Alberta election: close but not touching

Under the circumstances, the election is nearly impossible to handicap

I was chatting with Éric Grenier of ThreeHundredEight.com Saturday about Monday’s Alberta election. Grenier’s seat projection from late polls predicts a slim Wildrose Party majority for the next Alberta legislature, with 45 seats for the insurgent WRP and 37 for the incumbent Progressive Conservatives. I don’t really know the details of how he gets from the polling numbers—which show the PCs closing somewhat in recent days—to the seat counts. But because he treats the cities as homogenous metropolitan areas, as he is forced to by his commitment to a purely numerical method (that is how they are handled by the pollsters themselves), I tend to think Éric has the WRP just a tad low. He is implicitly mixing in urban-core ridings, where there is a lot of “progressive” vote to be skimmed by the fearmongering Tories, with ones that are “urban” only in the slightly demented eyes of the census, and are straight WRP-PC fights that will be hard for the WRP to lose given the polling numbers.

Four important words there: “given the polling numbers”. This Alberta election is a case in which an educated guess that incorporates local knowledge is certainly better than a purely automated model. But the educated guess can also fail in a million ways, and that is especially true here. The Wildrose Party is going stronger with “certain to vote” survey respondents, but a late break toward an incumbent is a bad sign for the opposition. Amongst individuals, the act of voting will carry high emotional stakes, and almost nobody, it seems, will be repeating his own 2008 vote.

Liberals and New Democrats who have waited long lives to throw out the PCs are now being asked to protect that very regime, and they’re obviously considering it, given that the polls show two-thirds of the 2008 Liberal vote vanishing. I haven’t seen local news reports of any mass suicides or Raptures, so some of those people will be backing Alison Redford, who would have been their dream leader anyway. I don’t mean this as a gratuitous shot; I mean literally that if the Liberals could fashion the perfect leader of their fantasies from Frankenstein-like parts, they would certainly end up with a lady lawyer who had done loads of international development work and favours Hillary Clinton pantsuits and pearls.

Conservative voters, meanwhile, will have to decide whether they are truly ready to abandon a brand they have supported since Apollo 15 took off. But there’s a third component to the electorate here that nobody’s talking about: “progressive” switchers to the Wildrose.

Madness, you say? The PCs have been making the case that the Wildrose must be stopped at all costs because a couple of its candidates have questionably acceptable views: one is a Christian who believes in the reality of Hell, and another is a guy who’s worked amongst ethnic communities for years—a gentleman not seriously suspected of capital-R racism by anybody, as far as I can tell—who was willing to say to those groups in their own media, repeatedly and in an admittedly awkward way, that his being a white dude is probably a practical electoral advantage. (A third is Alberta Report publisher Link Byfield, whose conservative political views are so freaky and far-out that he could only amass a quarter-million votes in Alberta’s 2004 Senate election.)

Social liberals who want to vote for the Wildrose must be prepared to tolerate the possible presence of such people in a Wildrose caucus, just as social conservatives who want to vote for the Wildrose must somehow be prepared to tolerate voting for a pro-abortion, pro-gay premier. Meanwhile, anybody at all who wants to vote PC must be prepared to tolerate the perpetuation of a government that has taken, and aggressively hidden the evidence of, well-documented illegal kickbacks for party purposes from schools, municipalities, and healthcare. Indeed, they must not only tolerate it: they must accept a share of moral responsibility for it, must stand up and applaud it. Some unknown number of voters will reach the conclusion that the PCs must be humbled as the Liberal Party of Canada was humbled—their offence is objectively worse than Adscam—and that a Wildrose vote is the most effective way of doing this. If you have to hold your nose, why not at least hold your nose for change?

Under the circumstances, the election is nearly impossible to handicap, with genuine four-way races likely in parts of Edmonton. What one notices is that the leaders are spending the last day of campaigning in outer-Calgary city ridings that would otherwise be rock-solid for the PCs. The ridings in question would, I think, be somewhere in the low 50s on a Wildrose wish list and maybe the low 30s on a PC one. That is what I expect to see in the seat counts on Monday, because I know of no stronger evidence apart from the polls, and the polls, interpreted properly, agree with this seat distribution. I can almost get to Grenier’s outcome if I assign everything close to the Conservatives, but the sum of individual voter decisions in the booth is impossible to foresee; that’s why we go ahead and have these election thingies. On this sunny Sunday, Alberta voters are writhing in the private hell of the potential parricide, and must grope their way toward peace with themselves.

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