With the race to lead the United Conservative Party still in its early days, a new poll suggests more Albertans would consider voting for that party than the Opposition NDP in the 2023 provincial election.
The poll by Trend Research, under the direction of Janet Brown Opinion Research, surveyed 900 Albertans between June 13 and 21. It found slightly more than half of Albertans surveyed said they would be very likely (26 per cent) or somewhat likely (26 per cent) to consider voting for the UCP in the next provincial election.
"Now, of course, they don't know who the leader is going to be. But that's very good news for the UCP because they've been doing badly in polls lately," said pollster Janet Brown. "But now, with 52 per cent of voters willing to consider the UCP, it seems they have a new lease on life.
"A new leader could put them in the driver's seat in terms of public opinion."
Openness to voting for parties
Thirty-nine per cent said they were very likely or somewhat likely to consider voting for the Alberta NDP.
Alternative parties such as the Wildrose Independence Party — the party that formed after the merger of Wexit Alberta and the Freedom Conservative Party — and the Alberta Party also saw some interest from voters, with 25 per cent and 23 per cent openness, respectively.
And though the UCP was in the lead in the poll, it does come with a caveat.
"People say that not knowing who the leader is going to be, and sometimes a hypothetical leader, can be more popular than an actual leader," Brown said. "So that's a starting base for the UCP. It's good news for them, but they probably have to feel cautious about that number as well."
Issues of concern
Open-ended questions were also asked of Albertans in regards to what they thought were the most important issues facing the province today.
Inflation topped the list and was mentioned by 41 per cent of Albertans. Twenty-five per cent of Albertans also mentioned health care, while 19 per cent mentioned the economy and 16 per cent mentioned issues related to the energy sector.
"Inflation really is critical for Albertans. Right now, it is their No. 1 issue of concern," Brown said. "And it's of much greater concern than the second most important issue of health care, at 25 per cent."
Despite that, Brown said inflation has yet to become a serious factor on the campaign trail.
"Interestingly, we're not hearing a lot from political leaders. And that just could come down to the fact that political leaders really don't know what the solutions for inflation are," she said.
"So there is this big gap right now between what the public is thinking about and probably wants to talk about, and what the leadership candidates and other politicians are talking about."
Leader a big question mark
Though the new poll might seem a marked improvement for the UCP, Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt said a potentially grueling leadership race ahead poses some big challenges.
"I wouldn't immediately leap to the conclusion that we're about to see another UCP majority government," Bratt said. "It just shows the unpopularity of [Alberta Premier Jason] Kenney … with no new policies, just simply him resigning has increased support."
Bratt said the NDP remains a formidable challenge for the UCP to overcome. And a potential range in support for the Wildrose Independence Party might depend on the eventual leader selected, he said.
"If a Brian Jean or a Danielle Smith win, then, sure, I could see [those voters] going to the UCP. But what if it's a Travis Toews or a Leela Aheer win? What does that do?" Bratt said.
The survey also asked where Albertans place themselves on the political spectrum, where zero means left and 10 means right. The average response given was 5.7 out of 10.
The survey was released at the Alberta Relaunch Conference, a full-day event being held by New West Public Affairs in Calgary on June 28.
This survey was conducted June 13 to 21, 2022, by Alberta-based Trend Research under the direction of Janet Brown Opinion Research. The survey sampled 900 Albertans aged 18 and over. Respondents were initially contacted at random by live telephone interviewers and given the option of (1) answering the survey over telephone at that time; (2) answering over the telephone at a more convenient time; or (3) receiving the link and answering the survey online. The initial sample list contained approximately 50 per cent landlines and 50 per cent cellphones. Interviewers made up to five attempts to reach each phone number in the sample before classifying it as unreachable. The margin of error for a probability sample of 900 people is plus or minus 3.3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20 (i.e., at a 95% confidence interval).