CBC News poll: Kenney, UCP would handily win election if held now

A new CBC News-Road Ahead poll suggests that, even though UCP support is down from last year’s election, it's still high enough to capture another majority government.

Governing UCP support down since last year’s election, but still big enough to triumph

Despite a drop in approval numbers since last year's provincial election, Jason Kenney's UCP would still form a majority government if an election were held today, according to the CBC News-Road Ahead 2020 poll. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

EDITOR'S NOTE: CBC News and The Road Ahead commissioned this public opinion research in May as the lockdown in Alberta was eased. It follows similar research conducted in March, just as the social and economic shock of COVID-19 was becoming apparent. 

As with all polls, this one is a snapshot in time.


A year after forming government, and months into the COVID-19 pandemic, the United Conservative Party (UCP) remains on track to win another majority in Alberta, according to a CBC News-Road Ahead poll conducted in late May.

Forty-six per cent of Albertans polled say they'd vote for Jason Kenney's UCP. The NDP trails with 36 per cent, according to the survey. These figures are unchanged from a similar survey CBC commissioned in March, just as the novel coronavirus crisis was beginning.

The COVID-19 pandemic changed some public attitudes, but fundamental values did not shift significantly between March and May, says Calgary-based pollster Janet Brown, who conducted the survey for CBC News. 

"COVID had a big impact on people. It's caused a lot of stress for the province. But at the end of the day, Albertans are Albertans," Brown said.

The UCP continues to hold a commanding lead in Calgary, where 54 per cent of those polled said they would vote for the governing party, compared with 28 per cent who said they'd vote for the NDP. It's a similar story outside the province's two major cities, where UCP support sits at 51 per cent, compared with 28 per cent for the NDP.

The NDP's support remains concentrated in Edmonton, where they are the choice of 53 per cent of those polled.

When it comes to the other provincial parties, the CBC News-Road Ahead poll suggests 10 per cent of Albertans support the Alberta Party, while six per cent say they'd vote for the Liberals. The survey estimates only three per cent of Alberta voters would cast a ballot for other options, such as the Green Party.

When you go back and compare this May 2020 data with the overall results of the 2019 provincial election, it suggests a 10-point loss in public support for the UCP and a three-point gain for the NDP.

But this provincial poll suggests, if an election were held now, any change in the distribution of seats from the 2019 election would likely be small.

"These numbers would translate into maybe five fewer seats for the UCP," said Brown.

"The UCP is still in a position to win an overwhelming majority," she added.

So the party is in a strong position, but what about the leader?

The premier's performance

A number of Canadian politicians — including Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and Ontario Premier Doug Ford — have seen their approval ratings track up during the coronavirus pandemic. A "COVID bump," it's been called.

Kenney, too, has seen a slight increase in personal approval, according to the CBC News-Road Ahead 2020 poll.

In March, Albertans, on average, gave Kenney a score of 4.1 when asked to rank the premier on how impressed they were with his performance using a scale from zero to 10. When asked the same question in late May, satisfaction with Kenney ticked up to 4.4. 

But another recent poll, conducted by Research Co., suggests more than half of Albertans think their province would be better off without Kenney in charge. 

A number of controversies have dogged Kenney and the UCP during the coronavirus pandemic. 

"While [Kenney] got a lot of the big things right, he still had the war with the doctors," says long-time Alberta political watcher Duane Bratt.

During the height of COVID-19, a war of words broke out between the government and doctors, resulting in physicians suing the provicial government over changes to their fee agreement.

On top of that, the province's health minister, Tyler Shandro, came under scrutiny when he was accused of berating a Calgary physician and breaching privacy rules twice.

And in recent weeks, the UCP was criticized for applying for the federal wage subsidy program to pay its party workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

"I think those things tempered a bump," added Bratt, who heads Mount Royal University's department of economics, justice and policy studies.

Opposition leader Rachel Notley's support is more centralized than Jason Kenney's. She gets top marks from 47 per cent of Edmontonians. (Nathan Gross/CBC)

But perhaps Alberta voters are grading Kenney tougher than voters in other provinces are grading their leaders. 

