Nearly two years after the 2019 general election that brought Jason Kenney's United Conservative Party government into power in Alberta, the UCP finds itself trailing Rachel Notley's NDP amid a continued economic downturn, according to a new poll.
The poll by the Angus Reid Institute, which surveyed Canadian adults between Feb. 26 and March 3, found that 41 per cent of those surveyed said they would support the NDP were an election to be held in the near future — three points more than those who said they would support the UCP at 38 per cent.
The UCP continues to see a drop in support of 17 percentage points from its performance in the election in 2019.
"It's still a statistical tie … but we have not seen the NDP ahead of any conservative party in the province for some years now," said Shachi Kurl, president of the Angus Reid Institute.
"This will be a bit of an eyeopening moment, but I would caution — it's still very tight between the two parties."
Kenney's UCP soundly defeated Notley's incumbent NDP in the 2019 election, taking 63 of Alberta's 87 seats and 55 per cent of the popular vote.
The new poll, however, suggests that much of the UCP's support may have been siphoned by other parties.
Among those surveyed, 10 per cent indicated they would support the centre-right Alberta Party, while two per cent said they planned to support the Alberta Liberals.
One per cent said they would support Alberta's Green Party, while nine per cent indicated support for unspecified other political parties in the province.
Support in rural Alberta
Mount Royal University political scientist Duane Bratt said the UCP's strength in rural Alberta remains a stumbling block for the NDP.
"This is the first time the NDP has led the UCP in polls since the creation of UCP," Bratt said. "The UCP has led the entire time [since fall 2017], sometimes substantially — in the election a 20-point gap — and the NDP is ahead.
"However, when you translate that into seat count, based on the breakdown I looked at, it would still look like a UCP government."
The wildcard in any provincial election, Bratt said, is the performance of other conservative parties.
According to the survey, 71 per cent of those who supported Premier Jason Kenney's party in 2019 said they would again now, compared to the NDP, which has retained 96 per cent of its voters.
"It does speak to the fact that right-of-centre voters in Alberta appear to be looking somewhere, anywhere, some of them for an alternative," Kurl said.
"The key here is that both parties are holding majority support, but in the case of past NDP voters, that vote base is rock solid."
Negative marks on handling of priorities
As part of its survey, the Angus Reid Institute asked respondents to assess 13 different areas of provincial governance. On all 13 issues, respondents gave the provincial government more negative than positive grades.
Kurl said the pandemic has presented a challenging dynamic for the Kenney government — with Albertans on one hand calling to temporarily close businesses, while a key part of the party's own support base insists on opening up.
"The other challenge has been the ongoing inability to really get the economy started, and the pandemic of course has been a massive driver of this problem for the Kenney government," she said. "As it has been for every government in countries and provinces and places around the world."
Though the election is still a fair distance away, Bratt said an improvement for the UCP in polls is directly tied to the effectiveness of the vaccine rollout.
"A positive vaccine rollout will lead to reopening of the economy. But bear in mind, the economy wasn't in great shape pre-COVID," Bratt said.
"It was in the rest of the country, but not in Alberta … so the vaccine is a necessary condition, but not a sufficient condition."
Younger women favour NDP, poll suggests
The poll suggests that the UCP's support among men has declined since the last election. In the week prior to the 2019 election, the UCP held the support of 59 per cent of all men in the province.
The party still leads among men — with 42 per cent compared to 36 per cent for the NDP — but is now looking at a significant gap among women and with those under the age of 35.
Women are more likely to support the NDP — 46 per cent versus 34 per cent for the UCP — while among 18 to 34 year olds, the NDP leads with 61 per cent support compared to 26 per cent for the UCP.
The poll suggests that the UCP continues to have the support of a majority of voters aged 55 and over, with 48 per cent indicating their support.
The Angus Reid Institute said its online survey was conducted among a representative randomized sample of 5,004 Canadian adults who are members of the Angus Reid Forum. For comparison purposes, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of plus or minus 1.4 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
The total sample for Alberta is 603, which would carry a margin of error of plus or minus four percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Majority of Albertans still opposed to PST, poll suggests
The poll also found that while a majority of Albertans still oppose the idea of introducing a provincial sales tax, young voters in the province are more amenable to the idea.
"Now the question is, will they change their minds over time? Will they take on a different point of view as they age?" Kurl said.
"But if they are consistent in that view over time, that means that in the future … it may not be such a topic that immediately spells political death for the leaders who want to bring it forward."
According to the poll, 62 per cent of respondents said Alberta should not introduce any form of PST. However, 38 per cent said they would support a tax at various levels, from one per cent to more than five per cent.
"There's no doubt Albertans are largely opposed to the notion of a provincial sales tax, but perhaps not as overwhelming as has happened in the past," Kurl said.
"We start to see some trends where if those younger people decide to stay in Alberta over the long-term and they don't change their mind, they continue to keep that point of view, there may be a very long-term path forward for a nominal PST."