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UCP maintaining voter support that won election, NDP competitive amid leadership race: poll

EDITOR’S NOTE: CBC News commissioned this public opinion research in April, leading into the first anniversary of the United Conservative Party’s general election win last May. The poll offers insight into how Albertans feel about Danielle Smith’s UCP government and the Opposition NDP. 

As with all polls, this one provides a snapshot in time. 

This analysis is one in a series of articles from this research. More stories will follow.

Nearly one year after Danielle Smith’s United Conservative Party defeated Rachel Notley’s Alberta New Democrats, new polling suggests Smith’s party is mostly hanging on to the support that brought it into office.

The random polling of 1,200 Albertans was commissioned by CBC News and conducted by Edmonton-based Trend Research under the direction of Janet Brown Opinion Research between May 1 and 15.

Given that the NDP does not currently have a permanent leader, the polling zeroed in on what the total available vote was for the UCP and the NDP. That’s a figure that adds together the number of voters very likely or somewhat likely to consider voting for a party.

It determined that number at 48 per cent for the UCP and 45 per cent for the NDP.

In the 2023 election, the UCP won with 52.6 per cent of the vote.

The results are good news for the UCP, said pollster Janet Brown.

“When you take out the people from my survey that didn’t express an opinion, that aren’t really sure, I would say that it looks like the UCP has maintained the support that they had from the past election,” Brown said.

Pensions, police, power

Since Albertans re-elected the UCP to a majority government, the party has undertaken an ambitious legislative agenda.

Various issues Smith largely set aside during her leadership campaign are back in the spotlight, including the possibility of introducing an Alberta-only pension plan and establishing a provincial police force.

Other propositions have also made headlines, including the government’s planned legislation on gender policies for children and youth, the oft-debated Sovereignty Act and, more recently, Bill 20, proposed legislation that would see the province wielding more power over municipalities.

The government has also taken the first steps in its plans to restructure Alberta Health Services and has sought to shake up Alberta’s electricity market.

Though the pace has been swift and the policies often contentious, the new polling suggests the government’s approach hasn’t had much impact on that support.

A woman with blonde hair and glasses is smiling in front of a TV set, which shows a map of Calgary.
Janet Brown is a pollster based in Calgary. Brown said she doesn’t expect the numbers will immediately change much once a permanent NDP leader is named. (CBC)

However, more Albertans still disapprove of the governing UCP than those who approve, at a rate of 52 per cent to 44 per cent, polling suggests.

“They put a lot of legislation forward that Albertans don’t yet know how they should be interpreting,” Brown said.

“Disapproval is stronger than approval right now. But I think what this shows is that this can be a divisive government and the premier can be a divisive premier. But she still has her base of support.”

There’s also good news in the poll for New Democrats, Brown noted.

“The NDP still remains very competitive, even though they don’t have a new leader. I think the data says that voters are anxiously watching the NDP leadership race, and they’re watching to see how the NDP brings themselves back as a competitive force in Alberta politics,” she said.

Brown said she doesn’t expect the numbers will immediately change much once a permanent NDP leader is named, given that most people answering the question are likely imagining the party being led by presumed front-runner Naheed Nenshi.

People stand on a stage in front of a colourful circle.
Alberta NDP leadership candidates stand on stage during a leadership debate in Calgary on May 11. Results of the leadership race are to be announced June 22. (Jeff McIntosh/The Canadian Press)

Smith ‘quite polarizing’

The poll also asked respondents how they would rate the job Smith is doing as premier, on a scale from zero to 10. 

Smith saw an overall average approval rating of 4.5 out of 10 from respondents. Thirty-five per cent of people said they were impressed with the premier, giving her a rating of seven or more out of 10.

Forty per cent gave the premier a low rating, ranging from zero to three, while another 22 per cent gave her a rating between four and six. In Calgary, Smith got an average score of 4.3, up from 3.8 just prior to the last election. 

Another question asked respondents to think back to the time of the last provincial election, in May 2023. The poll asked whether Smith is doing better, worse or about the same as they expected at that time. 

Forty per cent of respondents said Smith was doing about the same as they expected, 33 per cent said she has done worse and 23 per cent said she has done better.

“When I look at these numbers, what I see is a leader who is quite polarizing. She’s got a strong base of people who like her, and she’s got a strong base of people who dislike her,” Brown said.

Though support for the government has held to this point, the next three years could get more challenging once the NDP chooses its permanent leader, said Duane Bratt, a political science professor at Mount Royal University.

“Smith is not popular overall, but she wasn’t popular in May of 2023 and was still able to pull off a majority victory because the NDP were just as unpopular, in some respects,” Bratt said.

“When we look at approval ratings, they’re only viewed as one party. But that’s not what an election is, an election is a contrast. And that is the contrast the NDP is going to have to make.”

The CBC News random survey of 1,200 Albertans was conducted using a hybrid method between May 1 and 15 by Edmonton-based Trend Research under the direction of Janet Brown Opinion Research. The sample is representative of regional, age and gender factors. The margin of error is +/- 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. For subsets, the margin of error is larger.

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, at another more convenient time, or receiving an email link and completing the survey online. Trend Research contacted people using a random list of numbers, consisting of 40 per cent landlines and 60 per cent cellphone numbers. Telephone numbers were dialed up to five times at five different times of day before another telephone number was added to the sample. The response rate among valid numbers (i.e., residential and personal) was 11.7 per cent.

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