NDP up, Conservatives down in Alberta even before historic vote

The Conservatives were sliding in Alberta well before former PC Leader Jim Prentice's disastrous provincial campaign. Can the federal NDP take advantage when Albertans next go to the polls in the fall? Polls analyst Eric Grenier takes a look at the numbers.

Federal New Democrats were already making gains before the Alberta campaign - can they sustain them?

NDP leader Thomas Mulcair is hoping Alberta NDP leader Rachel Notley's success will continue to rub off on him through to the fall. (Madeline Kotzer/CBC News)

Much speculation has surrounded whether Rachel Notley's stunning NDP victory in last week's Alberta election will boost the fortunes of the federal party in the province.

But polls suggest Tom Mulcair's NDP was already benefiting from a mini-surge in Alberta even before ballots were cast.

The federal Conservatives still hold the lead in the province with 44 per cent support, according to ThreeHundredEight.com's poll aggregation methodology. The New Democrats follow in second with 24 per cent support, with the Liberals in third at 22 per cent and the Greens bringing up the rear at 6 per cent.

But that represents a significant shift in fortunes over the last three months. Since the beginning of February, the Conservatives have dropped 11 points and the Liberals three, while the NDP have doubled their support from 12 per cent.

Federal polling averages in Alberta. (ThreeHundredEight.com)

With these numbers, the Conservatives would be on track to win between 23 and 27 seats in the province — potentially  matching their seat total of 2011, but not the six new seats added to Alberta's federal electoral map with redistribution.

The Liberals could be in play in as many as five Calgary seats and two in Edmonton, while the NDP could be in play in six seats in the provincial capital, as well as in Lethbridge (which the provincial party swept last week).

In the 2011 federal election, the Conservatives captured 67 per cent of the vote. The New Democrats took 17 per cent and the Liberals just 9 per cent. The NDP won one seat to spoil a Conservative sweep.

Provincial campaign boost?

With the latest federal polls being taken within the context of the provincial campaign, undoubtedly the federal NDP may have been boosted by voters paying more attention to that contest. But there is also no doubt the NDP was experiencing a surge of support well before the writ was dropped — in addition to the Conservatives slumping significantly.

The federal Tories had already taken a tremendous hit in popular support by the time Jim Prentice launched his ill-fated campaign. In the week before the legislature was dissolved, the federal Conservatives had fallen to 46 per cent support, a drop of nine points since the beginning of February and 21 points since the last election.

The NDP benefited and jumped to 19 per cent, up seven points since February. But subsequent gains were also made from the Liberals, who were at 25 per cent at the start of the provincial campaign. The five points the federal NDP gained throughout April came from both the Liberals and Conservatives.

The polling has been consistent. Since the beginning of April, the Conservatives have ranged between 40 and 54 per cent in the polls in Alberta, and in nine of those 10 surveys the party scored 48 per cent or less. Even worse, the party has registered less than 50 per cent support in 17 of the last 22 surveys in Alberta, stretching back to February and before Prentice's woes set in.

In 11 of the last 12 polls, the NDP has registered 20 per cent support or more. Not even in mid-2012, when the New Democrats were leading in national voting intentions, did the NDP manage that. 

Turning provincial into federal gains

But does this mean Tom Mulcair is on pace to repeat Rachel Notley's breakthrough?

Post-election polling is still required to determine whether or not the federal NDP will experience a lasting boost from the provincial NDP's victory. Though polling in Alberta at its highest level in decades, if not ever, the federal NDP is still a long way away from the 41 per cent its provincial cousin won last week.

The issue is simple. While Notley benefited from a split on the right between the Progressive Conservatives and Wildrose, it is Stephen Harper who is likely to benefit from a split on the left, between Justin Trudeau's Liberals and Mulcair's NDP, federally.

But that federal/provincial split is not so cut and dried. Though the vast majority of the Conservatives' supporters voted for the PCs or Wildrose last week, according to EKOS Research's final campaign poll, some 14 per cent of Alberta NDP voters still said they supported the Conservatives at the federal level.

Federal Liberal support was mostly split between the provincial Liberals and New Democrats, but some 15 per cent voted for the PCs or Wildrose. And about a third of Green supporters (though the sample is small) said they intended to vote for one of those two parties as well.

Mulcair may soon discover that provincial politics do not lend so neatly to the federal scene, and that his numbers may slump in Alberta once voters turn their minds to the vote in the fall. But a large number of Albertans voted for the NDP for the first time in their lives last week. Getting them to do it again in October has just become a lot easier.

The poll by EKOS Research was conducted for iPolitics between April 29 and May 3, interviewing 823 Albertans via interactive voice response. The margin of error associated with the survey was 3.4 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

ThreeHundredEight.com's vote and seat projection model aggregates all publicly released polls, weighing them by sample size, date, and the polling firm's accuracy record. Upper and lower ranges are based on how polls have performed in other recent elections. The seat projection model makes individual projections for all ridings in the country, based on regional shifts in support since the 2011 election and taking into account other factors such as incumbency. The projections are subject to the margins of error of the opinion polls included in the model, as well as the unpredictable nature of politics at the riding level. The polls included in the model vary in size, date, and method, and have not been individually verified by the CBC. You can read the full methodology here.


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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