Undecided Voters Will Determine Alberta’s Future

Tony Coulson

Originally published on Saturday March 30, 2019 in The Globe and Mail
The Alberta election is under way, with Rachel Notley and the NDP running for a second term, while Jason Kenney and the UCP seek to unseat them.

Most polling shows the UCP to be well ahead among decided voters, but it’s worth remembering that a significant share of voters remains undecided. The undecided are often factored out of horse race-style polling analysis, but they’re a large group and some could be enticed to the polls. Stranger things have happened in politics.

Environics runs annual social values surveys to monitor the world views and motivations of Canadians. These surveys use large national samples, allowing interesting subnational analyses. Our most recent survey asked respondents about their federal and provincial vote preferences; including these questions in the survey lets us overlay partisan leanings with social values.

Overall, our Alberta numbers are consistent with the trends other pollsters are showing: UCP at about six in ten, and the NDP with the support of about one in three Albertans (the remainder choose other parties). However, the undecided have been factored out of these calculations. Including the undecided changes the picture: UCP (44%), NDP (24%) and undecided (25%).

When we use our data to drill down into the deeper values and perspectives associated with different voting intentions, we see that the contrast between UCP and NDP partisans could hardly be starker. It’s almost as significant as the gap between Republicans and Democrats in the United States.

UCP supporters are, not surprisingly, conservative in their values. They respect tradition and authority, prefer traditional family models, have a strong work ethic, enjoy a challenge and prefer limited rather than activist government. UCP supporters also worry about their financial futures and prioritize economic development over environmental protection. Some are less open to newcomers, expressing sentiments such as xenophobia and a desire that immigrants assimilate into the “mainstream” culture.

NDP supporters are on the opposite end of the spectrum on many of the values that define UCP supporters. NDP partisans question traditional authority, are open to flexible definitions of family, and support active government. They believe in environmental protection, strive to live an ecological lifestyle, and try to be ethical consumers. They are active in their communities, civically engaged, open to multiculturalism, and enjoy learning from others and about different cultures. They seek fulfilment through their work, enjoy being creative, distrust advertising, and appreciate brands they consider genuine.

What about undecided Albertans? Do their values give any clues about how they might tilt on election day? Unsurprisingly, there are some indications that they may not vote at all. Some express feelings of alienation from society, for example.

undecided are not necessarily alienated and disengaged; they also have values in common with NDP and UCP supporters

But the undecided are not necessarily alienated and disengaged; they also have values in common with NDP and UCP supporters. They align with the NDP in their flexibility on social issues: They’re open to different family models, favour gender equality and embrace “social learning” – the idea that we’re enriched by contact with different types of people. NDP supporters also share their environmental values and ethical consumerism with the undecided, as well as a desire to achieve personal fulfilment through work.

The undecided have somewhat less in common with UCP supporters. But there’s room for the UCP to connect on values such as confidence in big business. Although they may not be conventionally religious, the undecided are also attracted to the idea of a personal spiritual quest – another area of possible convergence with the UCP.

As the NDP seeks a path to re-election, the votes of the undecided will be critical. Based on their values, it’s unlikely that many UCP supporters will switch to the NDP. The best the NDP might hope for is that some conservatives stay home on election day.

For the UCP, however, their path will be built on maintaining the support of their partisans and leaners, and perhaps working to keep the undecided from voting NDP.


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