A new survey released in the National Post by Forum Research Inc. shows Alberta’s Progressive Conservatives with 38% province-wide support and the opposition Wildrose Party sitting at 29%. This survey shows the Liberals at 14%, New Democratic Party at 13%, and the Alberta Party with 3% province-wide support.

Danielle Smith Wildrose Alberta leader

Danielle Smith

Surveys conducted by Environics, Angus Reid, and Lethbridge College in the final months of 2011 tell a different story, showing the Tories with a commanding lead placing more than 20% ahead of the opposition parties. Finding different results, the Forum survey shows the PCs up one-percent from a previous survey conducted by the same firm in December 2011 and the Wildrose up six points in the same period of time. I will wait to see whether other surveys begin to show similar results before I begin to believe that the PCs and Wildrose are this close in electoral support.

It is important to remember that surveys and polls are snapshots of where a population is at an exact moment in time. They are helpful at detecting trends, but as all political watchers should remember – campaigns matter – and Albertans will have an opportunity to see their political parties in full electoral action in the coming months.

Ed Stelmach

Ed Stelmach

Without Premier Ed Stelmach as their lightening-rod in Calgary perpetually unhappy oil company community, the Wildrose Party appears to have lost the steam from the high point they sat at in mid-2010. In response, they are trying their best to cast Premier Alison Redford as a flip-flopper and have come out strong with negative advertising aimed at the Tories. There is plenty to criticize in the Tory record book, but the relentless angry and outrageous attacks lend little suggestion that the Wildrose Party would be a very pleasant crew if they ever form government.

As I said in the National Post, there are not many people talking about the Wildrose Party forming government these days – except Wildrose Party leader Danielle Smith. Ms. Smith appears to be doing very little to manage the expectations of her party’s core activists, many whom are still wearing the [wild]rose coloured glasses they donned when the their party hit the peak of its meteoric rise in 2010.

Alison Redford

Alison Redford

Not properly managing expectations can be a politically deadly mistake. While the political environment was different, the most appropriate example may be the Alberta Liberal experience following the infamous 1993 election. With early polls showing a meteoric rise in the polls for the long-outcast Liberal Party, leader Laurence Decore had pumped expectations of forming government so-high that when his party only formed Official Opposition, he faced open revolt from his caucus and defections to the Tories. The Liberals have not come close to this high-point since.

I also point to the quick rise and fall of Canadian Alliance leader Stockwell Day or Liberal Prime Minister Paul Martin, who both filled their supporters minds with great expectations of electoral glory, only to disappoint when the votes were counted.

What results of the Forum survey and other surveys suggest to me is that the PCs remain Alberta’s big-tent political party – one that both blue conservatives and moderate liberals are comfortable joining – and that the opposition is increasingly polarizing to the political left and right.

The rise of the conservative Wildrose Party to what may become the default opposition and the increase in support for the social democratic NDP may leave a difficult space for the moderate opposition parties that want to occupy the political centre – the Liberal and the Alberta Party.