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Calgary Election 2017: Mainstreet poll has Bill Smith eclipsing Naheed Nenshi in race for mayor’s seat

Nenshi v. Smith
Incumbent Mayor Naheed Nenshi (left) and competitor Bill Smith at a debate. September 2017. Global News

A poll released on Saturday suggests Bill Smith is picking up steam in the race to the mayor’s seat.

The survey from Mainstreet Research found that if an election was held today Smith would win with 48 per cent of the vote. That’s 17 points ahead of Naheed Nenshi who, according to polling by the organization, would achieve just 31 per cent of the vote.

LISTEN: President and CEO of Mainstreet Research on the polling results which put Bill Smith ahead of Nenshi in mayor’s race 

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A poll from Mainstreet Research Saturday, Oct. 6, 2017 found Bill Smith is in the lead heading into the 2017 Calgary election.
A poll from Mainstreet Research Saturday, Oct. 6, 2017 found Bill Smith is in the lead heading into the 2017 Calgary election. Courtesy: Mainstreet Research

“The path to victory for Nenshi is very, very narrow,” said Mainstreet Research president and CEO Quito Maggi.

“With the passage of time, that mystique over the purple army and all of those things that people still talk about has faded.”

A spokesperson for Nenshi’s campaign said the team has great confidence in its internal numbers.

“We’ll leave it up to the media to question the validity of the polls. We strongly believe that Calgarians will vote to move forward, not backwards,” said Chima Nkemdirim, chair of the Naheed Nenshi Re-election Campaign, in a statement.

Political scientist Duane Bratt said he agrees the mayor is “in trouble” but expressed doubt that Smith could have such a sizeable lead.

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“It boggles my mind that he could be trailing by that many but we’ve seen a lot of change in this last week of the election,” he said.

Maggi said, after criticism of a poll on the same topic released last week, the polling firm increased the sample size and changed the frame to lower the margin of error. He said they also added over-sampling in wards that may be friendlier to Smith or Nenshi.

“I’ve polled the last two byelections in Calgary,” Maggi said. “Provincially, we got both of those right… We got both the last provincial elections right.

“Our track record, especially in Alberta and Calgary specifically, is exceptional… We’re not perfect. I’m not cheering for one or the other… I’m cheering for math.”

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Bratt said there’s been a growing anti-Nenshi sentiment in the race that appears to have coalesced around Bill Smith. He said Smith has attracted dissatisfied voters by focusing on tax rates and by highlighting “feuds that Nenshi has had with the business community.”

“He hasn’t really put much policy forward, but he hasn’t had to,” he said. “It’s more an anti-Nenshi vote than a pro-Bill Smith vote.”

He said one area where the mayor has seriously faltered is the accusation he made that Smith took an illegal donation from the Edmonton Oilers group.

“I thought that was a major mistake,” he said.

LISTEN: Duane Bratt reacts to Mainstreet Research poll that shows Bill Smith ahead of Naheed Nenshi

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“I think Nenshi’s actually run a fairly good campaign outside of these moments. It’s just there seems to be an anti-Nenshi sentiment related to taxes, the downturn of the economy and looking for someone to blame. And you blame the person at the top.”

Bratt said that although Andre Chabot is in third place, the outcome of the Oct. 16 election will depend heavily on the amount of support the former councillor can muster. He said less support for Chabot would more likely mean victory for Smith.

“Because he sat on council and he supported some of these initiatives, it’s tough for him to offer a critique of the mayor like Smith, as an outsider, can,” he said.

Maggi added that although the poll suggests support for the mayor is dwindling, there are factors that could lead to a Nenshi victory.

“Certainly turnout, ‘get out the vote’ efforts, volunteers – all of those things that do matter – Nenshi has a bit of an advantage on those things and how that’s going to play out on the final numbers [we have] yet to see.”
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“This is extremely low undecided rate,” Maggi told Global News on Saturday. “That undecided rate has to shift dramatically in these closing days of this campaign.

“The vote split issue that people have been talking about for two days is not going to be an issue,” Maggi added. “The gap between Smith and Nenshi has increased, likely still moving in that direction, with not a lot of time left.”

Respondents were screened to confirm voting eligibility and responses were weighted using demographic and geographic information to targets based on the 2016 census. The margin of error is +/- 2.53 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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