Danielle Smith loses Alberta moderate midfielder. Now she will try to get them back

EDITOR’S NOTE: CBC News and The Road Ahead commissioned this public opinion research in mid-October, beginning six days after Danielle Smith won the leadership of the United Conservative Party.

As with all polls, this one is a snapshot in time.

This analysis is part of a series of articles resulting from this research. Other stories will follow.

hours after her victory in the by-elections last week, Danielle Smith led her Twitter feed on fighting inflation. Among a series of tweets, one stood out: a serious Photo of herself listening to a group of women who might pass for a stock image of suburban mothers. The infographic in the tweet pledged to examine utility costs and target government assistance to the cost of living.

His long-awaited pivot was taking on more solid form – from grievance politics popular with his conservative base to day-to-day concerns of rising food and fuel prices, and bottlenecks in hospital emergency rooms. of the province.

In her by-election victory speech, she pledged to take “substantial and unprecedented action to help Albertans and their families.”

Smith sparked the leadership race for the ruling United Conservative Party (UCP) with fiery anti-Ottawa rhetoric and a sovereignty bill.

Then, on the day she rose to the province’s top job, Smith sparked even more controversy with her controversial claim that the unvaccinated were the “most discriminated group— in keeping with his view on COVID restrictions that only a minority of Albertans seem to share.

Unlike his predecessors, Smith didn’t have the usual honeymoon glow of a new leader. CBC News’ recent Road Ahead poll suggests the NDP leads the UCP in the preferences of voters, 47% against 38.

A deep dive into the data highlights the disconnect between Smith’s rhetoric and the more moderate values ​​held by most Albertans — especially in urban areas — on issues ranging from the environment to pandemic management. UCP’s path to victory looks steep. That requires picking up moderate voters, who currently prefer the NDP by more than 30 percentage points, the poll says.

“You see a population that’s becoming more temperate, more moderate, more centrist at a time when it looks like the ruling party is becoming more militant,” said pollster Janet Brown, who conducted the survey. to research for CBC News.

brown and other longtime Alberta political observers say it would be politically strategic for Smith to turn to the values ​​of most voters in the Prairie province now.

But can she?

Alberta values ​​and voters

The CBC News poll asked a random sample of 1,200 Alberta voters more than a dozen ‘value’ questions, ranging from government’s role in the economy to social issues such as immigration and equality. .

And while politicians’ barbed words and pugilist rhetoric about the pandemic may make our politics seem bitterly polarized, polling data suggests Albertans aren’t as divided. A large soft core of Alberta voters retain rather centrist values.

“There are strong groups at either end of the political spectrum, and these are the people whose voices tend to be heard in the public sphere. The majority of voters in the center are listening,” said political scientist Lisa Young of the University of Calgary, reviewing the findings.

Using 15 surveyswe have extracted five factors – or underlying constructs – that are correlated or clustered: economic conservatism, populism, Western disaffection, cultural conservatism, and energy and the environment.

We then aggregated or clustered these value scores to understand how political values ​​shape and eventually predict voting choice in Alberta. We have divided Alberta into five groups of voters:

  • The coherent left includes 15% of Albertans. This group is consistently left-wing on everything from the environment to the role of government in the economy. Unsurprisingly, 93% of this group intends to vote for the NDP.

  • The consistent law represents 18% of Alberta voters. The values ​​of this cluster are always right wing on issues such as immigration or doing more for indigenous peoples. The UCP has a lock on 71 percent of those voters.

  • The middle moderate includes the largest group – 42 percent of voters. This group, for the most part, has centrist values, but leans slightly to the right on culturally conservative values ​​such as immigration and more help for indigenous people. He also leans slightly left on economic issues, energy/environment and disaffection with the West. Fifty-two percent of this large group say they will vote for the NDP, while 20 percent will vote for Smith and the UCP – a substantial lead for the opposition party among this pivotal segment of voters. This group tends to live in urban areas. Areas outside of Edmonton and Calgary are often incorrectly referred to as “rural Alberta”. But according to this data, residents of Red Deer have more values ​​in common with residents of Calgary and Edmonton than with residents of a small town like Coronation east of Red Deer.

