Alberta NDP holds lead in new survey, but 'reluctant' UCP voters could be key on election day: pollster
Abacus Data survey says 25% of respondents still undecided ahead of May election
A new poll says that if Albertans went to the polls today, Rachel Notley's NDP would likely win more votes, but with a provincial election still months away, the same survey suggests it could be the mood of "reluctant UCP" voters that is key in determining the outcome.
The survey from Abacus Data, conducted from Dec. 6 to 10, found that 38 per cent of Alberta respondents would cast their ballot for the provincial NDP, while 32 per cent would vote for Danielle Smith's United Conservative Party. Three per cent said they would support the Alberta Party. Twenty-five per cent of the 1,000 people surveyed said they were undecided.
There are notable differences between cities and regions, according to the survey.
NDP support appears highest in Edmonton, where it had the support of 54 per cent of respondents compared with 22 per cent backing the UCP. In Calgary, the survey suggests a tie between the two parties at 37 per cent. In "other areas," the UCP had 37 per cent support, versus 28 per cent for the NDP. In all three cases, the number of undecided voters was at least 20 per cent.
Among decided voters across the entire province, 51 per cent said they intend to vote NDP, while 43 per cent said they'd vote UCP.
But pollster David Coletto says in his analysis of the survey results that understanding how "reluctant UCP" voters react over the next few months will be crucial to anticipating the results of the next election.
The next provincial general election is scheduled for May 29, 2023.
Coletto describes "reluctant UCP" voters as those who voted for the party in 2019 and today say they are undecided or would vote for a party other than the United Conservatives. He said the group represents about 16 per cent of the electorate.
"They are, I think, a really critical segment of the electorate to understand because where they end up going, what they end up doing, could be the difference between an NDP or UCP government," Coletto said in an interview.
The respondents making up the "reluctant" UCP group are more likely to be female than male (62 per cent versus 38 per cent) and evenly distributed across age groups, according to Coletto. They are also more concentrated in Calgary and in other communities across the province and less likely to be living Edmonton.
"Among the reluctant UCP group, 68 [per cent] are open to voting UCP and 68 [per cent] are open to voting for the NDP," Coletto, the CEO of Abacus Data, wrote in his analysis of the results.
"That's a high level of overlap demonstrating the potential 'swingness' ... of this segment."
Coletto notes loyal UCP voters like their leader, Danielle Smith, but among the reluctant UCP group, Smith has a "pretty negative" net favourable rating (-59) while Notley has a net positive (+9). A score of zero would mean as many respondents have a positive view of the leader as they would a negative view.
"The upshot: Notley is accepted by the group while Smith is disliked," he said.
One challenge for Smith among the reluctant UCP group, according to Coletto, is the survey's findings that two in three think she would be a worse premier than her predecessor, Jason Kenney, and only seven per cent think she would be better.
Kenney's run as leader of the UCP officially ended in October, when he was replaced by Smith. He announced he would resign his post last May after he secured only 51 per cent support of UCP members in a leadership review.
The survey also asked respondents to rate several political leaders on a scale of 0 to 100, where 0 means they really dislike the person and 100 means they really like them.
While Smith scored nearly 76 per cent on the likability scale with loyal UCP voters, she scored around 30 per cent with reluctant UCP voters. By comparison, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau received a 24 per cent score from the reluctant UCP group.
Coletto said Smith needs to change her perception among reluctant UCP voters, in part by focusing on the issues they care about most.
The poll indicates the cost of living is the leading issue for both loyal and reluctant UCP voters surveyed. Among loyal NDP voters, the issue is tied with health care as a leading concern.
"For the UCP to win over the reluctants, they should focus on the economy and taxes while NDP should make it all about health care," Coletto wrote.
The survey suggests that among the "reluctant UCP" group, respondents consider United Conservatives to be the most trusted in stopping any future mask or vaccine mandates, protecting the rights of gun owners, managing the economy, keeping taxes as low as possible and making Alberta an attractive place for new business.
But the same group considers the NDP to be the most trusted party in dealing with issues like the cost of living, improving health care, climate change and housing affordability.
The Abacus Data survey also asked all respondents what Alberta needs most right now: shake things up or focus on the basics?
Forty-seven per cent of loyal UCP voters surveyed said they want to shake things up, compared with 53 per cent who want Alberta to focus on the basics.
But at least 90 per cent of both reluctant UCP voters and loyal NDP voters want the province to focus on the basics.
One UCP policy that could "shake things up" is Alberta's new Sovereignty Act, which passed earlier this month.
The bill was introduced by Smith as centrepiece legislation to pursue a more confrontational approach with Trudeau's government on a range of issues deemed to be overreach in provincial areas of responsibility.
Twenty-nine per cent of all Albertans surveyed think it's a good idea while 41 per cent think it's a bad idea.
Lori Williams, an associate professor of policy studies at Mount Royal University, said she wasn't surprised that the survey suggests a competitive race between the UCP and the NDP. She said it appears the "reluctant" UCP voters are winnable by either party right now.
"We've got a number of voters that are winnable," Williams said. "They're available, if you like, to be persuaded by either the NDP or the UCP. And the key to that is focusing on what's most important to Albertans and proposing a vision for the future that meets the concerns, the primary concerns, of those voters."
Williams said there's certainly room for both parties to make headway.
"The poll indicates there's an advantage to the NDP at this point in time. But again, we know that there are five months between now and the next election, and there's lots of room for both parties to try to appeal to to those voters that can be persuaded to move one direction or another."
The Abacus Data survey was conducted on an online sample of 1,000 adults living in Alberta. It is taken from an online panel and cannot be considered a true probability sample. However, a comparable margin of error for a sample that size is +/-3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
With files from Rob Easton, Karina Zapata and The Canadian Press