Smith vs. Notley & the Presidentialization of Alberta Politics
How Albertans feel about the leaders and what it means for the election
For the entire Alberta election, I’ll be writing and sharing data exclusive to paid subscribers of this newsletter. For those who aren’t subscribers, you’ll be able to read some of my analysis, but to get everything, including far more data, please subscribe for just $10/month. That helps pay for the data I use in these analyses.
Last Wednesday, my polling firm Abacus Data released the first report from our pre-election Alberta survey. We surveyed 1,000 eligible voters from April 21 to 25. We also released some new data on the top issues on Friday.
It’s expected that the provincial election will officially begin today and I expect a lot of focus over the coming weeks to be centred around two people: UCP leader Danielle Smith and NDP leader Rachel Notley. Either could be the premier after the vote and both have been premier.
We know from both academic research and the polling that’s made publicly available that the perceived image and likability of a party leader can significantly influence voters' choices.
Studies have shown that the personal attributes of a political leader, such as charisma, trustworthiness, and competence, often play a vital role in determining electoral outcomes. In Canada's multi-party system, voters are more likely to be swayed by the personal appeal of a leader rather than ideological or policy differences between parties.
Moreover, the increasing importance of mass media and social media platforms in shaping public opinion has heightened the impact of a leader's image on voting behavior. Consequently, Canadian elections have become increasingly leader-centric, with voters placing greater emphasis on the personality traits and images of party leaders when making their voting decisions.
In Alberta, this has been taken to a new level given the polarizing views Albertans have towards their political choices. Moreover, Albertans face a choice between the current premier and a long-time political actor in the province in Danielle Smith, and a former premier, Rachel Notley. They have the benefit of having seen both perform in the role they are campaigning for. That’s a rare experience for voters to have.
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In this post, I wanted to share some data on how Albertans feel about the two individuals who are most likely to be Premier after the election.
Here’s what we found:
Rachel Notley has a slightly better favourable rating than Danielle Smith.
UCP leader Danielle Smith is viewed positively by 34% of Albertans and viewed negatively by 43% for a net rating of -9. Notley’s positives and negatives are equal giving her a net rating of 0.
Since our last survey in February, Smith’s negatives are up 3 and negatives are up 3. For Notley, her image hasn’t changed much at all, her positives and negatives are both down 1 point since our last survey - no real change at all.
In all important Calgary, the image of the two leaders is almost identical. Smith’s net rating is -6 while Notley’s is -5.
Both Leaders are Polarizing
In a two-party system like Alberta is at the moment, we should expect a high degree of polarization between the two leaders.
The table below shows the extent to which UCP supporters dislike Notley and NDP supporters dislike Smith and vice versa.
Personality Traits and What People Think of Smith and Notley
Beyond overall impressions, my survey also asked respondents to rate both leaders on several descriptors or traits. Albertans were asked whether they thought a statement described each leader.
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