Calgary

Polarized Alberta? Opinions vary widely and strongly, Vote Compass suggests

In Alberta politics there is no centre. New data analysis from online questionnaire Vote Compass found that the views of NDP supporters and those of United Conservative Party (UCP) supporters are not only far apart across the province, but they are even at opposite ends within each riding.

New data analysis shows left- and right-leaning voters far apart in every riding

Alberta United Conservative Party Leader Jason Kenney and Alberta NDP Leader Rachel Notley speak to the media after the 2019 Alberta leaders' debate in Edmonton. The two parties are projected to take the majority of the votes. (Codie McLachlan/The Canadian Press)

In Alberta politics there is no centre. New data analysis from online questionnaire Vote Compass found that the views of NDP supporters and those of United Conservative Party (UCP) supporters are not only far apart across the province, but they are even at opposite ends within each riding.

The results paint a picture of polarization.

"The differences are striking. In all ridings, there's no one close to the centre or close to each other," Vox Pop Labs research director Charles Breton said.


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"You always have that UCP voters to the right and the NDP voters to the left, but not even on either side of the centre [are they] really close. They're really far from each other."

Vote Compass is an online survey conducted by Vox Pop Labs and commissioned by CBC to compare Albertans' views on policy with political party platforms.

The questionnaire asked nearly 134,000 Albertans, from March 20 to April 12, about their opinions on various policy issues. The answers to the 30 open-ended questions were ranked along a political spectrum from left to right. The results were then weighted to be reflective of Alberta's demographics.

This graph shows the difference between self-declared NDP and UCP voters within each riding. (Vote Compass/Vox Pop Labs)

Vox Pop Labs has been providing data analysis reports for CBC News throughout the month-long Alberta election campaign. Some analyses look at where participants stand on issues such as the economy or federal equalization.

In this study, the team wanted to see how far right or left entire ridings sway in terms of policy views, and how those views on policy compared to how they voted in the last election.

With multiple incumbents in some ridings as a result of riding boundary changes, some right-leaning ridings voted NDP last time, the analysis found.

However, left-leaning ridings did not vote for the Progressive Conservatives or the Wildrose Party (which have since merged to form the UCP). 

This graph shows where on a left-to-right political spectrum people in each riding fall, according to the Vote Compass questionnaire that has been weighted for demographics. It shows that some ridings cross the centre line and still voted NDP in last election. (Vote Compass/Vox Pop Labs)

"The spectrum on the left side seems to really span the whole thing, whereas on the right side they seem to be concentrated a bit more to the right," Breton said.

In other words, voters with right-leaning views are more likely to consider the NDP than left-leaning voters would be to consider the UCP, the analysis suggests.

'It does matter who you vote for'

The choice between two strong yet different parties is relatively new for Alberta, political scientist Melanee Thomas said. It could be seen as polarization, but she said that doesn't worry her. 

"I think this is people knowing their minds, and people having opinions and that this has policy consequences," she said. "I would use that as evidence to say it does matter who you vote for."

That stark difference between the two parties leading in the polls may be pushing people to vote, as well.

Advance voter turnout hit a record high, with nearly 700,000 votes cast — almost triple the vote in the 2015 advance polls. 

According to the analysis, the top 10 right-leaning ridings in Alberta are:

  1. Cardston-Siksika
  2. Drumheller-Stettler
  3. Taber-Warner
  4. Olds-Didsbury-Three Hills
  5. Rimbey-Rocky Mountain House-Sundre
  6. Chestermere-Strathmore
  7. Bonnyville-Cold Lake-St. Paul
  8. Drayton Valley-Devon
  9. Vermillion-Lloydminster-Wainwright
  10. Grande Prairie-Wapiti

The Top 10 left-leaning ridings in Alberta, per the analysis, are:

  1. Edmonton-Strathcona
  2. Edmonton-Highlands-Norwood
  3. Edmonton-City Centre
  4. Edmonton-Glenora
  5. Edmonton-Gold Bar
  6. Edmonton-Riverview
  7. Calgary-Mountain View
  8. Edmonton-Rutherford
  9. Edmonton-Decore
  10. Calgary-Buffalo

Thomas noted that those who took part in the Vote Compass questionnaire are likely quite politically engaged, which she said might lead to starker differences in the polarization seen in the analysis. She describes most Albertans as "aggressively moderate."

Moderate vote up for grabs

But moderates, she said, typically point either left or right. So when parties are door-knocking, or certain issues are big news, those moderates' votes are up for grabs.

"That still means that there's space for disagreement — and some pretty profound disagreement on some pretty important issues," Thomas said.

That disagreement is normal, she said, but in Alberta it hasn't typically translated into people's votes. Instead, Albertans have historically been satisfied trusting the government's operations to the party most likely to win.

People in other provinces are used to having different parties rotate through government. But Alberta has historically been a one-party province. Even before the 44-year PC reign, the Social Credit and Alberta Liberals governed for long, unbroken stretches. So the NDP win in 2015 was a new experience for many Albertans.

"That is exactly how our system is designed to function. We literally have the government … Her Majesty's government and Her Majesty's Loyal Opposition," Thomas said.

"And the whole point of the way that we set up our political institution is that they are in an adversarial relationship with each other, and what it's supposed to do is to present really clear, cohesive, different versions of what government should do and what governments should be.

"We haven't had this ever in Alberta politics."

Elections Alberta will start to count ballots at 8 p.m. MT, though the final tally, including many of the advanced votes, won't be available until Wednesday or later.


Methodology:

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 are based on 133,877 respondents who participated in Vote Compass from March 20 to April 12, 2019.

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, language and region to ensure the sample's composition reflects that of the actual population of Alberta according to census data and other population estimates.

About the Author

Rachel Ward

Journalist

Rachel Ward is a journalist with CBC Calgary. You can reach her with questions or story ideas at rachel.ward@cbc.ca.

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