searches for Ms. Notley began to rise on April 24 – quickly overtaking Mr. Prentice and Wildrose Leader Brian Jean for the rest of the campaign – as voters searched for more information about her. Traffic to Ms. Notley's Wikipedia page quintupled the day after, to 2,489 views, while the pages for the other two leaders had more modest bumps. (This pales in comparison, though, with the 43,124 views her page got the day after the election.)

This suggests the debate was a turning point for voters. This is counter to the usual trend observed by political science research. In most cases, debates do not actually seem to move public opinion much. Many studies of U.S. presidential debates suggest these events have little to no effect on choice. A study by William Benoit, Glenn Hansen and Rebecca Verser suggested that, in the United States, debates during primary season are more influential than during the election campaign. This might be due to the fact that primary candidates are introducing themselves to voters. This might have been what happened here in Alberta – the debate featured four new leaders, and Ms. Notley took her opportunity to introduce herself to Albertans and ran away with the election.

Paul Fairie is a political scientist at the University of Calgary, where he studies voter behaviour.

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