by David Korzinski | May 17, 2023 9:00 pm
May 18, 2023 – With advance voting beginning on May 23 and Election Day set for May 29, Albertans will soon choose their next provincial government with no shortage of important issues on the docket. Whether it’s the wildfires raging in the province, strengthening a post-COVID-19 health-care system, or protecting and building on a booming economy, voters are looking to party leaders for their vision and response.
With the economy, jobs, and inflation top of mind for potential voters, the latest data from the non-profit Angus Reid Institute finds Albertans assessing United Conservative Party and leader Danielle Smith as the best choice to manage the economy and the oil and gas sector, while NDP and leader Rachel Notley are seen as the best choice for the health-care system, and for “honest and ethical leadership”.
On the question of the overall vision each party offers, the parties and leaders are tied: 42 per cent say Notley has the right outlook for the province, with statistically the same number (41%) saying the same of Smith.
These are crucial undercurrents in a race that will largely be decided by how many younger voters turn up in the battleground of Calgary, as noted in the Angus Reid Institute’s previous release on current vote intentions. Consider that when asked which party – all issues considered – is best to form government, 40 per cent choose the UCP and 40 per cent choose the NDP.
The Angus Reid Institute (ARI) was founded in October 2014 by pollster and sociologist, Dr. Angus Reid. ARI is a national, not-for-profit, non-partisan public opinion research foundation established to advance education by commissioning, conducting and disseminating to the public accessible and impartial statistical data, research and policy analysis on economics, political science, philanthropy, public administration, domestic and international affairs and other socio-economic issues of importance to Canada and its world.
As Albertans look ahead to the start of voting, there is one obvious and immediate concern – the wildfires burning across the province, threatening homes, lives and livelihoods. More than 694,000 hectares of land have already been destroyed and nearly 20,000 people remain evacuated as dozens of fires continue to burn in Alberta. And this may just be the start of what some are projecting to be a long, “challenging” summer for firefighters.
The two parties likely to form government after the next election must balance this pressing issue with longstanding challenges the province faces, such as the rising cost of living, a health-care system in crisis, and public safety in the wake of high profile violent crimes in Calgary and Edmonton.
For Albertans, cost of living is far-and-away the top concern. Three-in-five (60%) say it is an issue they care about the most. Health care trails closely behind, selected by half of Albertans (49%). Public safety (26%) and jobs (25%) are chosen by one-quarter each, while energy policy is selected by one-in-five (18%). The ongoing wildfires, while a significant concern for many under threat, is down the list of province-wide priorities, selected by one-in-12 (8%).
Across demographics, there is agreement on the top two issues – cost of living and health care – but less consensus beyond those. Albertans under 35 are more likely to worry about housing affordability than older residents. Education is a higher priority for women under 55 than others. Men over 35 are more likely to fret over energy policy:
Cost of living and health care are the top two issues in all regions in the province. Housing affordability ranks as a higher concern in Calgary than Edmonton or outside of those two cities. Though not nearly as unaffordable as other major Canadian metros, housing prices and rents have begun to creep up in Alberta’s largest city. Meanwhile, energy policy is a top concern for one-quarter (26%) living outside of the province’s two urban cores:
Likely voters for the two leading parties in the provincial election have disparate priorities. Three times as many Albertans who say they will vote NDP (74%) on May 29 as UCP (27%) believe health care is a pressing concern for the province. Likely NDP voters believe education (30%), climate change (26%) and poverty (20%) are top issues more so than those who say they will vote UCP. Instead, likely UCP voters are more concerned about the economy and jobs (37%), energy policy (34%) and crime (34%).
Also, one-in-five (21%) who say they will vote UCP on election day believe independence for Alberta is a top issue. No prospective NDP voters say this:
The NDP and UCP have used the campaign period to try and gain separation from each other on the top issues in the province, though each clearly have their strengths and weaknesses. Half (51%) of Albertans believe Smith and the UCP offer the best choice on managing oil and gas. One-third (32%) instead select Notley and the NDP. Perhaps relatedly, more Albertans are likely to believe Smith and her party would manage the economy overall better (45%) than Notley and hers (37%).
On health care, more Albertans give Notley and the NDP the nod (47%) than Smith and the UCP (35%). With an ongoing ethics investigation into Smith and her alleged contact with crown prosecutors in cases stemming from the Coutts border blockade, Albertans are more likely to believe Notley and the NDP will provide honest and ethical leadership (44%) than Smith and the UCP (33%):
The province’s state of emergency in response to the ongoing wildfires has spurred some NDP and UCP cooperation. Smith’s management of the situation in her continuing role as premier has not been without hiccups – she disclosed the pending state of emergency at a campaign event for UCP supporters prior to the province-wide announcement. Notley, meanwhile, was praised widely for her performance when she was premier during the 2016 Fort McMurray fire.
