The governing UCP holds a thin lead over the NDP in a two-horse race that will once again come down to Calgary voters, says a new poll.
When asked who they’re most likely to support, a ThinkHQ Public Affairs online survey of 1,144 people shows the UCP with 48 per cent of voters versus 45 per cent for the NDP, at the expense of other political parties who are falling away into single-digit, marginal territory.
“The next provincial election is shaping up to be one of the most competitive in Alberta’s history,” said ThinkHQ President Marc Henry.
“Calgary will be the real battleground for seats: 26 within city limits, 29 including others in the CMA. It’s seat-rich and very divided today.”
The poll, conducted Jan. 19-20 — just as news reports of Premier Danielle Smith’s office allegedly sending emails to Crown counsel questioning the prosecution of 2022 Coutts border blockaders were emerging — shows Calgary as crucial but a toss-up, with the NDP enjoying a slim 45-47 per cent lead within city limits.
But in the wider Calgary metropolitan area, the UCP holds a similar edge, says the survey.
“As it sits today, the NDP can capture 20 seats out of Edmonton without breaking a sweat, and the UCP can say the same for most of the constituencies outside of the two biggest cities,” said Henry, noting the survey gives the NDP 58 per cent of the Edmonton vote compared to the UCP’s 36 per cent.
“But, neither the UCP nor NDP have a clear lock on government at this point — both are shy of the 44 seats required for a majority without capturing ‘leaning’ or ‘toss-up’ constituencies.”
In the 2019 provincial election, the UCP made a decisive breakthrough in Calgary, winning 23 of 26 seats and reducing NDP from 16 to three. The NDP trailed badly in the popular vote as well, with 34 per cent of the ballots compared to 53 per cent garnered by the UCP.
The poll shows support for the Alberta Party — which was at nine per cent in the 2019 election — has dwindled to four per cent, while Smith’s UCP has gained considerably from the collapse of enthusiasm for the Wildrose Independence Party.
Swing voters will be crucial
But it also indicates a large segment of voters — 37 per cent — don’t like the choices of parties and leaders.
Swaying those will be crucial with an advantage probably going to the NDP given Smith’s multiple verbal gaffes since she assumed the UCP leadership last October, said Mount Royal University political scientist Lori Williams.
“Some of those controversies won’t change minds that are already made up, it’s the swing voters at play who could be impacted,” said Williams.
“It’s astonishing Smith hasn’t bled more support.”
Of those planning to vote UCP, 35 per cent say they’re dissatisfied with their choices compared to 27 per cent of NDP supporters, according to the poll.
When it comes to Calgary voters, issues of trust and credibility “and who can deliver on a vision” will be central, said Williams, while the perception of who’s most likely to form government might be another factor.
Economy, health care expected to be main issues
While the UCP has an advantage on the economy, the NDP holds an edge on health care — the two main dominant issues in the upcoming provincial election whose writ is expected to be dropped in three months, said Williams.
She said the governing UCP’s ability to use tax dollars to blunt affordability pains and to bolster health care might not be the advantage the party hopes it’ll be.
“Things like supply chain issues and other inflationary pressures out of the government’s control could mean spending won’t be enough to make up for those challenges,” said Williams.
“Health care won’t be something solved easily by spending.”
And it remains to be seen if the UCP’s sparring with Ottawa will have the same success then-premier Jason Kenney enjoyed with that strategy in 2019, she said.
According to the poll, men are more likely than women to vote for the UCP by a 57 per cent to 39 per cent margin while the NDP is favoured by women, by 53 per cent to 38 per cent.
The poll’s margin of error is 2.9 percentage points 19 times out of 20 and increases with subgroups, according to ThinkHQ.