Stereotype of Albertans as rednecks on social issues shattered: poll

It's probably time for Canadians to shelve their stereotype of Albertans as redneck cowboys.

That image has been a little crusty for years — hey, Calgary has a Muslim mayor, Naheed Nenshi — but a poll conducted by Lethbridge College ought to put a final nail in it.

The telephone survey of more than 1,000 Albertans done in late September asked about six major social issues and found views to be remarkably liberal.

The respondents were overwhelmingly in favour of choice on abortion (81.4 per cent), favoured same-sex marriage having the same legal status of traditional marriage (74.3 per cent), supported medical use of marijuana (76.1 per cent) and doctor-assisted suicide (75.9 per cent).

They only played to type on two issues. Just over 60 per cent want capital punishment reinstated for first-degree murder and 55.1 per cent oppose decrminalizing pot for recreational purposes.

The poll is considered accurate to within plus or minus three percentage points 19 times out of 20.

"Contrary to some common stereotypes, Albertans are more progressive than traditional in their thinking on this cluster of issues," the poll concludes. "A majority of Albertans take a progressive position on four of the six items with Calgarians and other southern Albertans leading the way."

[Related: Alberta government poll of outsiders finds residents smug and uncaring]

Professor Faron Ellis, whose Citizen Society Research Lab quarterbacked the poll, told the Calgary Herald the poll's results for Calgary and southern Alberta run counter to the region's reputation for conservatism.

But it doesn't necessarily mean Calgarians are becoming more like their counterparts in Alberta's capital, which sometimes gets referred to as "Redmonton."

Ellis said it can be explained by southern Albertans being categorized as libertarians, entrepreneurial individualists.

"It's more choice," Ellis told the Herald. "Alberta tends to be on the leading edge when it comes to individual choice."

According to the poll, support for same-sex marriage rose six percentage points from the 2009 survey results.

"We've measured this in Lethbridge for 12 years and we've seen a complete reversal," Ellis said. "Where it was two-to-one opposed, now it is two-to-one supportive."

Support for choice on abortion was up three percentage points and for doctor-assisted suicide rose by 12 percentage points. The gap on the latter issue was even larger in southern Alberta, where 82 per cent supported medical help to die.

By contrast, support for capital punishment remained relatively flat — it was 59 per cent in 2009.

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The poll results did, however, split along religious and political lines, the Herald noted. People who described themselves as very religious were more likely to hold traditional views on the issues in the survey, as were supporters of the provincial Wildrose, Progressive Conservative and federal Conservative parties.

Kris Wells, a researcher at the University of Alberta's Institute for Sexual Minority Studies and Services, told the Herald the poll reflects how much Alberta has changed.

Nine years ago, then-premier Ralph Klein vowed to put every possible obstacle in the way of same-sex marriage in Alberta, saying he would invoke the Constitution's notwithstanding clause.

Now "it's a non-issue," he said.

Perhaps we shouldn't be that surprised. Alberta's sustained economic boom has resulted in a tremendous influx of people from other parts of Canada and abroad.

People arriving in Alberta in search of prosperity don't necessarily park their personal beliefs at the provincial border.