Rancher Travis Olson saunters to the open tailgate of a pickup truck at a farm equipment auction near Thorhild, Alta.

There he finds farmers gathered around having a beer, enjoying one of the first warm, sunny days of the spring.

Travis Olson

Wildrose candidate Travis Olson said the mood of the campaign is different from 2012. (Kim Trynacity/CBC)

"Like paying taxes?" he asks the men and women who appear genuinely interested in what he has to say. "$2,500 increase?"

"It's all bullshit," answers one of the farmers, followed by laughter all around.

The young rancher is running for the second time as the Wildrose candidate in the Athabasca-Sturgeon-Redwater riding north of Edmonton.

In 2012, he lost to Progressive Conservative Jeff Johnson by a little more than 2,000 votes, but this time he's convinced things are different.

In the last provincial election, the auction crowd would have been 95 per cent Tory voters, guaranteed, Olson says.

Now the tide has turned, he says.

'They're not voting PC'

"I have so many people at the door tell me they're undecided, but they decided they're not voting PC."

Like many rural Alberta seats, this one has been held by the Tories for several elections.

But on the doorsteps, Olson says he's hearing about everything from Premier Jim Prentice's reluctance to raise corporate taxes, to his purchase of a classic 1956 Thunderbird, purchased for  $71,000 at a car auction in Arizona in January, while at the same time preaching austerity to Albertans.

That doesn't surprise Clifton van der Linden, with Vox Pop Research, the company behind CBC Vote Compass.

Surprisingly, rural and urban Albertans are taking similar positions on crucial issues, he says. 

On corporate taxes, almost three of four rural Albertans say companies should pay more.

Traditionally, "there's a resistance in rural Canada to corporate tax increases, because it's linked to potential job losses in the manufacturing or resource industry," van der Linden says.

"This dynamic is surprising," says van der Linden, "in that you don't get that same reticence."

It's not the only issue where the gap between rural and urban voters has narrowed since 2012, he says.

'Government accountability' top priority

"In this election race, there seems to be a lot of unity between rural and urban Albertans," he says. "Certainly you can see how issues like government accountability are really top of mind, whether you're from the city or the country."

Some differences do remain, he says.

While most voters in Alberta put government accountability at the top of the list, rural voters place "government spending" as number two, ahead of health care and education, he says.

The reverse is true for city voters, he says.

After meeting with farmers at the auction, Olson fails to win a firm commitment that he's won them over, but he does hear about the last time some voted for a candidate other than the Conservative.

After the election, the riding ended up with an opposition MLA; one-time Liberal leader Nick Taylor, in fact.

"We got nothin'," one farmer says, ominously, adding "that's the only concern with shit like that."