The Alberta NDP is poised for a historic breakthrough, and a lot of that momentum can be credited to the party's leader Rachel Notley.

An exclusive CBC poll suggests Notley, who was first elected to the Alberta Legislature in 2008, is driving the party's surge with a strong campaign. She was given the highest approval rating at 53 per cent when Albertans were polled by Return On Insight (ROI).

"Rachel Notley has built this campaign around her. It has shades of Jack Layton, in that she is quite popular and she has a lot of energy," said ROI president Bruce Cameron. 

"Most Albertans, regardless of who they are voting for, would acknowledge the NDP has run the best campaign so far."

During a stop in Regina Friday, federal NDP leader Tom Mulcair praised Notley's campaign.

"We couldn't be prouder of the campaign that Rachel Notley and the NDP team have been running in Alberta," he said. "Very positive, upbeat campaign that's resonating well with people. For us it shows that the NDP approach — taking care of people, making sure life's more affordable for the middle class — is an approach that people really want."

Wildrose Party Leader Brian Jean received a 34 per cent approval rating while Progressive Conservative Leader Jim Prentice sits at 31 per cent.

ROI poll approval ratings

Live operator telephone surveys were conducted for the ROI poll from April 25 to 28 with a representative cross-section of adult Albertans in Calgary, Edmonton and areas outside the two major cities in Alberta. (ROI)

Prentice going in wrong direction?

Notley is the only leader with a positive net score, meaning her disapproval rate of 22 per cent does not factor out the positive rating she received in the latest polling.

Every other party leader has a negative net score, with Prentice at -22.

ROI poll approval ratings

A new poll from ROI says Rachel Notley’s personal popularity is driving the NDP momentum, with over half of Albertans expressing approval and only 22 per cent expressing disapproval. (ROI poll)

"Half of Albertans think Jim Prentice has led the province in the wrong direction since becoming Premier," according to ROI.

Cameron thinks the PCs will focus on one clear question for the rest of the campaign: How do you feel about the NDP running the economy here?

The rhetoric from Prentice leading up to Tuesday's vote has mainly focused on the NDP, which led Notley to say the PC leader was fear-mongering — something that could be seen in the last provincial election.

If the early polls in 2012 were to be believed, Alberta was in for political upheaval unlike anything the province had seen in four decades.

In the end, the Progressive Conservative dynasty remained intact, after concerns about social conservatism and controversial statements from Wildrose candidates pushed progressive voters to cast ballots for the PCs.

ROI poll on 2012 approval ratings

Final data was computer-weighted to reflect the correct proportion of respondents by age, gender, and region based on Statistics Canada data. (ROI poll)

Notley encouraged, but not banking on polls

Notley is taking the latest poll results in stride.

"People are looking for something different. They're looking for an alternative," she said. "They're looking for a government that will reflect their opinions on issues of fairness, on protecting our education and our health care and protecting jobs, so I'm encouraged by what the polls show, but I don't bank on them and I don't think most politicians do these days."

Jean also weighed in on the several polls released in the last 24 hours, while on a campaign stop in Calgary.

"It's not going to change our principles, which is really the key to this race, because we are the only party that stands up for Alberta's principles and priorities," said Jean.

PC Leader Jim Prentice hasn't commented on the poll results, but used a major fundraising speech Thursday evening to attack the NDP as potential killers of jobs and investment.

ROI took a sample size of 758 Albertans for its approval poll, which has a margin of error of plus or minus 3.6 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.