A new poll from Mainstreet Research puts hopeful Bill Smith in the lead over incumbent Naheed Nenshi in Calgary's mayoral race.
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The Interactive Voice Response (IVR) poll commissioned by Postmedia says Smith has the support of 42 per cent of respondents, while Nenshi has the backing of 33 per cent.
Longtime councillor Andre Chabot is polling at a mere seven per cent in his quest for the mayor's chair, while all other candidates are fighting it out over the remaining four per cent of decided voters.
14 per cent undecided
Only 14 per cent of respondents said they were undecided leading up to the October 16 election.
"I think the biggest surprise for me in the entire survey was just how low the undecided rate is, especially since, in municipal campaigns, you rarely see it go below 15 per cent," said David Valentin, the executive vice-president of Mainstreet.
"So for us to be at 14 per cent right now, with still four weeks to go, is, in our view, quite significant and it does point to the challenge that the mayor is going to have if he's going to try to boost his support to hang on to re-election."
What Valentin is not surprised by is the declining popularity of Nenshi reflected in this poll. He points to a series of results this year that show the incumbent is not as formidable as he once was.
"None of this comes as a surprise to me in terms of the ratings. What does come as a surprise to me is that the vote really has seemed to have solidified around Mr. Smith, and it's not split between Mr. Chabot and Mr. Smith in a way that might allow Mr. Nenshi to move up the middle," he said.
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That said, Quito Maggi, president of Mainstreet, warns it's not an easy battle for Smith.
"The favourability numbers reveal some weakness for Smith and as we enter the next stage of the campaign, Smith can expect more scrutiny and media attention and that may drive some of those not familiar and not sure voters in different directions," he said in a statement released with the poll.
"If Nenshi can raise Smith's negatives, he may be able to grow his support."
The Nenshi campaign was decidedly unimpressed with the results and sent a statement to media slamming the poll and Mainstreet.
"There are several questionable elements within this poll (the methodology, the size and lack of representative sample, and the history of the polling firm)," reads the statement sent by spokesperson Alex Middleton.
"Our campaign has been running our own internal polling using very sound methodology and representative sample size and we are very confident that we are exactly where we want to be in this race."
In addition, the campaign's pollster, Brian Singh, said he found it curious the poll showed Smith was 18 points up on Nenshi in terms of support from women.
"This is a stunning finding, and does not align with anything we have seen, practically for the last seven years and our recent internals," said Singh in the released statement.
The campaign declined an interview request.
Valentin said he stands by the results and the company's track record.
"I'm more than happy to defend all those things," he said, when read the statement by Nenshi's campaign.
"Mainstreet's methodology in Alberta has been proven right, again and again and again and again. We have never called an election in Alberta incorrectly."
He also said he understands the response from the Nenshi campaign and points to Mainstreet predicting an Alison Redford win, a Rachel Notley win and calling two recent Calgary byelections to defend the results.
"So the idea that we were right about all those other things when others were wrong, but that we're wrong now, you know, I think it is campaign spin and I understand that," he said.
"Campaigns don't want to talk about negative numbers, they want to talk about their narratives, and I understand that people take these things very personally sometimes, but our job is not to go into the personal, our job is to talk about numbers and statistics."
Smith campaign encouraged
Smith, unsurprisingly, was pleased to see the results.
"I think the first thing is, I'm quite humbled by it. It does reflect what I've been hearing at the doors when I talk to Calgarians and it's very encouraging for our team to keep plugging away," he said.
Smith said polls are just a "snapshot in time," but that his team is encouraged by the results.
When asked if his campaign's number jive with the results he saw from Mainstreet, Smith said "the numbers were not surprising to us."
More to come
Valentin did say attitudes can change between now and October 16 and that there will be more polling data released as part of this survey next week.
"I think people will be interested in the numbers. I can tell you one of the questions we asked was what Calgarians thought about the Calgary Flames and would they actually be willing to let the Flames leave the city if that's what it meant," he said.
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"What was more important: a good deal or keeping the Flames?"
Chabot, Nenshi and Smith are facing off against other mayoral hopefuls Jason Achtymichuk, Brent Chisholm, Emile Gabriel, Larry Heather, David Lapp, Curtis Olson and Stan the Man Waciak.
The IVR poll surveyed a random stratified sample of 1,000 Calgarians over landlines and cell phones. A probability sample of the same size would yield a margin of error of plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.