It has been a couple hectic weeks in Alberta Politics. And the discussions on a united right and #centretogether expanding. While there is still equity in the PCAA brand, when distributed over the united options, while there is strength for the United Right (and solidly so outside of urban centres, there are still questions about where Centrists will vote.
One of the challenges of polling in any political polling is to first get behind the numbers but also to get a sense of what is driving voters’ motivations. Further, it is imperative that pollsters improve their ability to triangulate diverse data sources and looking at “necessary and sufficient conditions” to bring depth to the fundamentals of tracking the zeitgeist of the electorate. Experimenting with an online data collection platform (see note below*), we are investigating the anchors of how uniting efforts are altering Alberta’s electoral math.
Alberta politics is never dull. In just over two weeks, we had a closed-door meeting in Red Deer to discuss uniting the centre, PCAA top staff Troy Wason sign a contract with the Alberta Party, members of PCAA boards resigning for various reasons, AB Discussions of an early election, and Jason Kenney holding a news conference saying that they are close unifying the Wildrose and PC Parties. All this amidst an NDP pilot of $25/day daycare across 22 centres. I have likely missed some events, but it emphasizes that the government continues to press on, while opposition parties are attempting to consolidate into two clear ideological factions of centrist and right-of-centre conservatives.
Mainstreet’s methodology lists party name and leader to test voter support, ie. the NDP led by Rachel Notley, The Progressive Conservatives led by Jason Kenney.
“The movement that we’ve seen is mainly beneficial for the NDP. The PCs have dropped to 33% support in Calgary (from 38%) and the NDP are up one point to 27% with the Wildrose following at 24%. The PCs have made ground outside the urban centres however where they are up to 30% from 27%.”
“As discussions continue surrounding a potential merger, we asked Albertans who they would prefer to see as leader of the merged party. 29% told us Brian Jean with a further 24% citing Mr. Kenney, the remainder are not sure or would prefer someone else. This is an increase in support for Mr. Kenney from last month. Wildrose Voters prefer Mr. Jean (42% support) while PC Voters prefer Mr. Kenney (36%). There is a significant gap between Mr. Jean and Mr. Kenney among Wildrose supporters but they are more or less evenly matched among Wildrose voters.”
So that’s one perspective. With the unite-the-centre discussion now in the mix (and the push on the #CentreTogether hashtag) and Alberta Liberal Party leadership hopeful Kerry Cundal indicating she is interested in uniting the centre, I felt there was a need to consider the electoral math.
First off, I decided to run a question using Google Surveys* (see note below) with a “United Right” and and a “New Centrist Party” (April 27-29). Looking at the results, I realized the error in looking at this in isolation and quickly did a voter intentions survey (April 30-May 2) with all parties in their existing configuration. Let’s discuss the latter question first.
First off, the “Don’t Know/Unsures” are a combination of “Not eligible/No Interest/Don’t Vote” to identify those who have indicated that they are outside of the electoral process (by and without choice).
It is clear that there remains equity in the PC Party brand – solidly at 30% with the electorate and strongest in Calgary and surrounding areas of Edmonton. But there remains a lot of traffic on either side of the fence with both the NDP and Wildrose Party near the same level of support. Regionally, the NDP have a solid hold on Edmonton, and the Wildrose in the Southern Alberta. The Wildrose and PCs are close in the central and northern parts of Alberta.
Let’s now return to the “united anchor” poll that I conducted just before the intentions one.
In this poll, the “unsures” match up closely with the intentions one that wrapped up a few days after. So, there is some comfort that we are able to isolate a voting population.
Right away, it is obvious, as suspected and anticipated, that a United Right becomes an immediate force to be reckoned with. This supports the belief among conservatives that their path to power is via unification. And the pickups appear to be in traditional Wildrose and PC strongholds. But let’s get a bit behind the numbers.
- 1+1 does not equal 2: As we have seen with Board resignations, there are a number of PCAA members that are not comfortable merging with the Wildrose. If this was clear merger and everyone onboard, a “United Right” would be a preferred option for over 55% of the electorate. It is not. It appears that the Wildrose gains about 40% of the PC Party support, and in the end, it appears that about 40% of voters are in the United Right camp.
- Where do the the rest of PCs go? Relative to other parties, the Alberta Party appears to pick up 20% of the PC vote. Another 1 in 6 goes towards an undefined “New Centrist Party,” With the balance to the Liberals. This would support the notion of the move of some PCs to the Alberta Party and there is an appetite for a centrist option.
