Just 11% of Albertans highly impressed with Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole: poll

The Conservative Party of Canada still enjoys a sizeable lead among Alberta voters but its support has eroded since the last federal election — highlighting a weakness for Erin O’Toole in what has traditionally been a stronghold for his party, according to a new poll.

Lack of popularity could cost seats, but that might not be all bad for him

Conservative Leader Erin O'Toole holds a news conference on Parliament Hill in September 2020. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

EDITOR'S NOTE: CBC News and The Road Ahead commissioned this public opinion research in March, just as the third wave of COVID-19 cases was building in Alberta.

As with all polls, this one is a snapshot in time. This article is one in a series to come out of this research. Previous articles include:

The Conservative Party of Canada still enjoys a sizeable lead among Alberta voters but its support has eroded since the last federal election and Albertans are not particularly impressed with its leader, Erin O'Toole, according to a new poll.

Asked to rank their impression of federal leaders on a scale from zero to 10 — with zero being "not at all impressed" and 10 being "very impressed" — O'Toole scored the lowest of the three major party leaders at the high end of the scale.

Just 11 per cent of respondents said they were highly impressed by O'Toole (a rating of seven to 10).

By comparison, 16 per cent said the same for NDP Leader Jagmeet Singh and 17 per cent for Liberal Leader Justin Trudeau.

Analysts say Conservatives have popularity to spare in Alberta and O'Toole needs to worry most about his popularity in other parts of the country. But the poll nevertheless highlights a weakness for the Conservative leader in what has traditionally been a stronghold for his party.

"One of the most surprising things in the entire poll was to see how low Erin O'Toole's impression scores are," said pollster Janet Brown, who conducted the survey for CBC News.

"This is Alberta. This is the bastion of Conservative support. And it's got to be disheartening to the Conservatives and to Erin O'Toole to see that he's not really making much of an impression here in Alberta."

The bulk of Albertans had a middling impression of O'Toole, with 45 per cent giving him a rating of four to six, versus Singh's 37 per cent and Trudeau's 29 per cent.

And at the low end of the scale, 35 per cent of Albertans gave O'Toole a rating of zero to three, compared to 41 per cent for Singh and 54 per cent for Trudeau.

Brown said that should come as somewhat of a silver lining for the Conservative leader.

"It's better to have neutral scores than it is to have negative scores," she said.

"But we could have an election at any time and for a leader to have made such a weak impression on people this close to a federal election has got to be concerning."

Seats could be in play

Overall, the poll found Albertans still prefer the Conservative party by a wide margin, but the party's support has declined since the 2019 election.

Asked how they would vote if an election were held immediately, 53 per cent of decided voters said they'd pick the Conservatives. That's down from the 69 per cent of the vote the party received in the last federal election.

The poll found the Liberals have gained the most support over that same time, growing from 14 per cent of the vote in the last election to 24 per cent support in the poll.

The NDP, which earned 12 per cent of the vote in the last election, were up to 17 per cent in the poll.

Mount Royal University political science professor Duane Bratt said the decline in Conservative support opens the door for the Liberals to potentially pick up a seat or two in Alberta's major cities.

"Given the hostility that the provincial [UCP] government has expressed at times to the Trudeau government, if they were able to win a seat in Calgary or win a seat in Edmonton, that would be quite remarkable," he said.

The Liberals were shut out of Alberta in the last election, in which the Conservatives won 33 of the province's 34 seats. The NDP won one seat, in the riding of Edmonton Strathcona.

Bratt said he, too, was surprised by the middling level of enthusiasm for O'Toole expressed in the poll but, overall, the Conservatives still appear to have a strong grip on Alberta.

He said O'Toole could even stand to lose a little more support in the province if it meant picking up support in other parts of the country. Putting forward policies that might not be popular among Alberta Conservatives, but have broad appeal in places where there are more votes for the party to gain, might make sense, according to Bratt.

"He needs to win seats in suburban Toronto. He needs to win seats in Quebec. He needs to win seats in suburban Vancouver. He does not need to win seats in Alberta," Bratt said.

"But the drop in popularity is not what's going to do it. People are not going to say in Whitby or in Brampton, 'Oh, Erin O'Toole isn't popular in Alberta? Let's vote for him.' It's got to be the policies that he brings in."

CBC News' random survey of 1,200 Albertans was conducted between March 15 and April 10, 2021 by Edmonton-based Trend Research under the direction of Janet Brown Opinion Research. The sample is representative along regional, age, and gender factors. The margin of error is +/-2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. For subsets, the margin of error is larger.

The survey used a hybrid methodology that involved contacting survey respondents by telephone and giving them the option of completing the survey at that time, at another more convenient time, or receiving an email link and completing the survey online.


Robson Fletcher

Data Journalist / Senior Reporter

Robson Fletcher's work for CBC Calgary focuses on data, analysis and investigative journalism. He joined CBC in 2015 after spending the previous decade working as a reporter and editor at newspapers in Alberta, British Columbia and Manitoba.