Lawn signs at residences are the first clue to change
By Bruce A Stewart
The Alberta election campaign is underway. Polling shows Wildrose having bounced back from the attempt to make the bus the issue, now even with the PCs at 38 per cent each.
So how can you tell what might be happening?
Watch the lawn signs. In particular, watch the ones at residences. Store windows, medians on roads, intersections and other “public” places don’t count.
During last year’s federal election, I knew my riding was changing hands within the first week. Our new MP had signs everywhere, all over the riding. Most were up within the first 72 hours, and all of them were on residential lawns.
The incumbent — an 18-year MP — wasn’t that slow out the gate. But they weren’t getting quite as many residential signs, so that the streets were a sea of one colour, with a spot or two of the other.
The incumbent did get the local stores (many of the early ones were from previous campaigns; the store owners had simply kept them to use again).
In the first two days, the people who get signs up are those who were waiting for the election call. They don’t need the campaign to knock on the door — they jumped in their own car, went and got their own sign.
Those are the passionate ones. But they’re not going to be enough to win an election.
But it takes a campaign a day or two to get itself together — and that assumes the candidate is ready to go.
Volunteers have to be assigned work to do. They have to be trained. Volunteers need to know what the talking point is for the door, how to “read” the encounter to know whether to wave the candidate over, and how to “read” it for voting intention.
Meanwhile the schedule for the riding is still coming together. Community groups start extending invitations to all-candidates’ meetings. So the campaign manager wants to keep time open for the candidate and doesn’t rush into street work.
But, by day three, the teams are spreading out. Now the signs that go up are put up by the campaign, because they knocked and got a “yes” to “would you like a sign?”
That wave of signs tells you both which campaigns have their ground game running at speed — and what kind of reactions you’re getting at the door.
It’s tough to dump an incumbent. Remember those store owners? “Better the one I know.” They’re not alone in thinking that.
But those people, at home, generally won’t put a sign on their lawn. So equal signs means the incumbent MLA is ahead. Only a heavy balance in favour of new newcomer signals an upset in the making.
If the PCs are going to lose in Alberta, you’ll see it on the streets.
If Alberta’s going to have a new government — the first change since 1971 — you’ll know later this week.
Bruce Stewart is a consultant, educator and philosopher with a passion for public affairs currently located in Toronto. He is well known across the Internet for his blog Just a Jump to the Left, then a Step to the Right and for his daily stream of snarky comments on Facebook, Twitter and Google+. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.