UCP dominates on issues most important to Albertans, according to poll

There are only two issues Albertans think would be best handled by the governing NDP: protecting the environment and issues facing LGBTQ individuals. But neither of those issues are really top of mind for most voters.

Even on health and education, conservatives are besting governing NDP

Rachel Notley's NDP are trailing Jason Kenney's UCP on all issues in a recent poll, except the environment and LGBTQ issues. (Left: CBC Right: Jason Franson/Canadian Press )

There are only two issues Albertans think would be best handled by the governing NDP: protecting the environment and issues facing LGBTQ individuals.

But neither of those issues are really top of mind for most voters.

This is according to a recent poll commissioned by CBC News and conducted by Janet Brown Opinion Research. In that poll, 1,200 respondents answered a broad range of political questions, including who they think would be best suited to handle 11 separate issues.

The poll was followed by a series of focus groups, one each for those who identified as left wing, right wing and centrist.

Issues identified as important in open-ended questions posed to 1,200 Albertans as part of a provincewide poll. (CBC)

So. Let's look at who owns what issue.

It's the economy

"Anything that was economic-related, the UCP was picked as the best party by a large majority," said Janet Brown.

Fully 53 per cent said the conservative party was best suited to defend Alberta's economic interests, versus 23 per cent for the NDP.

When asked who they thought was best suited to manage the province's finances, 52 per cent picked the UCP and only 18 per cent chose the NDP.

Strengthening Alberta's economy? Fifty-one per cent chose the UCP, while 21 per cent chose the NDP.

The UCP was selected by 50 per cent of people for who could get pipelines built, while 26 per cent went with the NDP.

Despite a push from the government on diversifying the economy away from oil and gas, 38 per cent thought the UCP would do a better job, while 29 per cent chose the NDP. (Although those numbers were almost exactly reversed when looking at the Edmonton results alone).

And who do Albertans think would best help a family like theirs? The UCP clocked in at 44 per cent to the NDP's 26 per cent.

'I would be very worried'

Duane Bratt, a political scientist from Mount Royal University, says the numbers are not a good sign for Premier Rachel Notley and her party.

"Everything is cautionary, we're still a year away, but if I was an NDP strategist looking at these numbers, I would be very worried," he said.

Brown says it was and is critical for the NDP government to continue pushing pipelines and be seen to support the oil and gas industry, despite the apparent lack of returns on their invested political capital.

"This government sort of needs to go beyond that and I think one of the most serious errors this government has been making is they've been really tone deaf on the economy," she said. 

"They keep talking about recovery and good news, and as long as they're talking about the good news and not acknowledging the really serious concerns that we're seeing coming out of these numbers, that's coming off as really tone deaf."

For Kelly Kernick who participated in the centrist focus group, Notley will have to show concrete results.

"Well I think pipelines are the issue of the day because it's controversial right now, but mainly the economy is still the issue," he said.

"So unless she gets the pipeline in, she's not going to get any credit for fighting hard."

But Bratt doesn't think the NDP have a chance of getting credit on the pipeline issue, even if there are shovels in the ground.

"Even if construction has started, [UCP and leader Jason Kenney] will get credit because they are the ones who have pushed the NDP in this direction," he said.

"The Kenney people have been very good on that narrative: 'Yes, the NDP is adopting our policies, but they're doing it six months late.'"

OK. That's the economy. But let's look at the other issues the poll asked about.

Health and education

Perhaps most surprising are the numbers for the NDP in areas where they could be expected to own the issue.

A majority picked the UCP as the best manager of Alberta's health-care system, 35 per cent versus 30 per cent.

That narrowed when it came to the K-12 education system, but 34 per cent still went with the UCP over 32 per cent for the NDP.

That's within the margin of error. 

For managing the province's post-secondary system, 34 per cent opted for the UCP, while 30 per cent chose the NDP.

The NDP finally took the lead when asked who would best protect the environment, with 41 per cent of respondents choosing the current government, versus 25 per cent for the UCP.

On dealing with issues facing LGBTQ individuals, 42 per cent chose the NDP and 15 per cent chose the UCP.

Incidentally, that last question was the only one where a third party cracked the double digits, with the Liberals getting the nod from 18 per cent of respondents.

Again, a difficult situation for the NDP.

'I think there's fear'

In a focus group about the poll, one potential reason the NDP might not be leading on health and education came up.

"I think there's a bit of a fear that if times get good and we have Rachel Notley and an NDP government in place, then the unions all start putting their hands in everybody else's pockets," said Stephen Carlton, one of the participants in the right-wing focus group.

"And I think there's a fear. I have that fear."

Brown was surprised by the tight race on health care and education between the NDP and the UCP.  She says if Albertans don't think health care and education will be radically different under a UCP government, it will be difficult for the NDP to earn another mandate.

Bratt agrees.

"If you're a party on the left and you don't own, by double digits or more, education and health care, that's pretty tough," said Bratt.

He thinks there is the possibility of those numbers shifting in the NDP's favour after the UCP policy convention this weekend, but says it wouldn't help.

"Even if they reverse the health and education numbers, people aren't going to be voting on health care and education as they might have five years ago," he said.

As for the economy, Bratt doesn't anticipate any shift away from the UCP, no matter what happens at its convention.

The random survey of 1,200 Albertans was conducted using a hybrid method between March 13 to April 5, 2018, by 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, and larger for subsets.

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 or later, or completing it online. The response rate among valid numbers (i.e. residential and personal) was 20.8 per cent.

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Drew Anderson

Former CBC digital journalist

Drew Anderson was a digital journalist with CBC Calgary from 2015 to 2021 and is a third-generation Calgarian.