Danielle Smith's rough first impression puts Alberta NDP in likely majority territory: new poll
Albertans sour on UCP government’s approach to every key issue surveyed
EDITOR'S NOTE: CBC News and The Road Ahead commissioned this public opinion research in mid-October, starting six days after Danielle Smith won the leadership of the United Conservative Party.
As with all polls, this one is a snapshot in time.
This analysis is one in a series of articles to come out of this research. More stories will follow.
Albertans are in position to deliver a majority government to Rachel Notley's NDP, while the public appears to have deep doubts about the United Conservative Party's new leader, Premier Danielle Smith, according to a new poll commissioned by CBC News.
The poll, conducted from Oct. 12 to 30, also suggests the UCP could lose some parts of the province in and around Smith's rural base.
The survey of 1,200 Albertans by Janet Brown Opinion Research also suggests that Albertans believe the provincial government is on the wrong track on every key issue surveyed, such as creating jobs, managing health care and reducing crime.
The numbers suggest an uphill battle lies ahead for a party barely done sweeping up the dropped balloons from her leadership celebration, with little more than half a year until election day.
The horse race
Since the UCP won power in the 2019 election with 55 per cent support, this new poll suggests their support is now at 38 per cent.
The Opposition NDP, which won 32 per cent of voters in the 2019 election — making Notley a one-term premier — now has the support of 47 per cent of respondents.
Smaller parties barely register on the chart. Three per cent support the Alberta Party, two per cent said they would support the Wildrose Independence Party, while another two per cent prefer other parties, including the Alberta Liberals. An additional eight per cent of respondents are considered "orphaned voters" — those polled who like none of the options.
The poll also gauged respondents' views of Notley and Smith, who won the UCP leadership on Oct. 6 and was sworn in as premier days later.
More than half of respondents said they were not impressed by Smith, while 35 per cent said the same of Notley. Only 18 per cent said they were highly impressed with Smith, while 39 per cent said that about Notley.
"As a result, if elections were held today, I think we get a majority NDP government," said Janet Brown, who conducted the research for CBC News.
"And that really stems from the fact that Albertans are really disappointed in Danielle Smith as a leader."
Smith courted heavy controversy during her UCP leadership race, primarily with her proposed Alberta Sovereignty Act to refuse enforcement of some federal laws. After becoming premier, she was forced to backtrack on comments about the unvaccinated facing worse discrimination than any group in her lifetime, and apologized for what she said were "ill-informed" remarks earlier this year about Russia's invasion of Ukraine.
Meanwhile, her government has been quiet on the policy and announcement fronts in her first weeks as premier, while Smith has busied herself with team-building among her oft-fractious UCP caucus and fighting to secure a rural legislature seat in a by-election in Brooks–Medicine Hat.
While NDP supporters are solidly behind their leader — more than three-quarters say they are highly impressed with Notley — the same cannot be said for the UCP's new boss, who won the party's leadership with only a narrow majority.
A mere 46 per cent of United Conservative supporters are highly impressed with Smith. While only 12 per cent of UCPers are at the unimpressed end of the scale, a huge chunk (35 per cent) put themselves in the middle.
The poll's findings also suggest that Smith's electoral strategy of needing to win only a few seats in Calgary and Edmonton while sweeping the rest of Alberta is far from a sure bet.
Alberta elections are often sorted into three buckets: Edmonton, Calgary and "other" — smaller cities and rural Alberta.
The poll shows the NDP well ahead in Edmonton, a place Brown described as being potentially lost to the UCP "for a generation." The NDP stands to win every seat in Edmonton.
In Calgary, the NDP has a slight lead.
"There's a few seats in the south end of the city that are very secure for the UCP," Brown said. "But everything else looks like it's prime pickings for the NDP."
Outside of the two major cities, the UCP has a lead, though it's by no means commanding.
A number of those seats are tilting the NDP's way, including Banff-Kananaskis and urban ridings in Lethbridge and Red Deer, according to polling and Brown's seat modelling.
The United Conservatives are especially struggling among certain demographic groups. New Democrats are ahead by 16 percentage points among women, slightly more among any adults under the age of 44, and they have a 30-point lead among Albertans with university or postgraduate degrees.
The two parties are nearly tied among male voters, Albertans older than 45 and seniors. Smith's party is most attractive to people who have no post-secondary education, with 54 per cent support to the NDP's 30 per cent, the poll shows.
Aside from a dislike of Smith as a leader, polling also suggests the majority of Albertans disapprove of the government's performance on many major files.
As many Albertans view the government's job creation performance on the right track as those who think it's on the wrong track, and it's close to even on improving the economy. But on so many other issues, respondents offer very poor marks.
"Especially when you look at areas like health care, education, people overwhelmingly feel negative towards the government, not positive," Brown said.
Even the UCP's backers perceive the government as weak on key measures.
Only 49 per cent of United Conservative supporters feel their provincial government is on the right track when it comes to getting pipelines built.
And a majority of them — 59 per cent — say the government is on the wrong track in managing health care. Those who say they'll vote UCP are also more likely to think the government is on the wrong track on managing the K-12 and post-secondary education systems, as well as reducing crime.
What comes next
Duane Bratt, a political scientist at Mount Royal University, said what jumped out to him was the lack of a "honeymoon period" for Smith.
"Typically, when a new leader comes in, there's a bump, and they gradually lose popularity over time," Bratt said. "With Smith's case, that never happened. And usually, when you're a premier, it's tough to increase your popularity. It's much easier to decrease your popularity."
Bratt said though the numbers look bleak for Smith, the UCP has been consistently trailing the NDP for two years.
However, Smith's early bumps suggest things could get worse for the United Conservatives, rather than better.
"They're on the wrong track on every issue, and that is similar to what we saw in 2018, a year out from the 2019 election, where the NDP was not popular on any major issue," Bratt said. "And that signifies a change election."
The CBC News random survey of 1,200 Albertans was conducted using a hybrid method between Oct. 12 and 30, 2022, 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 half landlines and half 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 among valid numbers (i.e., residential and personal) was 16.3 per cent.