What happened in the Alberta election? Here's what the numbers say

The United Conservatives will control the Alberta legislature. But what do the numbers tell us about the election? (David Bajer/CBC - image credit)
The United Conservatives will control the Alberta legislature. But what do the numbers tell us about the election? (David Bajer/CBC - image credit)

The most consequential numbers to come out of the 2023 Alberta election are the ones that determine the makeup of the legislature: the United Conservative Party won 49 seats to the Alberta New Democrats' 38.

But while Elections Alberta will release the official figures on June 8, the unofficial numbers have many stories to tell and perspective to offer about what happened in this election.

Let's dig in.

Vote share swings

The UCP saw its share of the vote decrease from the 2019 election in more ridings than those in which its share increased. And those increases were marginal, largely in the range of one to three percentage points, none higher than seven.

By contrast, the NDP's vote share went up almost everywhere — only three ridings had the party earning a slightly smaller percentage of the votes compared with 2019: Central Peace-Notley, Fort McMurray-Wood Buffalo and Lesser Slave Lake. Those decreases were marginal, but many of those NDP gains were significant: 48 ridings with increases of double-digit points, including two above 20.

It's not surprising, then, that the differential in vote share between the two parties — that is, how many percentage points a seat was won by — swung heavily against the UCP compared to the previous election.

Change in vote share between 2019 and 2023 elections


The top 25 ridings where the UCP lost the most vote share relative to the NDP were all in Calgary (20), Red Deer (two), Airdrie (two) and Edmonton (one). In 14 of those ridings, the UCP-NDP differential swung by 20 percentage points or more away from the blue team.

However, because the UCP often had a significant cushion in 2019, that shift wasn't always enough to flip the seat. Of those 25 ridings with the biggest shift away from the UCP, the NDP won 11 seats — two of which they already had.

A good example is Calgary-Shaw, which saw the biggest swing in vote share. In 2019, the UCP won 65.3 per cent of the vote, and the NDP won 25.6 per cent — a margin of 39.7 percentage points. In this election, the NDP's vote share in Calgary-Shaw surged to 42.7 per cent. But the UCP still won the seat with 56.2 per cent of the vote, despite a 26-point swing in the difference between the two parties.

Each riding, of course, has its own story with multiple factors at play. In 2019, the Alberta Party earned six per cent of the vote in Calgary-Shaw, but didn't have a candidate in the riding this year. Some of those voters likely make up part of the NDP's 17-point gain. And some voters who cast a ballot for the UCP in 2019 may have stayed home this time, or voted NDP, or spoiled their ballot.

Hey, we have more than two parties, you know

Overall, the UCP's share of the vote provincewide only fell two points, to 52.6 per cent. The NDP gained 11 points, to 44.0 per cent.

Percentage of overall vote share


But other parties had notable shifts since 2019. The Green Party nearly doubled its share of the vote to jump to third place. The Alberta Party fell from third place in 2019 with nine per cent of the total vote to fourth in 2023, with just under one per cent.

Notably, third place isn't what it used to be: the Alberta Party held that spot in 2019 with nearly 172,000 votes, but the Greens now occupy it with a mere 14,000.

Put another way, in 2019 the NDP and UCP combined for 87.6 per cent of all votes. This year, they accounted for 96.6 per cent.

The Alberta Liberals, meanwhile, received 14,000 fewer votes this time — a massive loss, given that the party only received about 18,400 votes in 2019.

Every ballot counts

The question of vote splitting can be divisive. Advocates of so-called strategic voting argue that, in a close race where only Candidate A and Candidate B have a likely chance of winning, it's wiser to cast a ballot for whichever of the two you dislike least — even if you'd much rather vote for Candidate C. Others counter that such logic prevents other candidates from ever becoming contenders, and that it's more fundamentally democratic to vote one's conscience.

Setting aside that debate, it's notable that in a close election there were a handful of ridings where a third party's vote share could potentially have changed the outcome — or, depending on recounts, still may.

In Calgary-Bow, the UCP won by 385 votes. In Calgary-North West, the UCP won by 149 votes. In both races, the Alberta Party got hundreds of votes more than that margin.

Of course, without ranked ballots there's no way to know who the second choice of those Alberta Party voters may have been. But it's fair to say that the Alberta Party is politically nearer the NDP than the UCP.

Two other ridings with incredibly narrow NDP margins of victory — by 30 votes in Calgary-Glenmore and seven votes in Calgary-Acadia — also had hundreds of votes for the Green Party.

But in such close races, the difference could just as easily have been a few more people deciding to participate in the election.

Turn down the turnout

The overall unofficial turnout for the 2023 election was 62.4 per cent, a decrease from the 2019 figure of 67.5 per cent. That includes not only valid ballots cast, but also rejected and declined ballots.

Those figures aren't broken down by riding. But to compare how things changed from the previous election, we can use a reasonable proxy: the number of valid ballots divided by the number of registered voters on the most recent elector count (from February 2023 and February 2019, respectively).

By that measure, turnout decreased in every single riding except one: Banff-Kananaskis, where the NDP flipped a UCP seat by a margin of 199 votes. In that riding, turnout went up 1.5 percentage points.

Elsewhere, many places saw significantly less participation than in 2019. This often, but certainly not always, was correlated with races won by a significant margin, suggesting that some voters may have felt the race was in the bag and stayed home.

But there were plenty of exceptions. Edmonton-Gold Bar and Livingstone-Macleod, both decided by significant margins of more than 9,000 votes, had among the lowest decreases in turnout. Meanwhile, Edmonton-Castle Downs and Lesser Slave Lake had fairly modest margins of around 2,500 votes but saw decreases in turnout of 18.4 and 23.9 percentage points, respectively.

Of the 20 ridings with the largest decreases in voter turnout, the UCP won 18.

Turnout and margin by riding