"I think Jason Kenney is facing a challenge that, quite frankly, the other premiers aren't," said Brown.

Even before COVID-19 shuttered businesses across the province, Alberta's economy was in recession and the unemployment rate hovered above the national average

"Here in Alberta, we were already feeling quite anxious about the economy before COVID even hit," said Brown.

"COVID has made things even more complicated, and the average Albertan doesn't want to get back to pre-COVID levels, they want to return to a strong economy," she said.

During the 2019 election, Kenney promised to focus on jobs, pipelines and the economy. In his victory speech, he declared "help is on the way and hope is on the horizon." He set expectations high. 

So it's possible voters aren't just assessing Kenney based on how he handled the COVID-19 crisis but are also considering broader concerns over the future of the economy.

"I think Alberta voters are probably looking further ahead than the end of COVID," Brown said.

And as people look ahead, the demographic breakdown of who supports which leader tells a story.

Areas of support for Kenney

Regionally, Kenney's support is concentrated in his hometown of Calgary. Forty-three per cent of Calgarians polled say they are impressed with Kenney (i.e., they give him a score of seven or higher out of 10), compared with just 22 per cent of Edmontonians and 36 per cent of those outside the two major cities.

Private sector workers (41 per cent) are also more likely to be impressed with Kenney than public sector workers (22 per cent).

Men give the UCP premier higher grades than women do. Nearly four in 10 (39 per cent) of men are inclined to score Kenney a seven or above.  Only 29 per cent of Alberta women give Kenney top marks. 

Oil and gas workers are also more likely to give Kenney superior marks. Forty-three per cent of those who work in the industry rate the UCP premier a seven or above, compared with 31 per cent of those working outside the oilpatch.

Areas of support for Notley

The support for opposition leader (and former premier) Rachel Notley appears to have slipped a bit during the coronavirus crisis.

On average, Albertans gave the NDP leader a score of 4.6 when asked to rank her on how impressed they were, using a scale from zero to 10. That's statistically indistinguishable from Kenney's average rating of 4.4.

It's also a drop in Notley's score from our March survey, when she received a ranking of 4.8, although it's higher than the 4.4 score she received in winter/spring 2018 when CBC News did its first Road Ahead poll while she was serving as premier.

Notley's support is more centralized than Kenney's. 

The poll shows that 47 per cent of Edmontonians give Notley top marks (that's seven out of 10 or above), compared with 33 per cent of people in Calgary and just 27 per cent outside Alberta's two biggest cities.

People with a postgraduate education (51 per cent) and public sector workers (48 per cent) are also more likely to have higher favourable impressions of Notley.

NDP needs to do better job

While Notley has a slightly higher impression score than Kenney, the NDP leader is not "taking advantage" of recent events, says Brown. 

Political scientist Melanee Thomas thinks the NDP needs to do a better job of drawing contrasts and differentiating itself from the UCP.

Thomas says the NDP wrongly assumes that Alberta voters will organically see the difference between the New Democrats and the governing UCP. 

"They really need to start doing a much better job of presenting a crystal clear difference," said the University of Calgary professor.

Otherwise, predicts Thomas, voters won't see a credible alternative to the UCP.

The latest CBC-Road Ahead survey was conducted between May 25 and June 1, 2020, by Edmonton-based Trend Research under the direction of Janet Brown Opinion Research. The survey sampled 900 respondents, randomly selected from Trend Research's online panel of more than 30,000 Albertans. The sample is representative of regional, age and gender proportions in Alberta. A comparable margin of error for a study with a probabilistic sample of this size would be plus or minus 3.3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. For subsets, the margin of error is larger.


Brooks DeCillia

Political researcher

Brooks DeCillia spent 20 years reporting and producing news at CBC. He splits his time now between researching public opinion about energy and the environment at the University of Calgary and teaching journalism at Mount Royal University.


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