Most UCP supporters in Alberta more moderate than party: Vote Compass
NDP more moderate than supporters, according to data from voter-engagement tool
Popular political wisdom holds that parties win elections by moving to the centre.
Contrarians argue that winners move the centre — that big pool of coveted voters — to the party.
The current campaign offers a natural experiment of sorts to see which strategy ultimately captures the mushy moderate that make up most of Alberta voters.
"Elections are won in the middle. You can't say it often enough," said Alexander Beyer, Vote Compass's lead data scientist.
Yet, data from the voter engagement tool suggests the United Conservative Party's policy platform is more socially and economically conservative than the majority of its supporters.
In fact, both UCP and NDP voters, as a whole, are more progressive than both of the two parties' platforms, according to an analysis of Vote Compass users.
Recent public opinion polls suggest both party's manoeuvre for the middle is competitive and too close to call.
Vote Compass's measure and comparison
Vote Compass asks users 30 policy questions, ranging from the provincial government intervening to bring down rising housing prices to decriminalizing drugs.
The voter engagement tool also consults with the parties to determine where they stand on the issues.
With some "data wrangling and computer magic," as the social scientists behind the voter engagement tool say, Vote Compass places people on a two-dimensional co-ordinate plane — social issues on the Y axis and economic concerns on the X axis — in relation to the parties running in the election.
Data from the tool suggests the vast majority of Vote Compass users in Alberta hold moderate views on social and economic issues, echoing recent CBC News polling.
UCP policy more conservative than most supporters
UCP Leader Danielle Smith took heat in the early days of her premiership for not pivoting fast enough from the firebrand conservative issues that propelled her to the premier's chair to issues that appeal to moderate voters such as affordability concerns and fixing the long queues in Alberta's health-care system.
For the most part, Smith's campaign — despite the interruptions to deal with the raging fires consuming Alberta forest and grasslands and apologies for controversial comments in her past — focuses on everyday concerns such as health care and the rising cost of living.
Smith recently pledged to help make life more affordable for pensioners by cutting fees for personal registry services, camping and medical driving exams for seniors by 25 per cent.
And on Mother's Day, Smith tweeted how her government had decreased the age for breast cancer screening.
But messaging can differ from policy.
And most United Conservative Party supporters surveyed by Vote Compass indicate they are more socially and economically moderate than the party when it comes to the 30 policy issues included in Vote Compass.
The party is, in fact, 0.24 points away from its average voter, according to Vote Compass.
"[The UCP] place themselves more extreme compared to their supporters. That is something that really is striking," said Beyer in an interview with CBC News.
The UCP, stresses Beyer, is more conservative, both socially and economically, than its supporters.
"That's something that we don't usually see for an incumbent party seeking re-election."
Traditionally, mainstream or so-called "big tent parties" tend to want to attract the flexible middle or moderate voter to maximize the number of votes they can capture at the ballot box.
Historically, the old Progressive Conservative party claimed the "big tent party" label in Alberta politics, moving with mainstream public opinion, while the NDP's policies were anchored firmly in its labour and progressive ideology.
The divergence, Beyer suggests, might lie in Smith's rhetoric and policy positions that won her the leadership of the UCP.
Smith's more conservative leadership positions bled into the party's policy, putting her at odds, according to some public polls with Alberta's moderates.
Will Smith and her party try to pull middle-of-the-road voters toward the party's more conservative views?
NDP slightly further from supporters
Like the UCP, political messaging from the NDP tends to focus on middle class issues and interests in this campaign.
In both policy and rhetoric, the NDP positions itself as a moderate government in waiting with a sensible fiscal plan for Alberta. Its political communication tends to focus on affordability, health care and economic diversification.
Earlier this week, NDP leader Rachel Notley touted her party's fiscal strategy, getting a thumbs-up from ATB's former chief economist.
Vote Compass data suggests NDP supporters who use the online voter engagement tool are, overall, more progressive than their preferred party's policy positions on the 30 public policy issues used to assess where user's political preferences line up with the parties running in the Alberta election.
Vote Compass data shows that Alberta's NDP is slightly further from its core supporters as the UCP with a 0.31 gap between the party and those who say they plan to cast a ballot for the New Democrats. The NDP's platform places it in the middle of this political space, not outside of it.
The NDP's play is obvious: capture the middle.
"The centre is still a vote-rich area … and in order to win this election, they have to capture that centrist vote," said Clifton van der Linden, the founder and CEO of Vote Compass and assistant professor of political science with McMaster University.
The NDP, for its part, has moved to the middle to win votes, while the UCP appears to want to pull voters to its more conservative policy positions.
Alberta centrists get to decide on May 29 if they want to stay put or get pulled.
How Vote Compass data is gathered and interpreted
Developed by a team of social and statistical scientists from Vox Pop Labs, Vote Compass is a civic engagement application offered in Alberta exclusively by CBC Radio-Canada. The findings in this story are based on 30,768 respondents who participated in Vote Compass from May 1 to 17, 2023.
Unlike online opinion polls, respondents to Vote Compass are not pre-selected. Similar to opinion polls, however, the data is a non-random sample from the population and has been weighted in order to approximate a representative sample.
Vote Compass data has been weighted by gender, age, education, region and partisanship to ensure the sample's composition reflects that of the actual population of Alberta according to census data and other population estimates.