Alberta Politics: The State of the Parties and Political Leaders

The State of Alberta’s Political Parties and Leaders

Redford Seen as Experienced; Wildrose is a “Breath of Fresh Air”

A new survey from Abacus Data conducted for the Sun News Network finds that although respondents were more likely to consider Alison Redford experienced to be premier, the PC Party brand faces significant challenges with voters that are likely contributing to the surge in support for the Wildrose Party.

Top of Mind Reaction to Political Parties

Top of mind, open-ended questions on the four main political parties reveal that many voters considered the PC Party to be old, arrogant, and out of touch.  While Alison Redford is strongly associated with the party brand, it is seen as an “old boys club”.  Interestingly Ed Stelmach rarely is mentioned by respondents when asked to think about the PC Party.

In contrast to the PCs, the Wildrose brand is viewed more positively with a significant number of respondents using words like new, fresh, good, and ideas to describe the parties.  Wildrose is seen as a new party with a fresh, young leader.  However, despite these positive mentions, many respondents did view the party negatively using words like extreme, scary or right-wing to describe the party.

The Liberal and NDP brands were less developed with many respondents simply writing “nothing” or “unsure” to describe the two parties.  For the NDP, many respondents mentioned words like taxes, socialist, social, union, and spend to describe the party.  More positively, the party is seen by some to care about people in the province.

The Liberal brand is strongly tied to its leader Raj Sherman and its focus on health care.  But it also suffers from a lack of definition and the general weakness of the Liberal brand in Alberta.

View the word clouds:

Party Brand Components

When asked whether certain statements applied to a particular party or not, the results present an interesting picture of the state of the party brands.

The PC brand is largely negative with large pluralities of respondents believing the party will do anything to win votes and is out of touch with ordinary people.  Few consider the PCs to be a “breath of fresh air” while only 10% believe it keeps its promises (no party did well on this statement).  More positively, the party is most likely to be seen as “ready to govern” and few consider it to be extreme or risky.  It also does well compared to the other parties on “understands the problems facing Alberta”.

Wildrose, on the other hand, is viewed as a “breath of fresh air” that “stands for clear principles” and “has sensible policies”.  But it also faces challenges about being “risky” and “extreme”.  Despite this, respondents were almost as likely to consider Wildrose “ready to govern” as the incumbent PCs indicating that despite some caution from many voters, the party isn’t considered to be unfit to govern by many respondents.

Parties and Policy

Respondents were also shown a series of policy outcomes and were asked which party they believed was best able to deal with the issue.

Overall, Wildrose had significant leads over the PCs on “keeping taxes low”, “increasing trust and accountability in government”, “and “reducing the cost of electricity”.

The PCs lead Wildrose on “managing Alberta’s oil and gas industry” and “dealing with the federal government.”

The parties were statistically tied when it came to “reducing the deficit”, managing the education system, and “dealing with municipalities”.

The NDP was considered the best party able to protect the environment.

The important issue of managing the health care system, no party had a significant advantage but Wildrose lead both the PCs and none of the above by 5-points with one in four respondents (25%) believing Wildrose was best able to manage the province’s health care system.

Party Leaders

The survey also found that Danielle Smith is personally the most popular leader in the province.  46% of respondents had a favourable impression of her compared with 29% who had an unfavourable impression.  In contrast, 43% of respondents viewed Alison Redford positively compared with 34% who viewed her unfavourably.

Of note, 51% of Albertans surveyed had a favourable impression of Stephen Harper while 32% viewed him unfavourably.  Newly elected federal NDP leader Thomas Mulcair is viewed favourably by 15% of Albertans surveyed.

Respondents were also shown a set of descriptors that could be used to describe each of the party leaders.  They were asked whether the word or statement was a good or bad description of each leader.

Overall, Danielle Smith is seen as outgoing, friendly, attractive, and intelligent by a large majority of respondents.  A majority also would describe her as a “true Albertan”.  She was also the leader most likely to be described as “down to earth”.  More troubling for the Wildrose leader is the fact that only 18% of respondents would describe her as being “experienced to be premier” and 35% considered her to be “risky.”

Premier Alison Redford’s strengths lie in her perceived experience to be premier, her intelligence, and the fact that almost a majority of respondents consider her to be “a true Albertan”.  She is also tied with Danielle Smith on trustworthiness.  Her weaknesses are based on a perception by some that she is condescending and weak.

Bottom Line

The objective of this survey was to understand some of the underlying dynamics of public opinion in Alberta around political parties and their leaders.  The survey found that the PC Party brand has been significantly weakened with words like arrogant, old, long time, and corrupt being used to describe it.  Although Alison Redford has many personal strengths and is relatively well liked, it seems that the weakness of the PC brand has caught up to the relatively new leader and is hurting her re-election efforts.

For the up-start Wildrose Party, the branding exercise clearly shows that the party is considered new, fresh, and a change.  It has certainly filled the demand by many Albertans for change.  Danielle Smith is highly popular, seen as intelligent, attractive, and down to earth.  These characteristics make the Wildrose brand very difficult to counter because attacking it also means attacking the change it represents.

But Wildrose also faces vulnerability around its leader’s experience to be premier and whether the party is a risk.  Despite this however, 27% of Albertans would describe Wildrose as “ready to lead”, only 5-points lower than the PC Party. Wildrose is also considered the best party to keep taxes low, manage the health care system, and increase trust and accountability in government.

Despite attacks on the Wildrose Party over extremism, conscience rights, and abortion, the party is not widely seen as extreme.  The attacks have likely not stuck because Danielle Smith is not seen as extreme, is well liked, and seen as empathic.

Wildrose has successfully positioned itself as a fresh voice for an electorate that is seeking change.


The survey was conducted online with 943 Albertans in English using an internet survey platform. A random sample of panelists was invited to participate in the survey from a larger internet representative panel of 150,000 Canadians.  The survey was completed from April 5 to 10, 2012.

Steps were taken to ensure that the survey respondents were representative of the population over 18 years of age.  The sample distribution was balanced to match the distribution of actual census data for age, gender, education, and region of the province.  Moreover, statistical weighting was applied to the data after the completion of the survey for age, gender, education, and region of the province.

Since the online survey was not a random, probability based sample, a margin of error could not be calculated. The margin of error for a simple random survey of 943 respondents using a probability sample is +/- 3.2%, 19 times out of 20.