  • The least culturally conservative right represents 14% of voters. This group skews to the right on most value dimensions, with the exception of culturally conservative values, where it skews slightly to the left. Moreover, it is more to the right than the second group on economic issues, energy/environment and disaffection with the West. The majority of this group (81%) intends to vote UCP.

  • Potential swing voters represents 11% of Alberta voters. This group has a mix of value positions: more left on populism and cultural issues, more right on Western disaffection and right on energy/environment. The vote choice for this group favors the NDP, with 51%, and the UCP with 18%. Interestingly, 12% of this group are “orphan voters,” that is, they did not offer a preferred party when asked the question in the survey. The remaining 11% of this group intends to vote for other Alberta parties, including the Liberals, Greens and Alberta Party.

There is no doubt that group three – the “moderate middle” – is the big winner in the provincial elections scheduled for next May.

The politics of values

Expect the UCP and NPD to try to capture the “moderate middle” group identified in CBC News’ data analysis.

“This group is really going to decide the election and the direction of the province for the foreseeable future,” Young said. “They’re flexible…they’re open to moving, to voting for a party they see as closer to their values, but also competent.”

Smith’s supposed pivot toward inflation — and what her team perceives suburban mothers want — suggests the UCP is intent on going after moderate women, an important group of voters.

“My feeling is that what she has in mind is that there are suburban women who are available to her … with the hope that they will perhaps bring their spouse with them,” said Young.

Four in 10 Albertans fall into the “moderate average” – mostly centrist in their views on issues, but some lean right on some cultural issues and left on economic and environmental issues. Smith’s UCP is far behind Rachel Notley’s NPD with this group. (Ose Irete/CBC)

There is no doubt that the NDP will continue to direct its political messages to this group as well. This group — and in particular the Calgary moderates — will likely determine who wins next May’s vote.

Remember that the New Democrats lead the UCP by 32 points in this group of moderate voters. No surprise, the party is recent Messaging focused on affordability, health care and an economic diversification plan.

“They must continue to portray themselves as a capable centrist alternative, government-in-waiting. Rachel Notley should act as if she is already prime minister,” Young added.

Brown calls the NDP’s big lead with middle voters historically remarkable, pointing out that traditionally the old Progressive Conservative Party was the “big tent party” that moved with mainstream public opinion, while NDP policies were guided more by its core progressive ideology. Brown says that seems to have flipped.

“We have the NDP, who are trying to broaden their appeal, whose policies are closer to mainstream public opinion. ‘get elected in 2023,'” Brown said.

She also thinks the best way for the UCP to get votes is to better align its rhetoric with the values ​​of the majority of Albertans.

“The reason UCP isn’t very popular right now is because they’re not talking about the right issues,” Brown said.

But Brown points out that it took Smith a while to move from talking about sovereignty and COVID-19 to other issues and values ​​that reflect the majority of Albertans’ attitudes.

“She seems reluctant to make this pivot. So the question will be whether Albertans will see this pivot as genuine or will they just see it as a cynical attempt to get elected?”

CBC News’ random poll of 1,200 Albertans was conducted using a hybrid method between October 12 and October 30, 2022 by Edmonton-based Trend Research under the direction of Janet Brown Opinion Research. The sample is representative of regional, age and gender factors. The margin of error is +/- 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. For subsets, the margin of error is greater.

The survey used a hybrid methodology which involved contacting respondents by phone and giving them the option to complete the survey at that time, at another more convenient time, or receive a link via email. and complete the online survey. Trend Research contacted people using a random list of numbers, half landlines and half cellphone numbers. Phone numbers were dialed up to five times at five different times of the day before another phone number was added to the sample. The response rate among valid numbers (ie, residential and personal) was 16.3%.

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