Calgary·Analysis

For Rachel Notley and the Alberta NDP, the dial isn't moving fast enough

After three weeks on the campaign trail, the NDP needed a sign they were turning things around. They haven't gotten one.

Jason Kenney's United Conservatives still on track to win Apr. 16 election

Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley is not yet seeing the positive momentum in the polls she needs to be re-elected as premier in the Apr. 16 provincial election. (Codie McLachlan/Canadian Press)

The gap between Alberta's United Conservatives and New Democrats might be closing by inches, but Rachel Notley needs the polls to move by miles in order to have a good shot at re-election on Apr. 16.

That isn't happening — and the first post-debate polls indicate that last week's verbal sparring is unlikely to move the dial in a big way.

The CBC's Alberta Poll Tracker suggests that the UCP continues to hold a wide lead over the NDP and would secure a healthy majority government if the election were held today. (Please note this article has been updated to reflect new polls published by ThinkHQ and Ipsos/Global News on Tuesday.)

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The latest aggregate of the polls puts the UCP at 48.5 per cent support, with the NDP trailing at length with 37.8 per cent.

The Alberta Party, with 8.5 per cent, and the Liberals, at 2.1 per cent, have yet to make their mark on the provincial election campaign.

There has been some movement in the Alberta Poll Tracker since the campaign began, but it hasn't been dramatic. Compared to the Mar. 22 update — which included all of the polling conducted and published when the writ was dropped — the UCP is down three percentage points, while the NDP is up three points.

While that narrows the gap, it isn't the kind of gain the New Democrats need to see to put the result of next week's vote in serious doubt.

The Alberta Poll Tracker estimates the UCP would win between 57 and 72 seats with this level of support, putting the party clear of the 44-seat threshold required for a majority government. The NDP is projected to win between 15 and 29 seats, while the Alberta Party is in the running for one seat.

Debate unlikely to move the dial

If there was an opening for Notley to create a turning point in the campaign, it was last week's leaders debate. But three polls suggest that didn't happen for the NDP leader.

Polls by Forum ResearchMainstreet Research and ThinkHQ found that Kenney was seen as the debate winner over Notley by about the same margin the polls give the UCP over the NDP. That suggests the debate is unlikely to have an impact on voting intentions.

Three polls suggest that viewers believe UCP Leader Jason Kenney won last week's leaders debate. (Codie McLachlan/The Canadian Press)

If Notley had over-performed her own party's polling, it would have been a hint that the NDP might be about to get a bump. Similarly, the numbers don't suggest that Kenney should expect much of a surge as a result of the debate. But with comfortable leads provincewide for his UCP in these polls, a boost is not something that Kenney needs right now.

Alberta Party Leader Stephen Mandel scored about even with his own party's support, while Liberal Leader David Khan was picked as the winner by five to 10 per cent of respondents — better than the one to two per cent support his party registered in these polls. That could be a good sign for Khan, whose name recognition was significantly higher in Mainstreet's latest poll than in the one conducted at the outset of the campaign.

UCP still holds decisive lead in Calgary battleground

But the provincewide figures don't tell the story here. It's in the regional breakdowns that we see just how hard it would be for the NDP to win this.

The New Democrats are still leading in Edmonton, with 46.8 per cent support to 40.1 per cent in the Alberta Poll Tracker. That gap is a bit wider now than it was on Mar. 22, but it still puts the UCP in a position to win a number of seats in the city.

The key results are in Calgary, however. The NDP has closed the gap there by about eight points since the beginning of the campaign, but it still trails with 38.2 per cent to 47.4 per cent for the UCP. That makes the NDP competitive in between three and 10 seats in Calgary, but the UCP's edge in 18 to 26 seats is what makes the difference. 

There is some polling disagreement in this decisive battleground. Léger and Mainstreet give the UCP an 11-point edge, while Forum and ThinkHQ give the UCP a lead of 16 points in the city. Ipsos puts the margin at just five points, but in all of these scenarios the New Democrats simply wouldn't win enough seats to form another majority government.

Outside of the two big cities, the UCP is ahead with 58.2 per cent support to 28.3 per cent for the NDP. That gives them a stranglehold on 29 to 31 seats — meaning they don't need to win many more in either Edmonton or Calgary to put them over the 44-seat threshold.

Trend lines marginally positive for Notley, but not enough

The polling numbers look grim for Notley with just one week left in the campaign. But there's reason to suggest that they could get better between now and Apr. 16.

Mainstreet shows relatively flat trend lines for both Notley and the NDP since its Mar. 19 poll — but the marginal movement it has recorded since then is still positive. Léger has found more gains for the New Democrats, particularly on the Notley vs. Kenney match-up. Its Mar. 12 poll found the two leaders nearly tied on the question of who Albertans preferred as premier, with Notley ahead by a single point. In its latest sounding, Notley is ahead of Kenney by six points.

ThinkHQ and Ipsos show gains of two to four points for the NDP, with the UCP down three to five points from their pre-campaign polls.

The surveys suggest the NDP is shoring up its position in Edmonton, which would help the party retain a sizeable caucus from the capital. But they don't all agree on a similarly positive trend line in Calgary, which is where the NDP needs to see improvement to really compete.

After three weeks on the campaign trail, Kenney and the United Conservatives have withstood the NDP's attacks and remain on track to win power, their support largely unscathed. If the New Democrats were in a position to pull off another upset, they would need to see signs of more significant momentum by now.

It's not over — but for Notley, time is quickly running out.

About the Author

Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.

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