Alberta’s provincial political “horserace” has shown remarkable stability over the past year, with only modest fluctuations in party support. Currently, the Wildrose lead province-wide with 35% of the decided vote, followed by the NDP at 31%, the PCs with 24%, and the Liberals and Alberta Party in single digits. The governing NDP continue to dominate in Edmonton, while Wildrose strength is concentrated outside of the two metropolitan regions. Calgary is highly competitive, with three parties – NDP, Wildrose and PC – statistically tied.
Though the three main parties appear locked in a “holding pattern” today, Alberta can expect significant volatility before the next provincial election.
Underpinnings of NDP Support
- Strong lead in the Edmonton region
- Disproportionate support from younger (under 35) voters
- Collapse of the Liberals and divided opposition
While the economy is top-of-mind for most voters and the NDP government performs poorly with respect to economic stewardship, there has been virtually no erosion in their vote strength in the past year. Two reasons: 1) They have largely avoided blame for poor economic performance, instead pointing to low world energy prices and previous government policies as the culprit, and; 2) They haven’t chopped the public service, which has provided considerable economic insulation to the Edmonton region. That said, the consequences of massive budget deficits and accumulating debt have yet to be felt by voters, and “blame” for an underperforming economy may take a toll as their mandate continues.
The NDP have also benefitted from the disintegration of the provincial Liberals. Levelled to only 4% of the vote in the last election (and one MLA), the provincial Grits have floundered in single-digit support ever since.
Wildrose and PC Support and Uniting the Right
“Uniting the right” is a popular concept in Alberta. Over half of Albertans support the notion, with sizable majorities of both Wildrose and PC voters endorsing it. However, at this stage, average voters have very few cues about how that might work, and how they would vote as a result. How is the party formed? Who leads it? What are its policies (aside from getting rid of the NDP government)? As these questions start to be answered (if they do), expect to see shifting vote intentions on the centre-right of the political spectrum.
Currently, over one-in-five Albertans are uncertain about how they would vote in the next provincial election which is normal for this stage of a government’s mandate. That, in itself, suggests future volatility.
The path to re-election for the NDP is not an easy one – 41% of the vote in the last election would seem a natural ceiling for their support. They need the opposition to remain divided and the Liberals to remain at current levels. They also need to continue to avoid blame for poor economic performance, and take credit for any improvement – which will be a difficult task.
There is a significant likelihood that at least two of the parties currently in the provincial horserace – Wildrose and PCs – may not exist by the time the next election comes. If a new, united, right-of-centre party emerges, one is inclined to see them as the next government, but party DNA, policies and leadership do matter.
If the two parties do not merge/create a new party, voters may take matters into their own hands in the next election. If government approval continues to hover in the “low thirties”, there will be an appetite among many voters to pick the party most likely to unseat the NDP. If that happens, the campaign month will be pivotal, and campaign polls will be very volatile.
Click the link to view detailed findings and methodology: Alberta’s Provincial Political Scene November 2016