The Progressive Conservatives are making a comeback in the battleground city of Calgary, but are still trailing the right-wing Wildrose Party overall, according to the latest poll on the Alberta election trail.
Monday's poll, commissioned by the CBC and conducted by Calgary-based firm Return on Insight, shows a narrowing Wildrose lead, the latest signal of how quickly Alberta politics is shifting and how unpredictable it has become.
Wildrose maintains a comfortable seven-point lead in the province, but the party's areas of strength are in flux. Polls last week, for instance, gave Wildrose a large lead in Calgary, the province's biggest city; Monday's poll shows the PCs with a narrow lead in Calgary, 45 to 41. Meanwhile, the right-wing Wildrose has pulled ahead in Edmonton, the least conservative enclave of the province.
Mayor Naheed Nenshi has said whichever party wins Calgary will win the election, so the shift - if true - is significant for Alison Redford's PCs. The Liberals, meanwhile are at five per cent in Calgary, trailing the NDP at eight per cent.
"Our numbers show that what has happened is the Liberal vote has collapsed," ROI president Bruce Cameron of the Calgary results. "Clearly people are choosing sides in Calgary - it's either Wildrose or PC. And I think that type of strategic voting hasn't happened yet in Edmonton, but it's certainly starting to show in Calgary."
Overall, the poll shows Wildrose at 43 per cent, the PCs at 36 per cent, the Liberals at 11 per cent and the NDP at nine per cent. It also shows a horse-race in Edmonton, where Liberal and NDP support has stayed firm - as opposed to sliding to the PCs - and allowed Wildrose to maintain a lead, 37 per cent to 31 per cent. The poll showed Liberal support at 19 per cent in Edmonton, with NDP support at 12 per cent.
In rural Alberta, Monday's CBC poll shows Wildrose ahead of the PCs 52-31 - the other parties are non-factors in all but a handful of ridings. "That is in the realm of a sweep in areas outside the cities," Mr. Cameron said.
Polling has been notoriously unpredictable in this race, with different companies and methodologies - live phone interview, automated phone response or online panels - showing starkly different races. One last week, for instance, showed the PCs narrowly ahead of Wildrose in rural Alberta and the parties essentially tied overall, while Monday's showed a 21-point lead for Wildrose in rural Alberta and a seven point lead. "It's difficult for any kind of methodology to really capture it, and there's a lot of movement. Movement from PCs to Wildrose, and Liberal to PCs. So people are changing their minds and its difficult to gauge," Mr. Cameron said.
For a majority, a party needs at least 44 of the 87 seats. The province's seats are roughly split equally between Edmonton, Calgary and the rest of Alberta - winning two of those battlegrounds will deliver a majority. As such, Mr. Cameron said there would need to be similar softening of Liberal and New Democrat support in Edmonton for the PCs to have a shot. "It will be essential for the PCs, to mount any kind of comeback, for the strategic voting we're seeing in Calgary to happen in Edmonton," Mr. Cameron said.
Calgary has traditionally been more conservative, where as Edmonton has stronger pockets of Liberal and New Democrat support. Combined with the upstart Alberta Party, it has led to four- and five-way races in the capital city that observers say are difficult to call. Weighted against one another, the polls still show Wildrose on track for a healthy majority, but there's still one week left, Mr. Cameron said.
"It's not a slam-dunk that this is going to be a runaway majority," he said. "It still could emerge that way in the last week, but the PCs still have an opportunity here to make a comeback."
The poll surveyed a representative sample of 800 Alberta adults between April 13 and 14, 2012, and is considered accurate plus more minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Election day is April 23.