Alberta’s fate in the hands of voters

When it comes to voter turnout, will Albertans ever see the likes of 1935 again?

When it comes to voter turnout, will Albertans ever see the likes of 1935 again?

That was the year of the largest voter turnout for a provincial election in Alberta’s history. It was 81.8 per cent of eligible voters.

That was also the year that voters tossed out the United Farmers of Alberta and the province embraced Social Credit.

It would stay that way for the next 36 years (and nine elections) until Peter Lougheed’s Progressive Conservatives arrived, voter turnout was 72 per cent and a 44-year dynasty commenced.

Whether the PC long-distance majority run continues is entirely up to those voters who show up today to cast a ballot to elect one of 87 MLAs.

Elections Alberta says there are 2,543,127 Albertans eligible to vote today. Weather shouldn’t be an excuse not to make it to the local polling stations, which are open from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. The forecast for Red Deer is mainly sunny, with a high of 19C, and a small chance of showers.

And for the diehards, the Calgary Flames Stanley Cup playoff game in Calgary against Anaheim shouldn’t be much of a factor either. The game starts at 7:30 p.m. but for those who need to vote during the last half hour that the polls are open, one can always set the PVR.

Whether voter turnout will increase over the 2012 trend-breaking number is anybody’s guess.

The pattern of lower and lower voter turnout started in 1997. In 1993, it was 60.2 per cent. But from 1997 until the 2012 election, things started to slide.

Voter turnout in 1997 was 52.8 per cent, 2001 (52.8), 2004 (44.7), and 2008 (40.6).

In 2012, Albertans, who were seeing the Wildrose Party gathering momentum and threatening the PC’s longevity, got a little more excited about voting, and almost 14 per cent more eligible voters showed up than in 2008, bringing the total turnout to 54.4 per cent (1,290,223 voters), the highest since 1993.

Low voter turnout tends to help the governing party. Those who don’t support the status quo may be inclined to be apathetic, believing their vote doesn’t count.

Higher vote turnout can signal that change is wanted and people are not happy with the rule of the day.

Red Deer College political science instructor David Baugh said on Monday that the standard demographic Canadawide is voter turnout tends to be higher among three groups — people who are older, more affluent and more educated.

For example, in the 2012 federal election, only 38.8 per cent of 18-to-24-years-olds voted, whereas 75 per cent of those ages 65 to 74 voted.

If it’s a close contest, there’s more at stake, Baugh said.

“According to opinion poles, (today’s election) is “by no means a cake walk for anybody so that should help voter turnout.”

Good weather should help voter turnout … and an extra day of advance voting should help too, Baugh said.

“Particularly because the NDP is ahead, that could improve voter turnout among youth because Conservatives and Wildrose tend to appeal to an older group of voters,” Baugh said.

“I think there certainly is a lot of interest,” said Baugh.

Something that concerns him, though, is although political interest may have increased in the younger age group, political knowledge has decreased.

“It could be partly the cyber age we live in that people are being dumbed down a bit … a 140-stroke tweet is not necessarily going to give you an analysis.”

Retired Red Deer MP Bob Mills suspects today’s election turnout could increase over 2012.

“I think there has to be some excitement, and of course it has to be a contest. I think this year there is one.”

Everything you hear and read … is saying there is a contest. I think that does spur people to get out (and vote),” said Mills.

“I predict a pretty big turnout. … I’m not so sure about Red Deer but overall provincially I think it will be pretty big.”

Mills, who was MP for Red Deer from 1993 to 2008, is out of politics completely but everywhere he goes people have been talking to him about the election.

“I think there is an appetite for change. … It’s much, much stronger than I would have ever predicted.”

“I’ve been voting since I was 18. … I think it’s my duty … and I guess probably as the Foreign Affairs critic for all those years, travelling to all those countries in war over democracy makes me feel like everybody should vote. It’s your job … you just must vote.”

The very first voter turnout in the country goes back 148 years, in 1867, when Canada had a population of 3,230,000. There were 361,028 electors on lists with 268,387 ballots cast, resulting in a 73 per cent turnout.