CBC News poll suggests United Conservative Party headed for victory in Alberta

After trailing in the polls for years, the United Conservative Party appears poised to win a majority next Monday, according to a new CBC News poll.

UCP leads province-wide, but race remains competitive in battleground Calgary, according to CBC News poll

Two women wearing blue suits stand at podiums opposite each other.
Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley, left, and UCP Leader Danielle Smith prepare for a debate in Edmonton on Thursday, May 18, 2023. While most Albertans seem to prefer the UCP over the NDP, voters appear to have identical impressions of the two parties’ leaders. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

After trailing in the polls for years, the United Conservative Party appears poised to win a majority next Monday, according to a new CBC News poll.

"If you asked me four months ago how I thought this election was going to turn out, I'd say the NDP was going cruise to victory," said Calgary-based pollster Janet Brown, who conducted the random survey of 1,200 Alberta voters.

Brown thinks the ruling UCP turned things around with their big-spending campaign promises, beginning in early April.

But Calgary remains competitive — and at least one longtime political watcher says it's too early to count out the NDP. 

UCP holds big lead outside Alberta's two biggest cities

The UCP leads province-wide with 52 per cent amongst decided or leaning voters, followed by the NDP at 44 per cent. 

One in five voters surveyed in the random poll conducted between May 12 -24 are still deciding how they will vote in Alberta's general election on Monday. 

A survey of Alberta voters last fall found that 51 per cent of women intended to vote NDP, compared to 43 per cent of men.

Men remain more likely to vote for the UCP — but women appear evenly split between the two parties in this most recent poll. 

Using CBC News' polling results, Brown predicts the UCP is likely to capture 51 of the 87 seats in Alberta's Legislative Assembly.

In the May 2019 election, the United Conservative Party — a merger of the Wildrose Party and Progressive Conservative Association in 2017 — grabbed 55 per cent of the popular vote and 63 seats in the legislature. The NDP won 24 seats, mostly in Edmonton. 

Smith and Notley have identical approval ratings

While most Albertans seem to prefer the UCP over the NDP, voters in the Prairie province appear to have identical impressions of the two parties' leaders.

Nearly half of Albertans (47 per cent) somewhat or strongly disapprove of both the UCP's Danielle Smith and the NDP's Rachel Notley.

The two leaders vying for the province's top job each received identical 42 per cent approval ratings.

Smith's campaign attracted a lot of controversy.

Last week, the province's ethics commissioner concluded that Smith breached Alberta's conflict of interest law

The UCP leader also took heat earlier in the campaign for suggesting those who got vaccinated against COVID-19 fell for the "charms of a tyrant" specifically referencing Adolf Hitler.

Here's the Alberta leaders' debate in 5 minutes

10 days ago
Duration 4:57
Alberta UCP Leader Danielle Smith and NDP Leader Rachel Notley traded jabs over their parties' records and which leader the province could trust. Questions focused on several issues most important to Albertans: health care, affordability and the economy.

And the NDP repeatedly hammered Smith throughout the campaign for her previous support for paying out-of-pocket for doctor visits. 

Brown thinks the NDP's relentless focus on Smith's competence and trustworthiness backfired.

She thinks many Alberta voters got turned off by the negative tone of the campaign. 

"I think by focusing so much on Smith, [the NDP] gave people a reason to doubt Smith and her competence as leader, but they didn't do enough to give people an affirmative reason to vote for the NDP," said Brown. 

A woman with blonde hair and glasses is smiling in front of a TV set, which shows a map of Calgary.
Janet Brown is a pollster based in Calgary. A poll conducted by Brown found that the UCP leads province-wide with 52 per cent amongst decided or leaning voters, followed by the NDP at 44 per cent. (CBC)

"The NDP had a campaign that only had one note," added Brown. "As the election campaign ground along, Albertans became more comfortable with Smith and less comfortable with Notley."

Longtime Alberta political watcher Duane Bratt echoes Brown, stressing that the NDP's attack ads likely overwhelmed voters. 

"It's been a very negative campaign," said the political scientist with Mount Royal University's economics, justice, and policy studies department.

Bratt thinks some NDP punches — including Smith's controversial Hitler and poppy comments — landed with voters.

But Bratt thinks a lot of the negative campaign became noise that voters tuned out. 

"They've thrown everything out, every video that they have.… If you throw everything at it, it seems like it's a piling on," said Bratt in an interview with CBC News. 

Poll shows battleground Calgary remains close

The horse race between the UCP and NDP remains tight in Calgary

The UCP leads amongst deciding and leaning voters with 49 per cent in Alberta's largest city. The NDP remains competitive with 46 per cent. 

Bratt thinks lingering concerns in Calgary voters' minds about the UCP leader could still help New Democrats. 

"I think they have a sliver of hope because there remain doubts about Smith," said Bratt.

Bratt wonders if these misgivings will translate into traditional conservative voters staying home. He recalls the 2012 election where public opinion polls suggested Smith — then leader of the Wildrose Party — would win but the Progressive Conservatives came from behind to win a majority.

Conservatives are a constant in Calgary.

The city has — for decades — reliably elected conservatives provincially and federally.

The economy has rebounded, but doubts persist in Calgary voters' minds about Smith, says Bratt. 

"The UCP should win and should win quite handily," he said. "The fact that they're not is because of Danielle Smith."

CBC News' random survey of 1,200 Albertans was conducted using a hybrid method between May 12 and 24 by Edmonton-based Trend Research under the direction of Janet Brown Opinion Research. The sample is representative of 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. Trend Research contacted people using a random list of numbers, consisting of both landlines and cellphone numbers. Telephone numbers were dialed up to five times at five different times of day before another telephone number was added to the sample. The response rate was 5.35 per cent. 


Brooks DeCillia spent 20 years reporting and producing news at CBC. These days, he’s an assistant professor with Mount Royal University’s School of Communication Studies.