'Fierce battles:' Alberta election watchers weigh in on voter turnout in Edmonton, Calgary

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A stiff competition between mayoral front runners may be responsible for drumming up a stronger voter turnout in Calgary than in Edmonton in Monday’s municipal election, Alberta political observers say.

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Based on unofficial results, 45.6 per cent of Calgary voters participated in that city’s mayoral race while 37 per cent of eligible Edmonton residents cast a ballot for a new leader, despite the fact that both cities had open mayoral races with a pair of front runners on opposite sides of the progressive-conservative divide. Both the City of Edmonton and the City of Calgary said final election results will be available Friday at noon.

University of Calgary political scientist Jack Lucas said a higher turnout in Calgary could be the result of a more competitive race.

According to a Leger Poll conducted for Postmedia ahead of the election, Calgary respondents were divided between Jyoti Gondek and Jeromy Farkas for the mayor’s seat, while in Edmonton Amarjeet Sohi enjoyed an 18-point lead over Mike Nickel.

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“It was an open race but appeared to be less competitive,” Lucas said of the Edmonton mayoral race. “Whereas, even though the Calgary mayoral race ended up not being all that competitive — it was a decisive win by Jyoti Gondek — the expectation was that it was neck and neck and it’s the expectation that really matters for driving people to the polls, because they don’t know how things are actually going to work out.”

For political analyst John Brennan, Calgary’s mayoral contest evoked strong memories of the 1992 and 1995 mayoral races between Jan Reimer and Bill Smith, which had some of the highest voter turnouts in Edmonton’s recent history — about 51 and 50 per cent respectively.

“They were very fierce battles,”  said Brennan, a former executive assistant for Reimer.

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Both of those elections saw a woman, situated left of centre, facing off against a man on the right of centre, and while Reimer defeated Smith by a wide margin in 1992, she lost by about 1,300 votes the following election, he added.

Noting Sohi’s double-digit lead over Nickel in the Leger poll, Brennan also flagged a video Sohi published in the dying days of the campaign that cited new polling data suggesting that Sohi was locked in an “ extremely tight race ” with Nickel.

“When you’re the front runner, what you’re concerned about is complacency — you’re concerned about your voters getting out to vote and not thinking you have it in the bag,” Brennan said. “That happened to Jan Reimer in 1995, and I think the Sohi campaign was concerned that could happen.”

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From Edmonton, MacEwan University political scientist Chaldeans Mensa was also keeping tabs on both elections. While an ideological split between front runners defined mayoral races in Edmonton and Calgary, the latter was much more polarized, he said.

“We knew it was going to be an ideological contest between a fiscal conservative candidate, Farkas, and a progressive candidate carrying the Nenshi torch,” Mensa said. “That real intense competition between those two sides might have propelled the enthusiasm level and engagement level in Calgary compared to Edmonton.”

Advertising may have ramped up turnout in Calgary as well, Mensa added, since Calgary had 10 third-party advertisers register for its general election, “swamping their counterparts in Edmonton,” which only had two listed .

Mensa also noted a small but critical difference in the Calgary and Edmonton elections: the former had a plebiscite on whether or not to add fluoride to the water supply — a question that could have attracted additional voters.

“The fluoridation question has always been controversial in the context of Calgary,” he said.

hissawi@postmedia.com

twitter.com/hamdiissawi

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