This Week in Alberta - Behind the Numbers
Mind you, given the numbers are fairly flattering to Stelmach and don't reveal much about PC strategy or messaging, I suspect this may have been a somewhat intentional "accident". Still, it's worth taking a look, if only because we rarely see this level of in-depth polling data about Alberta in the public domain.
The PCs already leaked the vote numbers, and why wouldn't they? They show Alberta's natural governing party leading the Wildrose Alliance 40% to 26%, an improvement from their 36% to 29% lead in June. Still, as the leaked presentation shows, the vote question asked about "local candidates" rather than naming the party leaders. I suspect the gap would be narrower had the vote question been on "the PCs led by Ed Stelmach, the Wildrose Alliance led by Danielle Smith, etc etc".
Regardless, the regional splits are the interesting ones here - given the small sample sizes we're dealing with, I averaged the June and October numbers together:
Calgary: WRA 36%, PC 32%, ALP 23%, NDP 6%
Edmonton: PC 42%, ALP 22%, NDP 18%, WRA 16%
Rural: PC 40%, WRA 30%, ALP 16%, NDP 10%
So long as the PCs continue to hold a firm grip on Edmonton, they'll stay in power, with the only question being "minority or majority". But if we ever see the Liberals and NDP return to their '04 numbers in Redmonton, then watch out - we've actually got a contest.
The take home message here is that Stelmach is still a drag on the PC brand, but not enough to drag them out of power - yet:
Stelmach: 43% favourable, 38% unfavourable (9% unfamiliar)
Smith: 30% favourable, 10% unfavourable (51% unfamiliar)
Mason: 24% favourable, 16% unfavourable (48% unfamiliar)
Swann: 17% favourable, 17% unfavourable (57% unfamiliar)
This is a big jump for Stelmach since June when close to half (47%) the province was unfavourable towards the big guy. Still, he's clearly a negative to the brand - 33% of Albertans say the PCs are the most competent party whereas only 23% say Stelmach is the most competent leader. I suspect we'd see a similar 10-point Ed-drag across most attributes.
Stelmach's biggest asset appears to be the "regular person" label, though I guess it depends if people think he's "a regular guy who is in way over his head when it comes to running a province" or "a regular guy like Ralph".
Half of Albertans still don't have an opinion on Danielle Smith - somewhat surprisingly given the media love-in she's enjoyed. This lack of awareness is clearly hurting her on some of the head-to-head leadership comparisons in the survey. But, man, if she can keep that 3-to-1 ratio of like-to-dislike when Albertans do become familiar with her, she'll be the next Premier. No question about it.
And before people jump on the Liberals, the survey refered to their leader as "Dr. David Swann". To me, that completely biases the respondent and (I would hope) the grits are smart enough not to be slapping the "Dr." on their campaign signs in 2012.
THE NEXT ELECTION
The most interesting part of this survey to me was the relative areas of strength between the PCs and the WRA. I'd assumed one of the biggest selling points of the Wildrose Alliance was the "balancing the books" argument. Yet, when asked which party is the most financially responsible, the PCs beat the WRA by a 3-to-1 ratio (32% to 10%). Even the tax-and-spend Liberals and that dang Dr. Swann are judged better money managers than the Wildrose Alliance.
Rather, where the Alliance seems to be connecting is at a more emotional, personal level. When asked about "values", the PCs only lead 27% to 21% - by far, the closest of the head-to-head attributes measured. And when the leaders are put head-to-head, Stelmach fares worst on the "caring" questions - "cares about the problems in my community", "cares about people like me", and "listens and responds to the views of others".
To me, this means the Danielle Smith Party has not surged because the PCs are "spending like Liberals". Rather, people see the PCs as an out of touch government which does not listen to, or care about, common Albertans.
And if that's true, it's actually good news for all the parties. It's good news for the WRA because they're strong on the "shares my values" question and that's one of the most powerful vote drivers in all of politics. It's good news for the Liberals because it means the WRA haven't surged on ideology (where the ALP can't compete with them) but rather on emotion (where they can). And it's good news for the PCs because, ironically enough, the largest strength of an otherwise dud of a leader is that people see him as the "common man" - the perfect counter to arguments their 40 year old government is out of touch.