The 'road ahead' for Alberta voters as CBC surveys motivations and polarization in lead up to next election

"The job of a public broadcaster is to take the data available and explain it, to help Albertans understand the context of this moment, and understand one another." CBC Calgary partners with pollster to chart the political motivations in Alberta, more than a year away from the next provincial election.

Albertans face a shifting landscape and a lot of choices

A recent Insights West poll found the UCP led by Jason Kenney has 46 per cent support of decided voters while Premier Rachel Notley's NDP are more popular among young voters. (CBC)

If you believe the polls, Alberta's governing New Democrats are toast.

Recent surveys suggest the party has virtually no chance of pulling off a victory in next year's expected election — that the political winds favour the conservatives under Jason Kenny's leadership.

But this is Alberta, and anything's possible. (And we want to hear from you, as you'll see at the end of this article.)

Our province is more than a year from an expected election. Longtime political watchers suggest we brace ourselves for a brutal and polarized — left vs. right — campaign. An election framed as a choice between four more years of the NDP, or turfing them out after just one term.

What issues will sway the interests of voters in the province's two largest cities in the lead up to the next provincial election? (Ed Middleton/CBC, Todd Garant/Facebook)

But other political parties — the Liberals and the nascent Alberta Party — could offer an alternative to the competing ideological positions of the two dominant parties. And then there are other factors, including leadership and issues, that could shape the coming campaign.  

Allegiances are shifting, loyalties uncertain, new leaders are advancing new parties, and Albertans are being faced with a shifting landscape and a lot of choices.

So, as part of our Calgary: The Road Ahead project, we plan to take a look at the factors that might shape the coming election. We want to hear from you.

What matters to voters

The series, which explores the future of Calgary, has partnered with long-time Calgary pollster Janet Brown to explore what matters most to Alberta voters — and what factors might shape the coming election. That's right. A poll. But more than that.

"What we are hoping to do is get a really thorough understanding of where Albertans are at one year out from the next provincial election," Brown said in an interview with CBC News.

The focus of our Road Ahead  won't be on the typical "horse race" numbers, although we will have those. We're going to use a number of different methods to survey the pulse of the province.

Pollster Janet Brown will conduct a survey of Albertans, and hold focus groups to get a deeper look at the issues that will shape the next provincial election. (Mike Symington/CBC)

"We are trying to get a deeper sense of what people care about, what's going to be on their agenda, how they are going to be making decisions when the next election rolls around," added Brown.

So here's how it's going to work.

Survey, focus groups, and more

On behalf of CBC News, Brown will conduct a survey of Albertans, and hold focus groups.

"We are doing a larger sample because we really want to look at the data in more depth than a typical poll," said Brown.

Over the next months, we at CBC Calgary will try to get beyond the leading/falling behind narrative, into something much deeper. Motivations.

"Most anyone could guess the results of a horse-race poll," said Helen Henderson, the Senior Director of  Journalism and Programming at CBC Calgary.

"The job of a public broadcaster is to take the data available and explain it, to help Albertans understand the context of this moment, and understand one another."

Now, polls and their reliability have taken a beating in the last few years. In Calgary's recent civic election, a polling firm that consistently and wrongly predicted that Mayor Naheed Nenshi would lose in last October's election, and later admitted to "big polling failures." Then there was the unexpected Trump victory in the U.S., and the failure to predict Brexit in the U.K.  

But Brown hopes the research she is doing for CBC Calgary will help restores some public faith in political polls.

As part of that, CBC Calgary will be charting each step in the process, sharing with our audiences what goes into a large-scale survey, and following up with focus groups. The methodology, the process, the determinations.

How it will work

Our coverage will involve analysis pieces, opinion articles, Q and A's, podcasts and more.

Two Calgary political scientists — Melanee Thomas from the University of Calgary and Mount Royal University's Duane Bratt — are advising Brown and CBC News on research methodology. You'll hear from them a lot.

Political scientists Duane Bratt, from Mount Royal University, left, and Melanee Thomas, from the University of Calgary, right, are advising pollster Janet Brown and CBC News on research methodology. (CBC)

The survey itself will be a random telephone poll using live operators to ask questions. People contacted for the survey will also have the option of completing the survey online. CBC News's survey will also be longer than usual.

"We are going to ask a lot more questions, we are going to talk to a lot more people and it's really going to give us a chance to do more in-depth analysis," Brown said.

That larger sample allows for a more detailed analysis of sub-groups such as rural vs. urban.  

The poll of 1,200 Albertans will be followed up with focus groups selected randomly from the survey. The interviews with groups of voters are expected to provide more context and understanding about what's motivating Albertans' voter choices.

"It will really give us a sense of why they are supporting things or why they are opposing things. It will give us that context that it's really hard to get out of a survey alone," said Brown.

Now, as part of the research, we want to hear from you. We are currently compiling the list of survey questions. We can only ask so many, but we want your suggestions.

So, if you have thoughts about what questions we should be asking Alberta voters, email us: calgarytheroadahead@cbc.ca

CBC News expects to release the results of its research in early April.


Calgary: The Road Ahead is CBC Calgary's special focus on our city as it passes through the crucible of the downturn: the challenges we face, and the possible solutions as we explore what kind of Calgary we want to create. Have an idea? Email us at calgarytheroadahead@cbc.ca

More stories from the series:

About the Author

Brooks DeCillia

CBC journalist

Brooks DeCillia is a longtime journalist. He was a national reporter with CBC News for a decade. He can be reached at: brooks.decillia@cbc.ca.