One day before United Conservative Party Leader Danielle Smith and New Democratic Party Leader Rachel Notley are set to square off in a provincial election debate, newly published polling results suggest the race to become premier remains incredibly close and Thursday night’s debate could play a factor in the political contest.
In a recent Global/Ipsos poll that asked for opinions from 800 Albertans who are eligible to vote, 43 per cent of respondents said Thursday’s televised leaders debate “will be an important factor in my vote decision.” Another 40 per cent disagreed with that statement while 16 per cent said they don’t know.
“We’re always hopeful that a debate is going to make a difference in an election as close as this — it certainly can,” Kyle Braid, senior vice-president at Ipsos, told Global News while speaking about the results that were published on Wednesday. “We’ve got 43 per cent of voters saying that it’s going to be an important factor in their decision.
“So with it as close as this, there is always the chance that the debate is going to be something that is going to sway that little portion of voters that’s going to make the difference to get to 44 seats and a majority.”
Duane Bratt, a political science professor at Mount Royal University, told Global News that debates normally don’t have a significant impact on the vote, but added that “the 2015 debate did matter.”
“That is when the NDP surged,” he said. “So 2023 will matter. It is the first time that we have had a two-person debate, let alone between two (people who have served as) premiers.
“The purpose of the debate is not just to swing undecided voters, but conservative voters might stay home if Smith has a poor performance.”
For months, political commentators have speculated that the race to form Alberta’s next government could be an incredibly close one between the UCP and NDP. Wednesday’s polling results show 48 per cent of decided and leaning voters say they support the UCP, and 45 per cent say they favour the NDP.
“There’s a lot of numbers here but perhaps the only one that really matters is that nothing has changed since the start of the campaign,” Braid said. “We started it with the UCP with a narrow lead.
“We are still in a situation with the UCP with a narrow lead and the NDP is still leading by a huge margin in Edmonton and the UCP is still leading by a huge margin in the rest of Alberta.
“It really comes down to the races in Calgary where it continues to essentially be a statistical dead heat.”
“We knew it was going to be a close race, and this is evidence of how close,” Bratt said, before also noting that at the end of the day, the parties’ level of support in Calgary is what will likely be most important.
“If it is close in Calgary, then the UCP win the election. The NDP need a super majority of seats in the city, so even a small lead is not good enough for them.”
The polling results suggest which party Albertans support could be influenced by the voter’s gender. Among respondents who have decided their vote, or are leaning towards a particular party, the UCP had the support of 52 per cent of male respondents compared to 39 per cent supporting the NDP. But when it came to females, 51 per cent supported the NDP with 44 per cent for the UCP.
“We have a gender gap in Alberta,” Braid said. “It’s pretty typical of what we see on the left-right spectrum … across the country.
“Among men, if they were the only ones voting, this would be a landslide for the UCP .. Among women, it’s a little closer but it’s certainly an edge to the NDP.”
Bratt also said the gender gap has traditionally existed across North America. He added that “it is clear that the UCP focus is on suburban women in Calgary.”
“You see that with the highlighting of Rebecca Schulz and the emphasis on crime and child care funding,” he said. “Likewise, the public health guarantee is about trying to lower the gender gap.”
Braid noted while the race remains very close, he believes there could be an opportunity for both the UCP and NDP to capture more of the undecided vote by trying to focus more on the issues that some polls have suggested are most important to voters.
“In our earlier polling, the one issue that really stood out was cost of living, affordability (and) inflation,” he said. “And that is still an open contest for a party to capture the vote in this election.
“We asked about who is best to deal with it, it’s the UCP by one tiny little point viewed as better than the NDP. So really, that’s an issue that’s open for either side to capture to get those voters who are still available. There’s probably not a lot of available voters out there but they are concerned about cost of living.”
Braid said he believes winning votes in Alberta’s largest city will continue to be the most important task for any party hoping to form the government this election.
“The battle in this election is certainly in Calgary.”
Global News will be co-hosting a special presentation of the 2023 Alberta Provincial Leaders Debate with CTV News on Thursday, May 18 at 6 p.m.
METHODOLOGY: These are the findings of a Global/Ipsos poll conducted between May 10 and 13, 2023. For this survey, a sample of 800 Alberta eligible voters was interviewed online. These data have been weighted by age, gender, region and education to reflect the Alberta population according to Census figures. The precision of Ipsos polls conducted online is measured using a credibility interval. In this case, the results are accurate to within ±3.9 percentage points, 19 times out of 20, had all eligible voters been polled. The credibility interval will be wider among subsets of the population. All sample surveys and polls may be subject to other sources of error, including, but not limited to coverage error, and measurement error. Ipsos abides by the disclosure standards established by the CRIC.