04/24/2012 02:32 EDT | Updated 06/23/2012 05:12 EDT

Alberta Voter Turnout 2012: Election Fails To See Rush To The Polls


EDMONTON - More Albertans decided Monday's provincial election was too important to miss, reversing a trend that saw a record low turnout in the last vote.

But it wasn't exactly the rush to the polls many were expecting given predictions by pundits that the Progressive Conservative government was about to lose for the first time in 41 years.

Despite the election being billed as a real race, turnout was slightly above 50 per cent of eligible voters.

"It's a surprise. I think I was probably expecting closer to 60," said Harold Jansen, a University of Lethbridge political scientist.

Voter turnout had been dropping in successive Alberta elections, reaching a new low in 2008, when just over 40 per cent of eligible voters cast ballots.

Conventional wisdom was that the certainty of the outcome was to blame. After all, what was the point in voting if the Tories were sure to win?

But even though there appeared to be a possibility of change, Jansen said it takes time to break an ingrained pattern.

"There's been such a level of disengagement," Jansen continued. "It's been so uncompetitive for so long.

"It takes time to turn that around."

While the percentage of Albertans who voted wasn't high, the huge population increase the province has experienced over the last decade meant that the total number of voters broke a record, something Progressive Conservative Leader Alison Redford noted Monday night.

"There's no doubt that what we've seen is a record turnout, a turnout that I think speaks to the fact that Albertans want to have excellence in government," she said following her victory speech.

"What I see tonight — and what I said in the campaign and what I said in the legislature — was today Albertans would decide who they wanted to lead their province. And I think what will happen now is we'll take a look at how we can do that in a way that's constructive and positive and continues to build our economy, builds our future and supports families in this province."

There were predictions that some Liberal or NDP supporters would vote strategically for the Tories to prevent a win by the further-right Wildrose.

Jared Kope, a voter at an Edmonton polling station, said he got out to vote Liberal for one reason.

"To stop Wildrose from winning," Kope said.

Janice Barber, who lives in Edmonton, skipped voting in 2008 but said she got to the polls Monday to support Redford.

"She hasn't been in long enough to prove herself yet, but I have faith in her," Barber said outside a polling station in downtown Edmonton.

Ashley Crummy and her fiance Kevin Collins didn't vote in 2008 either. But they, too, came out to vote PC because one of Crummy's parents is disabled, and Redford made a commitment for more money for disabled Albertans.

"Now that I'm getting older, I'm more concerned where my money is going and my taxes are spent," Crummy said.

Jansen said the Tories under Redford appear to have captured centrist voters that the Liberals used to get. It meant the Tories won a lot more support in the cities, while losing support in rural areas, particularly in southern Alberta.

"The Conservatives are now the party of urban Alberta," he said.

While the results of Monday's vote mean the government is still the same, Jansen suggested voter turnout may continue to improve over time.

He explained that newcomers, like those who've arrived in the last decade, often don't have the sense of community that motivates people to vote.

"The research shows that if people vote in the first two elections that they're eligible to vote in, they'll develop lifelong voting."

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