- Support for the United Right is significantly older and male: Alberta’s cities have among the lowest mean age of major cities across Canada. Among under 35 years voters, there is stronger support for the NDP and Liberals. For 35-54 years voters, they favour a United Right (41%) option in a distribution that reflects the decided voter population. However, for 55 years+ voters, a majority favour a United Right (54%). Decided male voters (44%) favour a United Right versus a closer spread between a United Right and the NDP among women (data are in the tables below). Some would venture this confirms what many sense in the support for such unification of conservatives.
- With a Centrist and Right anchor, NDP support is consistent. In both surveys, the NDP vote remains close to 30% of the electorate. Thus, it appears that a “Left Anchor” is clearly established. While they appear to retain support in Edmonton, they pick up some support in Southern Alberta. And support is generally consistent across all age groups.
- Aggregate Centrist/Alberta Party/Alberta Liberal support is on par with the NDP: While we know the sum of the parts never equal a whole (see bullet point #1 above), if we tally these three from the “United Anchors” survey, we get the sense that the residual of the NDP and a United Right fall in line with expectations of “all other voters,” yet distributed across three (3) entities with one (Liberals) that has consistently questioned cooperation/merging. Of note, Alberta Party and Alberta Liberal Party support skews the youngest among the decided in the “United Anchor” poll.
This research, while a snapshot and its imperfections, raises a few questions.
- Is the 41% support for the “United Right” a ceiling or a starting point?
- Is that 41% support enough to create winning conditions in an election two years from now?
- Is 30% a reasonable target for a #CentreTogether initiative at this time?
- Should a centrist party emerge or not, and the support for a United Right remain steady, what would centrist supporters do in an election? Will they remain steady? Will they seek support from NDP supporters? Or will they support the NDP to fend off a United Right? Or will voters parse the two – support the NDP in Edmonton and Southern Alberta, and a united centrist option elsewhere?
No doubt, internal polls will explore some of these phenomena. However, given a host of data (e.g., voting patterns, polls with choice-based analysis), It is my belief that a successful merger of the Wildrose and PCs will attain a core, stable support with little room to grow. It will be a formidable force in an election and have established some pillars for victory. However, one thing the PCs have learned from and benefited over the years, something further right that what they have to offer – especially anything rooted in social conservatism – is not saleable in urban Alberta. Thus, at this point, the malleability of a fractured centre needs to be considered carefully across all parties and unification efforts.
At some point, I will run a poll with a “United Centre” option – a merger of the Alberta Party, Alberta Liberals and residual PCAA – instead of a “New Centrist Party” – to assess to see how that breaks down. Stay tuned.
For more information, contact Brian F. Singh, 403.861.9462.
* THESE SURVEYS WERE CONDUCTED VIA GOOGLE SURVEYS OVER (APRIL 27-29, 2017 AND APRIL 30-MAY 2, 2017). GOOGLE SURVEYS USES A COMBINATION OF BAYESIAN, RIVER-SAMPLING METHODOLOGY ONLINE AND MOBILE AND TAPPING INTO GOOGLE COMMUNITIES TO YIELD A POPULATION REFLECTIVE SAMPLE OF BC’S POPULATION. HENCE, NO MARGIN OF ERROR IS REPORTED. OF NOTE, BC HAS A HIGH PENETRATION RATE OF MOBILE USAGE IN NORTH AMERICA, AND BROADBAND INTERNET ACCESS EXCEEDS LAND LINE USAGE. GOOGLE SURVEYS CONTINUES TO BE RATED FAVOURABLY (RATED BY 538: B), AND WAS USED EXTENSIVELY BY BRIAN F. SINGH IN HIS WORK ON BRIAN BOWMAN’S SUCCESSFUL MAYORAL CAMPAIGN IN THE 2014 WINNIPEG MUNICIPAL ELECTION, AND DURING THE ALBERTA AND FEDERAL ELECTIONS IN 2015. GOOGLE SURVEYS IS BUT ONE METHODOLOGY IN A POLLSTERS TOOLKIT WHILE NOT DEFINITIVE (AS HAS BEEN WITNESSED WITH OTHER POLLING METHODS), IT PROVIDES QUALITY DIRECTIONAL DATA THAT IS ABLE TO STAND ON ITS OWN AND IN CONCERT WITH OTHER MODES OF DATA COLLECTION, AND WE CROSS VALIDATE ITS FINDINGS FROM OTHER POLLING FIRMS THAT USE OTHER FORMS OF TRADITIONAL POLLING.