A new Viewpoint Alberta poll released yesterday shows the Alberta NDP leading the United Conservative Party strongly and, significantly, suggests the New Democrats are picking up support directly from disillusioned UCP voters.
The joint project of the University of Alberta and University of Saskatchewan shows support for the Alberta NDP at 39.1 per cent province-wide, with the UCP trailing at 29.8 per cent.
“For the first time since the party’s founding, UCP support has swung significantly or directly to the NDP,” U of A political science professors Jared Wesley and Feodor Snagovsky wrote in their analysis of the results.
Given what they described as “the polarized nature of Alberta politics and the historic gulf between the two parties,” the willingness of UCP voters to move their support directly to the NDP should really worry the governing party. Perhaps this explains Premier Jason Kenney’s shrill tone lately and the whiff of panic from some of his supporters.
This is not the first poll in the past few days to show the NDP in the lead, but it is new to see evidence the UCP’s problem isn’t just being caused by its support bleeding off to fringe parties on the loony right – whence they can safely be expected to return come election time.
Losing them to the NDP is a horse of a different colour.
Polls reported by Léger and the Angus Reid Institute last Friday showed the NDP ahead – dramatically in the case of Léger’s results (40 per cent NDP, 20 per cent UCP), and much more closely in the case of Angus Reid (41 per cent NDP, 38 per cent UCP). All three surveys were conducted in roughly the same time frame and used similar methodology.
Now, it’s all very well to be cautious about the results of online polls, especially when they start to indicate a turn in voter attitudes. But if once is happenstance, and twice is coincidence, this is starting to sound like something real.
The percentage of Albertans indicating they would vote for the NDP has increased 12 points in eight months, Dr. Wesley and Dr. Snagovsky wrote in their research brief. NDP retention of the party’s 2019 voters is very strong, at 92 per cent, they said.
Wherever the UCP support sits in the various polls, the NDP’s levels under Opposition Leader Rachel Notley’s leadership are fairly consistent, and this, the researchers said, is “a level of popularity not seen since the 2015 provincial election.” We all know what happened then.
“This sudden shift suggests that the changes in public health restrictions and #AlohaGate scandal may have had a significant and lasting impact on support levels in the province,” they conclude, noting that suburban support for the UCP has been slipping while urban support fell 10 points during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Now, with a third COVID wave upon us, apparently driven by the government’s hurry to reopen, it will be interesting to see if that trend continues.
Yesterday, Chief Medical Officer of Health Deena Hinshaw had other physicians publicly scratching their heads when she tried to explain the government’s rationale for loosening restrictions while more infectious COVID-19 variants appear to be taking off: “If we go forward with a slight easing of those rules, it may help those who previously were having large gatherings perhaps to reconsider and scale those back,” she mused.
If you say so …
Meanwhile, the UCP continues to suffer from rebellious members in traditionally rock-solid conservative areas – although not necessarily for the same reasons as are troubling urban voters.
On St. Patrick’s Day, the Taber Times in the heart of Alberta’s deep-south Book-of-Mormon Belt, devoted considerable space to the decision by a member of the board of the UCP’s Taber-Warner constituency association to experience some “political homelessness” for a spell.
In his letter of resignation to fellow board members, Brian Hildebrand excoriated the party for abandoning its principles. “Those principles are being ignored at best, and aggressively violated at worst,” he complained. “One does not need to look far to see examples.”
The former Wildrose supporter pointed to Premier Kenney’s past statements about how he holds the pen when it comes to determining party policy. “I feel I have no other alternative” but to quit the board, he said.
Now, it must be pointed out that Mr. Hildebrand’s complaint is that the government is enforcing COVID-19 restrictions too aggressively for the liking of the UCP’s rural base.
But that’s a funny thing about politics, when the electorate is sharply polarized, sometimes a party has to pick a lane. It can’t just conclude that if everyone is complaining it must be doing something right.