EDITOR’S NOTE: CBC News commissioned this public opinion research in late March, roughly two months before Albertans vote in the next election on May 29.
As with all polls, this one is a snapshot in time.
This analysis is one in a series of articles to come out of this research.
Nearly half of all Calgarians say health care is one of the top issues they’re facing right now — and most people trust the NDP to be better managers of the system, a new poll suggests.
However, economic issues follow closely behind as top concerns, and that’s area in which the governing United Conservative Party is perceived to have the edge.
A poll of 1,000 people in Calgary — the battleground city where both main parties will focus their election campaigns — suggests a close tie between what issues they value and what party they choose.
Pollster Janet Brown, however, says what’s making this election interesting is the group of voters in the middle, concerned about both social and economic issues.
“This election is probably going to come down to those people,” Brown said.
Given how pivotal the election’s results in Alberta’s largest city will be in determining the winner, CBC News commissioned Janet Brown Opinion Research to conduct this special poll of Calgarians only.
Jobs, economy, pipelines … health-care?
During the 2019 campaign, the UCP leader at the time, Jason Kenney, spoke behind a placard that laid out his party’s idea of which issues mattered: jobs, economy, pipelines.
Those were the issues that dominated the minds of Albertans. In a Janet Brown poll the year before the election, 42 per cent of respondents cited the oil-and-gas economy’s health as a concern, making it the voters’ most pressing issue.
Kenney’s campaign messaging paid off. His UCP unseated Rachel Notley’s governing party and won nearly all seats in Calgary.
But things have changed.
“In 2019, it seemed to be strictly economic things that were on people’s minds. In this election, it’s a mix of both social and economic,” Brown said.
The newest poll, conducted in late March and early April, asked respondents what they thought the most important issues facing Calgary are today.
Forty-five per cent of Calgarians mentioned health care, up from 39 per cent in October 2022 and 25 per cent in March 2020.
Though voters may believe the NDP are best positioned to manage that issue, the UCP has made a push to carve out their own territory on the subject. On Tuesday, Smith held a pre-campaign event to offer a “guarantee” that public health care would remain public.
The poll suggests the next most important concerns are inflation and cost of living at 32 per cent, the economy at 21 per cent, and education also at 21 per cent. The oil-and-gas industry was cited by only 12 per cent of respondents.
Inflation appears less of an anxiety than it was in October, when polling found it a big issue for 37 per cent of Calgarians. Canada’s inflation rate dropped to 5.2 per cent in February from 6.9 per cent in October, and the Alberta government started offering affordability payments in January.
Calgarians also vary in regards to their priorities depending on where they live in the city. Though many people are concerned about health care, for example, it seems to be a bigger driver of voting behaviour in the north compared to in south Calgary, Brown said.
And the NDP enjoys a strong lead in northwest and northeast Calgary, while the UCP is strongest in the southern quadrants.
A matter of trust
Not everyone will head to the polls in late May thinking directly about their doctor or their paycheque.
The poll suggests that seven per cent of respondents consider the federal government and Justin Trudeau among the important issues facing the province today, while 11 per cent say Danielle Smith and the provincial government are among their chief ballot-box motivators.
There are almost two distinct categories, Brown noted, representing almost half of the population. Half are very preoccupied with social issues, health care, education and, to a lesser extent, provincial government leadership.
“Those people, by and large, are feeling very positive about the NDP,” Brown said.
Then there’s another part of the population who are very preoccupied with the economy, and aren’t paying much attention to leadership, who seem to be in the UCP camp.
The poll also asked Calgarians which party they consider best able to handle various issues. Respondents believed the UCP was best able to handle getting energy projects built, defending Alberta’s economic interests and reducing crime.
The NDP, meanwhile, was believed by respondents to be best able to handle health care, managing education and being an honest government.
“The polling shows that people see the UCP as the party of the economy, but they see the NDP as the party of social programs and quality of life,” Brown said.
LISTEN | The CBC’s Brooks DeCillia talks to pollster Janet Brown about the science behind the poll:
CBC News Calgary5:49Poll explainer
Jared Wesley, a professor of political science at the University of Alberta who leads the Common Ground project, said the big question looming over the election is whether parties can prioritize the issues that voters trust them the most on when they’re headed to the polls.
If the NDP can make this election one focused on health care, they may be in good shape, he said. Conversely, an election focused on the economy may favour the governing party, Wesley added.
“But, the best-laid plans sometimes go awry. And we’ve seen in previous campaigns where candidates’ comments come back to bite them, and that derails a party’s campaign to try to prioritize those issues,” Wesley said.
“So I’d say of all the campaigns that we’ve seen in the last several decades here in Alberta, this one’s going to be one to watch.”
CBC News’ random survey of 1,000 of Calgarians was conducted using a hybrid method between March 23 – April 6, 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 +/- 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. For subsets, the margin of error is larger.
The survey used a hybrid methodology that involved contacting survey respondents by telephone and giving them the option of completing the survey at that time, at another more convenient time, or receiving an email link and completing the survey online. Trend Research contacted people using a random list of numbers, consisting of half landlines and half cellphone numbers. Telephone numbers were dialed up to five times at five different times of day before another telephone number was added to the sample.