Albertans are split as to who offers the best choice to lead in such emergency situations. As many pick the NDP and Notley (37%) as do Smith and the UCP (37%). However, in the area outside of Calgary and Edmonton, where the wildfires have burned, half (52%) select the UCP. That also may be a reflection of a clear party preference in that region as well.
Alberta’s economy is in strong shape thanks to high oil prices, which fueled a $2.4-billion surplus in the UCP government’s spring budget. ATB Financial projected Alberta’s GDP growth to be the highest in the country in 2023 at 2.8 per cent, outpacing the expectation for Canada nationally. Still, a potential national recession looms and much lies outside of the province’s control. Lower oil prices would have immediate negative effects on Alberta’s biggest industry, an issue which plagued Notley in her previous time as premier.
Perhaps with the rosy economic picture under the current UCP government in mind, Albertans are more likely to believe Smith offers the best choice on managing the province’s economy (45%) than Notley (37%). This belief is especially high among men over the age of 34:
While more than one-in-three Albertans (37%) say that they would most trust the NDP to manage the economy, this rises to 41 per cent among those who are experiencing the lowest levels of economic stress. What is perhaps most notable here is that the UCP, however, holds an advantage among all groups, from those who are Struggling to get by, to those who are Thriving (for more on the Angus Reid Institute’s Economic Stress Index, click here).
Oil and gas remains Alberta’s economic engine, powering the province to a surplus in the UCP government’s spring budget. Smith and the UCP are more trusted by Albertans to lead on this file, with half (51%) saying they are the best choice to manage the sector.
Throughout the election, and prior to, the UCP have painted the NDP as “anti-oil and gas”, which perhaps plays into Albertans’ evaluation of the party’s future performance on this file. Negative perceptions of the NDP’s handling of the industry also dogged them throughout Notley’s term as premier. One-third (32%) say the NDP and Notley are the best choice to manage oil and gas.
Half (48%) in Calgary, where many energy companies are headquartered, say the UCP are the best choice to manage oil and gas. In Edmonton, respondents are divided between choosing the NDP (39%) and UCP (42%) on this matter. Outside of the two big cities, a strong majority (63%) say the UCP are the best stewards of the industry:
Smith and the UCP have touted the headway they’ve made in addressing the problems in a health-care system which has been described as in “crisis”. After firing the Alberta Health Services board when Smith took over as premier and adding frontline health-care staff, the UCP government said in February ambulance wait times have dropped from highs seen in 2022. However, there are lingering concerns, based on Smith’s past comments, that the UCP will move towards further privatization of the health-care system. Smith attempted to head off these concerns with a “public health guarantee” prior to the election.
Related: Public Purists, Privatization Proponents and the Curious: Canada’s three health-care mindsets
Meanwhile, the NDP and Notley have made commitments to health care a key part of their platform, promising to recruit more health-care professionals, as well as funding commitments for health-care centres and hospitals.
Half (47%) of Albertans say Notley and the NDP are the best choice to manage the province’s health-care system. One-third (35%) instead choose Smith and the UCP. Majorities of Albertans aged 18- to 34-years-old, and half of women 35 to 54, choose the NDP. Support for the UCP is stronger on this issue among men over the age of 34:
With all these issues in mind, one-third of Albertans (35%) say Smith is the best choice to lead the province, notably five points less than the number of Albertans who say the UCP is the best choice to form government (40%, see detailed tables). The proportion of Albertans who believe the NDP are the top party to run government (40%) and who say Notley would make the best premier (39%) is near equal.
Smith is viewed as the best choice to be premier by half (48%) outside of the province’s two urban cores. Notley leads the UCP leader on this metric in Calgary (+12) and Edmonton (+21):
While clear majorities of those who intend to vote NDP and UCP say their party leader is the best choice to lead the province, there is more dissent in the ranks among likely UCP voters. One-in-ten (9%) who say they will vote UCP on May 29 say a party leader other than Smith or Notley is the best choice. As many (9%) say none of the above:
The Angus Reid Institute conducted an online survey from May 12 – 16, 2023 among a representative randomized sample of 1,374 Albertan adults who are members of Angus Reid Forum. For comparison purposes only, a probability sample of this size would carry a margin of error of +/- 3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. Discrepancies in or between totals are due to rounding. The survey was self-commissioned and paid for by ARI.
For detailed results by age, gender, region, education, and other demographics, click here.
For detailed results by past provincial and federal vote, click here.
To read the full report, including detailed tables and methodology, click here.
To read the questionnaire, click here.
Image – Rachel Notley/Facebook; Danielle Smith/Facebook
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