Albertans shifting support, UCP and NDP now tied amid COVID-19 pandemic: Angus Reid poll

Support for Alberta’s United Conservative Party appears to be down amid the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent survey by the Angus Reid Institute.

Results from the survey released Monday show only 38 per cent of Albertans would support the UCP if an election were to be held tomorrow. That would put the UCP in a tie with the New Democratic Party, which the survey found would also receive 38 per cent of the total vote.

In the 2019 provincial election, the UCP won with 54.9 per cent of the vote with the NDP bringing in 32.7 per cent.

“Albertans have a pretty cynical eye when it comes to their politicians,” said Shachi Kurl with Angus Reid. “When they perceive their politicians not to be getting the job done, they tend to turn on them pretty quick.”

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The survey also found that support for the UCP has fallen the most among middle-aged (35-54) voters. Although 55 per cent of them voted UCP in the 2019 election, only 35 per cent said they would do so if an election were held tomorrow.

On Monday, Melanee Thomas, a political scientist at the University of Calgary, said that while the numbers should be concerning to the government, an election is far off on the horizon for the UCP.

“We don’t have the context where the election is being held tomorrow,” Thomas said. “So it’s suggestive, but I would need to see this confirmed a couple of other times. I want to see what things look like in six months. But an election is not being held tomorrow, so [the UCP] can credibly say, ‘So what?’ and carry on with business as usual.”

The survey showed that among voters who had voted for the UCP in 2019, 30 per cent of them are now considering switching to another party. For those who voted NDP in 2019, only five per cent of them would switch votes now.

“What this really represents is a bit of a fracturing,” Kurl said. “[The NDP] is a party that’s really managed to hold on to almost 100 per cent of its past vote, as the UCP is starting to see its support bleed out into other places.”

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Read more: ‘It’s not credible anymore’: Does Alberta still have a tax advantage?

A statement from the province Monday said the government is focused on its response to the pandemic.

“Alberta’s government is focused on protecting lives and livelihoods from the unprecedented impacts of the COVID-19 global pandemic,” said Christine Myatt, spokesperson for the office of the Premier.

“The only poll that truly counts is the one taken on election day.”

The Angus Reid poll also touched on the provincial response to COVID-19, which found that as the pandemic has continued, faith in the provincial government has started to go down.

In mid-March, 76 per cent of Albertans thought the province was doing a good job handling the pandemic. As of Sept. 1, 56 per cent of people thought the government was doing well.

*% represents response for “your provincial premier”
*% represents response for “your provincial premier”.Credit / Angus Reid Institute

Thomas said the COVID-19 crisis has also created a situation where Albertans know more about the health system in the province, including recent disputes between Alberta doctors and the government, than they may have known previously.

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“Albertans have gotten the memo that there’s a really hostile relationship between the provincial government and the physicians,” Thomas said. “COVID makes people pay attention to physicians in a way they otherwise wouldn’t.”

Vast majority of Alberta doctors do not have confidence in health minister
Vast majority of Alberta doctors do not have confidence in health minister

The survey found three in five Albertans say the government has done a poor job in handling health care in the province.

Read more: 42% of Alberta physicians considering leaving the province for work: AMA survey

‘The shine has come off’: Economy no longer a given strength for UCP

The Angus Reid survey also found that Albertans are concerned about their financial situations, both for those who voted for the NDP and for those who voted UCP in 2019.

Fifty-five per cent of UCP voters said their financial situation is worse now than it was a year ago; with NDP voters, 46 per cent of them think their financial situation is now worse.

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Thomas said the fact that around half of all voters think things are getting worse could show that the faith in the UCP’s economic management could be wavering.

“Conservative parties in Canada own the issue of the economy,” Thomas said. “And what that means is they actually don’t have to do anything much with it for people to think they’re actually most competent with it.

“I’m starting to see some indicators, at least in this data, that party-label advantage that the UCP has — by virtue of being a conservative party — on the economy, it’s not as robust.

“[It’s not as] easy as what it was, in terms of just saying saying, ‘Jobs, jobs, jobs,’ like they did in 2019. The shine has come off of that for sure.”

Read more: COVID-19 pandemic, low energy prices leave Alberta with $24.2B deficit

Kurl said while it’s “not unusual” for mid-term governments to see less public support, Alberta’s economic situation amid COVID-19 has not helped the UCP’s image as sound financial managers.

“Premier Jason Kenney came into power really very much on a message,” Kurl said. “He told Alberta voters at the time, ‘Look, I’m going to fix the economy… I’m going to take all the things that have been ailing you over the Notley years and change them for the better.’

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“Albertans really haven’t had that experience of the better. They have not seen their economic fortunes increase.”

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