Premier Alison Redford is expected to present her first budget to the Alberta legislature this week, the first step towards the province's next election scheduled to take place within the next four months. But if an election were held today, Ms. Redford's Progressive Conservatives would win a landslide victory.
The latest seat and vote projections based on all publicly released polls indicate that the Progressive Conservatives have the support of 45.3 per cent of Albertans, down 7.4 points since the 2008 provincial election. But faced with a divided opposition, the Tories are projected to win 73 seats in the 87-seat legislature, six more than they currently hold.
They are trailed by Danielle Smith's Wildrose Party at 23.2 per cent, a substantial increase from the 6.8 per cent support the party captured in 2008. Ms. Smith would become the leader of the opposition with nine seats, more than twice the number of Wildrose MLAs currently sitting in the legislature.
The Liberals have the support of a projected 13.4 per cent of Albertans, while the New Democrats stand at 12.2 per cent. However, due to the NDP's concentrated support in Edmonton, Brian Mason's New Democrats are projected to win four seats while the Liberals win only one.
The Alberta Party is projected to have 2.7 per cent support province-wide while the Evergreens, the successor to the de-registered Alberta Greens, would likely take 2.2 per cent of the vote if an election were held today.
However, volatility in Alberta polling suggests that a wider range of outcomes is possible. Based on the variation in polling results, the Tories could capture between 38 and 53 per cent of the vote, extending their likely range of seats from 56 to 82. But the polling does not indicate that anything but a PC majority is likely.
Wildrose's support is also difficult to pin down, as the party did not run a full slate of candidates in 2008 and is mostly represented in the legislature by former PC MLAs. Ms. Smith could capture between 17 and 30 per cent of the vote, enough to give her 24 seats in a best-case scenario. On the flip side of the coin, however, her party could be reduced to only two seats.
There is far less volatility in the polls for the Liberals and New Democrats. But whereas the NDP stands to win between three and five seats, the Liberals could win as many as three and as few as none. Unless public opinion turns in their favour, the Liberals are on track to be the smallest party in the legislature, if they elect any MLAs at all.
Progressive Conservative support is generally uniform across the province. They lead with a projected 44 per cent of the vote in the Edmonton metropolitan area, 45.4 per cent in the Calgary metropolitan area, and 47.7 per cent in the rest of the province. Their seats are also distributed relatively evenly across the province, with 24 in the provincial capital, 23 in Calgary, and 26 outside of the two major centres.
Wildrose is running second behind the Tories in Calgary with 28.8 per cent support and in the rest of Alberta with 27.9 per cent. Four of their projected seat wins come in Calgary with the other five being in the rural parts of the province. Their potential for gains is strongest in Calgary, where the party could win as many as 13 seats.
The Liberals have their highest level of support in Edmonton at 17.4 per cent, where they are projected to win one or two seats. They trail in third behind Wildrose in Calgary (11.5 per cent) and the rest of the province (9.6 per cent).
Sitting third in Edmonton are the New Democrats with 16.9 per cent, ahead of Wildrose. The capital is also where all four NDP MLAs are expected to be elected, as the party has only 8.2 per cent support in Calgary and 9.1 per cent in the rest of the province.
While the Tories, Liberals, and New Democrats appear set to battle for their corners of Edmonton, the real fight in the coming election will be between the Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose in the rest of the province. Volatility in the polls suggests that Calgary could be a very close race while in the rural parts of the province there is a very slim chance that Wildrose could finish ahead.
But unless there is a major swing in support in the next few months, it seems inevitable that the Progressive Conservatives will win another majority government in Alberta, a province they have ruled since 1971. The make-up and size of the opposition is at stake, however. The Liberals could disappear and, if things turn against Ms. Smith, the NDP has the opportunity to be the second largest party in the legislature. Though there is still a lot of campaigning to go before the vote, Alison Redford begins the political year in Alberta with a huge advantage over her adversaries.
ThreeHundredEight.com 's projection model aggregates all publicly released polls, weighing them by sample size, date, and the polling firm's accuracy record and adjusting them according to past discrepancies. The seat projection model makes individual projections for all 87 ridings in the province, based on the provincial and regional shifts in support since the 2008 election and including the application of factors unique to each riding, such as the effects of incumbency.
Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com