Friday, May 1, 2015

Better Than Fear

It's crunch time in the 2015 Alberta election (#abvote for Twitter enthusiasts). Six surveys have reported over the past 24 hours (aggregated here), all with similar results: NDP hovering around 40% and flirting with a majority, Wildrose in second place in the mid-twenty percent range, and PC third in the low twenties (one poll did have PC edging out Wildrose). And yet there is skepticism about these numbers that goes beyond healthy. The lesson from 2012 was that polls are wrong and never count the PCs out.

Heading into the final weekend before Tuesday's vote, this is where the polls have finished, the fear is mongered, and the undecideds decide:
“When I was with Redford, we made the decision to portray Danielle Smith and Wildrose as extreme,” said Stephen Carter, who worked for the former premier as campaign manager and chief of staff. “People are motivated more by fear than opportunity. The hyper-engaged know how they’re going to vote. The less engaged make their decision in last 72 hours to 72 seconds before marking their ballot. It is those people who can decide an election.” (source)
I believe the polls in 2012 were mostly accurate, but did not capture this successful 72-hour campaign of fear. Here is a poll tracker for Edmonton right up to the April 23rd election: notice the change of direction at the last minute for the Conservatives at the expense of the Liberals:

And the same chart for Calgary. The trend here is even clearer over several days:

The only error from the days before the 2012 vote is the pollsters did not correctly extrapolate the trend, but called the election as if the final poll numbers would not keep changing. They did.

Now at the same point in 2015, the trend is defintely not the PC's friend:

All the momentum is with the NDP, and Wildrose is holding steady. In 2012 the trends continued, in 2015 they would have to reverse course for the PCs to have any chance at government.

The fact that this is a three-way race means trying to scare voters away from the NDP could drive them to Wildrose, and vice-versa. In 2012 the PCs had a fairly moderate and likeable leader in Alison Redford (as far as we knew - the Sky Palace and fake airplane manifests were yet to come), but today the party is led by an old-boy banker who comes across as an arrogant asshole. The PCs have had the puck in their own end this entire campaign.

But the biggest difference today, and why I think the NDP will form government, is that people are no longer voting out of fear. We did that last time and it didn't work out. Had the Conservative party actually governed responsibly and without scandal or corruption, many of the Liberal and Wildrose votes they scared loose last time might be available to them again. Instead, people are simply fed up, and the prevailing emotion is rage. The prospect of a bunch of commies or rednecks in charge isn't nearly as frightening as another few years of entitled, unaccountable, corrupt Progressive Conservative mismanagement. That's how bad things have become. These people need to be punished, not given yet another chance. We're voting a government out, not in. It's more about the crush than the orange.

Maybe next time we'll be able to vote out of hope for the future. But in 2015, and with apologies to Jack Layton, anger is better than fear.

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