Danielle Smith’s byelection win not as decisive as expected, experts say

Seven years after leaving the legislature, Alberta Premier Danielle Smith has reclaimed a seat.

Smith beat out four opponents in the byelection for the constituency of Brooks-Medicine Hat on Tuesday to win her seat.

It was a result that political scientists across the province weren’t surprised to hear.

“I think we certainly expected that Danielle Smith would win the seat,” said Trevor Harrison, a political scientist at the University of Lethbridge. “It would have been a total shock and thrown the UCP into quite a conundrum had she not won.”

Read more: Alberta Premier Danielle Smith wins Brooks-Medicine Hat byelection

However, sitting just below 55 per cent of the votes at of 10:30 p.m. Tuesday evening, her win wasn’t as large as some party members may have hoped for.

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“I think certainly the UCP and Danielle Smith herself are breathing a sigh of relief, a win is a win. But it is very low,” Harrison said. “This was a byelection in the heart of UCP support, rural Alberta, so one is happy to win the election, but does it send a message somehow that perhaps Danielle Smith is not as saleable out there as the UCP would hope? That’s something for the party itself to really mull over in the next little while.”

Lori Williams, a political scientist with Mount Royal University, agreed.

“This is nowhere near the decisive win that she would have wanted and probably expected,” Williams said.

“She ran in this riding, she wanted to have that decisive victory, and this isn’t it.”

However, Harrison said there could be several reasons as to why her win was smaller than expected.

“It’s also possible that some of the other parties were particularly motivated to come out and vote against Danielle Smith,” Harrison said. “Hence, that might explain some of the difference in the percentages for the various candidates.”

Winning her seat in legislature is something that poli-sci professors agree was necessary for Smith to move forward in her political career.

“It would have been very difficult to govern as a premier without sitting in the legislature,” Harrison said. “(Danielle Smith) clearly has a pretty robust agenda of things that she wants to do and so presumably, she can do those things better when she’s in the legislature.”

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“Well, it’s a win. And she will take a win. And she’ll try to translate that into support in a place in the legislature and the ability to actually move her agenda, whatever that happens to be,” Williams said.

Read more: Advance voting numbers released in Brooks-Medicine Hat byelection

In advance polling, fewer eligible voters in the riding of Brooks-Medicine Hat cast their ballot when compared to the last general election.

Elections Alberta said 4,231 out of 34,060 eligible voters cast their ballots in advance polls this year, which is about 12.4 per cent of eligible voters.

Harrison said low voter turnout for byelections is nothing new, however, he added he was surprised that Premier Smith’s status didn’t boost numbers at this year’s polls.

“Byelections generally don’t get as many people out, sometimes we get as low as 35-40 per cent of people turning out,” Harrison said. “In this case, however, given that you do have the premier running in the riding, you would expect that the votes should be actually pretty high, so I’m not quite sure what it says about voter apathy.”

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