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Early Days are Good Ones for Redford

Posted December 1st, 2011 in Alberta Politics, News and tagged by Marc Henry

They say the two most important times for any political leader are: the FIRST 100 days after an election (particularly for a new leader or government) and the LAST 100 days before Election Day.


The logic here is the strength of first and last impressions – these are the times when voters tend to form the most powerful opinions of a leader.


With a spring election in the offing, Alison Redford’s first and last impressions with voters are likely stacked “back-to-back” if not blended together.  It’s a very condensed time period, and one that leaves little room to make mistakes – everything matters during this impressionable period.


Roughly two months into her new role, ThinkHQ Public Affairs Inc. surveyed a sample of 1330 Albertans, getting their views on the Premier, the direction of her “new” government and her personal performance on some key issues; a Fall Session Report Card if you will.


The Results.


Quite strong. Overall Albertans offer a disproportionately positive impression of Premier Alison Redford and her personal popularity is changing the direction of a government left badly wounded since 2008.  That being said, there is still considerable uncertainty about some elements of her leadership.


Redford’s political rise is actually quite remarkable.  In July, two-thirds of Albertans didn’t know enough about her to say whether they liked her or not.  Here we are just six months later and Redford is now the best known and best liked of any provincial leader – by a sizable margin.


And her personal popularity is beginning to bolster perceptions of the government itself.  Although today, roughly equal portions of Albertans approve and disapprove (45% vs 48%) of the PC government’s performance since the 2008 election, positive ratings have risen by 9 percentage points in only two months.  That’s a significant shift.


When asked to rate Redford on key facets of her job, she scores well.  Over half of those interviewed think the Premier is doing a good job when it comes to delivering on her promises, being a strong leader for Alberta and focusing on the most important issues.  Similarly, asked if the Government is on the “right track” vs. the “wrong track” since Redford took the reigns, positive responses outweigh negative ones 2 to 1.


These are certainly not bad numbers for two month’s work, but therein lies the difficulty of offering a more definitive appraisal; it’s only been two months.


There is a significant portion of the electorate – somewhere between one-quarter and one-third who really haven’t formed a solid first impression of Redford.  For instance, 36% weren’t sure whether the government is now on the right track or wrong track with new leadership.


So instead of a Report Card, we might consider this a solid mark on a mid-term exam.  But before Alberta voters render a final grade on this government, there are more exams coming…and they get harder.


The fall session of the Legislature was an abbreviated one; the next may not be.  And though the time in the House was short, it was not without controversy.


The opposition accused the Premier of breaking promises – some of these accusations have traction with the public and others don’t.  For instance, opposition outcries about “fixed elections” now “being flexible-fixed election periods every four years” ring hallow for many Albertans.


Presented with the facts of the pledge vs. the government bill, 65% feel the commitment has been fulfilled, compared to only 20% who consider it a broken promise.


That’s a risk for the opposition.  Continuing to characterize something as a “broken promise” when most people don’t consider it one puts your own credibility at risk.


The reverse is true for “Candidate Redford’s” pledge for a Public Inquiry on health care vs. Premier Redford’s plan to beef up the powers of the existing Health Quality Council.  Here, a majority (53%) of Albertans feel this is a commitment unfulfilled.  That’s potentially dangerous for Redford, as it rests at the confluence of two of the most important issues in provincial politics today: healthcare and trust in government.


The opposition will continue to characterize this as a “broken promise”, while the government will likely position it as a “distinction without difference”.  How it all plays out in the public’s mind will depend on what happens with the investigation itself, but today it’s an area where most feel the new Premier has over-promised and under-delivered.


Another exam question for the new Premier in the New Year will be: Is she fiscally conservative enough? Keep in mind, her answer to this question is an essay not multiple choice – the correct answer is very different for one voter to the next.  But at this stage, it is the area of greatest uncertainty.  While 40% of Albertans believe Redford has done a good job “ensuring the government is efficient and well run” (vs. 22% who say she’s done a bad job), fully 36% are unsure.


First impressions of the new Premier in this regard will undoubtedly be formed in the next session of the Legislature, with the new provincial budget as a focus.  It’s not going to be an easy budget.  Spending commitments have been made, and on the other side of the balance sheet, a fragile world economy makes forecasting provincial resource revenues akin to reading tea leaves.


And when it comes to fiscal responsibility, the budget won’t be the only focus.  Recent disclosures estimating healthy “transition allowances” for retiring MLAs is an enormous lighting-rod for the public, and it feeds into broader impressions of the government’s own motives and ability to manage its purse strings.


Roughly two-thirds of the way through the impressionable “first hundred days” of her Premiership, Alison Redford scores pretty well.


These strong personal approval numbers are more substantive than just a “honeymoon” – more than just public novelty with something new. Redford assumed the leadership of the provincial Tories on a platform of change, and most Albertans are giving her credit for effecting some change from days of Ed Stelmach.


However, being so new to the job, many people have yet to form a strong opinion about Alison Redford’s first days.  With an election coming as soon as March, it’s safe to say that every day counts from here on out.


Marc Henry is president of ThinkHQ Public Affairs Inc.  info@thinkhq.ca www.voiceofalberta.com