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Alison Redford’s Leadership: By the Numbers

Is 77% among party members a “strong vote of confidence” in a sitting Premier?


For Ed Stelmach in 2009 it wasn’t.  Five years ago, 77% was a message from the PC Party rank and file for Ed to pick up his game.  He didn’t.


Ultimately, embattled Ed faced a caucus revolt over budget deficits that triggered his resignation.  Stelmach chose to walk before they made him run.


But in reality, whether it’s Stelmach or Redford, 77% isn’t a bad grade.  Actually, it’s pretty good, though it reveals fault lines in the political landscape for Alberta’s current Premier.


On the upside, Redford’s confidence vote is largely reflective of where PC party voters are today.  Our Eye on Alberta poll earlier in November revealed that among those planning to vote Tory in the next election, 76% who had an opinion did not want to see a leadership election.


Now the downside:  Among those who cast a ballot for the Tories last election, opinions on whether or not Alison Redford should stay or go split roughly in half.


This is reflective of a larger problem for the Premier, and one she needs to address prior to the next election if she wishes to avoid Ed Stelmach’s fate.


In the April 2012 election, the PCs captured 44% of the popular vote, with relative strength in Edmonton, Calgary and Northern Alberta.  They were very competitive with the Wildrose in Central Alberta ridings, but trailed overall in many ridings south of Calgary.


Times have changed.  Today, in the areas where the Wildrose party performed best last election, the PCs trail significantly.  Meanwhile, in the areas where the PCs had the most electoral success in 2012, they are statistically tied for the lead (in Edmonton today its actually a close three-way race between the PCs, Wildrose and NDP).


In fact, the Progressive Conservatives have seen a more significant erosion of their 2012 vote than any other party.  Asked how they would vote in a future provincial election, only 61% of those who voted PC in 2012 would do so again tomorrow.  About one-fifth (22%) of their voters are now undecided, and roughly equal proportions would now vote for the Wildrose or a combination of Liberal, NDP, and Alberta parties.


By comparison, 94% of decided voters who cast a ballot for the Wildrose in 2012 would do so again.  Decided vote retention for the NDP is relatively strong at 79%, while the Liberal Party sits with only 63%.


For the PCs, this vote attrition didn’t happen all at once; it actually followed discrete stages.  Within months of the 2012 election, polling showed a slip in PC voting intentions in favour of the parties on “the left” (i.e. NDP, Liberal and Alberta Party).  One can surmise this shift represented the “Temporary Tories” – those who voted PC to prevent the Wildrose from winning.  Having “repelled the barbarians from the gates” on April 23rd, these voters merely drifted back to where they live.


Meanwhile, Wildrose vote intentions didn’t move following the election, which isn’t surprising.  The last two weeks of the campaign were a disaster for the Wildrose.  Those casting a ballot in their favour on April 23rd were committed voters, while many who flirted with the notion of voting for them had been driven off by the likes of Alan Hunsberger, Ron Leech, and Danielle Smith’s own comments on climate change.


Indeed, Wildrose support only shifted up subtly starting in February of this year in reaction to the “bad news budget”.  These gains, and we’re only talking about a few percentage points, came at the expense of the PCs.  A proportion of fiscal conservatives who grudgingly voted PC last time, now tip toward the Wildrose on the fulcrum of the 2013 budget.


The past few months have brought positive developments for Redford’s Government (a low-key legislative session, a ring-road deal with the Tsuu T’ina and pipeline peace with B.C., etc.), but it continues to struggle with governing at times, and generally reacts poorly to controversy.  And with the next fiscal year approaching, the government will have another political tightrope to walk in reconciling demands for budgetary restraint and promised spending.


The leadership vote may be behind her, but the Premier’s job hasn’t become any easier.  As Ed Stelmach demonstrated, a 77% confidence vote doesn’t buy a Premier a free pass to the next election.



Marc Henry is president of ThinkHQ Public Affairs Inc., an Alberta-based government and public relations strategy and public opinion research firm. 


To view detailed Eye on Alberta excerpts, click here: Nov 2013 Eye on Alberta Excerpts


Calgary Herald, November 27, 2013