Well, I'll be the first to ask: what in the eff just happened.
The only person to even come close to predicting what we saw last night was Warren Kinsella and a bunch of CalgaryGrit readers. The polls had supposedly spelled it out nicely for us: big fat Wildrose government. While Forum showed a tightening of the race at the last minute, no one truly expected that data point, which was still completely off, would be the closest poll to the actual results.
ThreeHundredEight.com, Canadian Election Atlas, and myself all got it wrong, badly so. So what happened?
The short story is simple: Calgary happened. I can think of only one poll within the last two weeks that showed the PCs up over the Wildrosers, and the last five polls out showed at last a 5-point lead for the Wildrosers among Calgarians. The final result? 46.2% PC to 35.7% Wildrose. C'mon now.
That flip, plus the PC's ramping up of votes in Edmonton, sealed the Wildroser's fate. While they put up an awesome fight in rural Alberta - evenly split those ridings 43%-43% - they just couldn't compete in the cities, even though the polls told us they could, at least in Calgary.
So with that weakness, the PCs did what they normally do: win elections. The entrenched PC vote, plus their incumbents and superior organization overall, gave them a built-in advantage that would take root when the Opposition party failed to make gains.
An interesting point in all of this is that the Wildrosers barely improved upon the Liberal's vote in Calgary in 2008 (33.9%). And Edmonton was a total loss for them.
The new reality for Alberta is that the Tories have taken over the cities, and not just because they're massive sweepers of the province. The vote is now actually entrenched, and there is enough evidence to say that the challenge for the PCs is no longer to their bases in the cities, but to their rural vote. Maybe self-evident, but the cities have usually been the forebears of bad news for the governing party since the SoCreds. Now the PCs have their base there.
This is evident by the fact that the Liberals dropped from highs of >30%, to the low teens; as well as the NDP's failure to make any real gains, even in the City of Edmonton, where they won only .8% more of the vote. The PCs increased their percentage of the vote in both cities.
In a way, it's similar to the Ontario Liberals, who have seen their base in rural Ontario dwindle into nothingness, while their urban vote in Ottawa and Toronto becomes more and more solid.
This presents a unique danger to the Alberta Liberals and the New Democrats, who only hold seats in urban areas, the NDP only holding seats in Edmonton (though they had a shot at a Lethbridge seat tonight). You think tonight's vote showed evidence of strategic voting? Just wait until the next one, when the PCs will target more and more Edmonton and Calgary voters. Wait until your incumbents retire. You'll really see strategic voting then.
Speaking of the Alberta Liberals, they were lucky they had four strong incumbents in Laurie Blakeman, David Swann, Kent Hehr, Darshan Kang, and party leader Raj Sherman. Otherwise they would've been wiped off the map, and ridings like Edmonton-Riverview or Calgary-Varsity, ridings they held by wide margins in 2008, are giant warning signs.
Finally, voter turnout was definitely up - but maybe not as much as we had hoped. 950K had voted in 2008, and it appears that 1.3-million voted this election. That's probably about 50-55%.
I'll go over my own projection later today, and we'll see what went wrong where.