Social media site is the canary in my election campaign coal mine
By Markham Hislop
Can you feel it? That gut-tingle when an election turns and heads off like an out of control freight train in an unexpected direction, when panic begins to creep into the slipping party’s public comments and the political gossip around the water cooler is all about the surging upstart?
Sounds like Alberta, doesn’t it?
The most recent polling summarized on Threehundredeight shows the Danielle Smith’s Wildrose comfortably out in front of Alison Redford’s Progressive Conservatives. Wildrose is projected to take 40.8 per cent of the popular vote and 52 seats, the PCs 32.1 per cent and only 28 seats. Raj Sherman’s Libs have slipped to a mere six per cent, while the NDP is holding its own at 11.3 per cent. The Alberta Party barely registers at 2.6 per cent.
There’s still 18 days until voters take to the polls, but the 2012 Alberta election has all the makings of a good, old-fashioned ass-whooping.
The canary in my personal coal mine is my social media network, particularly Facebook, which isn’t dominated with political types the way my Twitter feed is.
Calgarians, I’ve noticed, are staring to post more and more warmly about Wildrose in general and Smith in particular. And not just the partisans. You can always spot those characters. Their leader could dance naked down Stephen Avenue in a snow storm and they’d be arguing it was a great bit of campaign strategy.
No, this time it’s the hoi polloi.
These are people who normally wouldn’t comment on politics and don’t often join the sometimes fractious debates about the Beacon News stories I post on my newsfeed. They’re just average folks who are busy working, cooking dinner for the family and rushing the kids off to gymnastics or hockey. I guess they’re the modern equivalent of Ralph Klein’s Martha and Henry.
When these voters start to pay attention, you know a campaign has really grabbed them by the lapels.
Their Facebook comments fall into two categories.
One, the PCs have been in office too long, they’re tired, they’re corrupt, etc. and they have to go. The old saw says Canadians don’t elect governments, they throw out the bums already stinkin’ up the joint. Unfortunately for Redford, her party has enough Limburger to assault the average voter’s senses. She was caught on the wrong side of the MLA “committee that never met” pay issue, for instance, and the Premier’s mea culpa and change in direction on that file doesn’t seem to have done her any favours.
Two, that Danielle Smith isn’t so bad, after all. She doesn’t have two heads or breath fire, and by gosh she thinks I can spend my money better than government. Never under-estimate the power of taxpayer dollars to bribe the electorate. While Redford was busy pledging money to esoteric projects like oil sands research, Wildrose campaign manager Tom Flanagan, the old Reform Party fox and Stephen Harper adviser, crafted a series of financial promises aimed squarely at cash-strapped Alberta families: a child tax credit worth $200, the promise to scrap school fees (the Beacon reported that many school boards are sending parents to collection agencies over unpaid fees), and a $500 culture, arts and sports tax credit.
Is it any wonder that Wildrose is now polling 44.7 per cent in Calgary?
2012 is beginning to look a little like the 2010 Calgary civic election. Midway through the campaign Facebook suddenly erupted with comments by people I would have pegged for Ric McIver supporters talking about the wonders of that young professor from Mount Royal University. My curiousity was piqued, so several times I called up McIver’s campaign manager, Sam Armstrong, and asked what his extensive phone bank operation was telling him. Everything’s right on track, was the answer, expecting a comfortable win. The candidate expressed quiet optimism. Voters at the door were telling him he had their support.
Well, the voters lied. On election day they gave Naheed Nenshi a resounding and historic victory. The post-mortem suggests Calgary voters were tired of the previous councils and McIver became the symbol of the old order Calgarians wanted to punish.
The momentum shift presaging that victory first showed up in my Facebook newsfeed, only I was too dumb to understand it.
This time around, though, I’m a little smarter and I think I spotted the trend. The non-politicos are carping about the multitude of PC sins committed over the over the past five years or so, at least since Ed Stelmach assumed office. A general grumpiness has infected a large part of the Alberta populace, and it sounds a lot like the angst that brought down McIver (who’s running in Calgary Hays for the PCs and regularly posts about what a great reception he’s getting at the door. Shades of 2010…).
But the key difference with the Calgary civic election is that the PC election machine’s keen nose has been sniffing the air and recognizes the foul stench of voter anger. Plus, you know, a couple of bad polls helped point it in the right direction.
The party is swinging into action, again judging by my Facebook newsfeed. Dirt on Wildrose candidates and the party, and there’s a fair amount available, apparently, is being slung hard and fast. Danielle Smith’s party has its share of nutters and past public comments are coming back to haunt some of them.
Wildrose campaign promises are being dissected with the zeal of a medical student on crack. My media colleagues, their noses tweaked by Wildrose press releases rebutting their “errors,” are mustering their indignation and scribbling anti-Wildrose screeds.
Folks, the beast is not dead yet. Will it eventually succumb?
Too early to tell, but I’ll be back next week with a report on the health of my canary. One prediction I will make is that the PCs have plenty of fight left in them.
But is it too late?