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Albertans think Danielle Smith is bad on affordability. Here’s why she isn’t paying for it

Poll suggests the premier isn't getting blamed for housing crisis or higher cost of living, but health care and municipal relations have emerged as liabilities

What is driving disapproval of UCP? Health care and city relations, poll shows

UCP leader Danielle Smith walks in a suburban neighbourhood with candidate Matt Jones.

EDITOR'S NOTE: CBC News commissioned this public opinion research in April, leading into the first anniversary of the United Conservative Party's general election win last May. The poll offers insight into how Albertans feel about Danielle Smith's UCP government and the Opposition NDP.

As with all polls, this one provides a snapshot in time. This analysis is one in a series of articles from this research.


The three most important issues to Albertans are health care, the cost of living and housing affordability — and fewer than one-third of Albertans think the provincial government is handling any of those files well, according to the latest batch of Janet Brown's polling for CBC News.

You might think these findings of public opinion ought to set off multiple fits of panic in Premier Danielle Smith's office. The big three issues, and they're all stinkers for the United Conservative government?

But Brown, arguably the most respected pollster in Alberta, has been doing this long enough to know how to dig into her own data to reach a less simplistic conclusion. She sees reasons why Team Smith probably won't be sweating the low scores on affordability or housing — yet — and flags other issues that could spell trouble for the premier against the Alberta NDP.

That deeper dive involves correlation analysis. (Please, don't throw your screen across the room or switch away to your word-puzzle app! I'll try my best to make sense of this! I'll even throw in a fast-food soda analogy!)

To really dig into which strengths and weaknesses the UCP (and its opposition) should sweat, Brown compared the government's approval rating on various issues to its overall approval rating. Does an Albertan's like or dislike of the UCP's handling of, say, the gender file drive its total impression of this government, or are people more likely to feel good or bad about the provincial handling of education regardless of how they feel about the UCP?

Then, Brown's team produces this chart:

Clear yet? No? Fine.

Let me try a comparison that should be quicker than an early Sunday trip for drive-thru coffee.

In a past job, Brown did opinion research for a large fast-food chain. She produced a similar piece of analysis and chart for her corporate client.

For that restaurant, the issue that everybody seemed to support but it didn't drive people's overall impression (the top left corner of this chart) was its charitable donations — whoop-dee-doo, burger joint. Many disapproved of dirty bathrooms, but it wasn't a love-or-hate motivator for people (bottom left). This meant patrons expect untidy bathrooms, so at least they will keep eating there despite the ickiness.

The strong-suit issue that correlated with customers' support (top right) was hot and crispy fries — keep serving up those, and people would come back. What people disapproved of, and found to be a turn-off (bottom right), was how fizzy the soft drinks were. Based on this data, Brown recalls, the chain invested millions in better soda fountains to keep customers satisfied and their thirst quenched.

Red meat

Back to provincial politics.

This government's core strengths, its hot and crispy fries, would be its stewardship of the economy and finances, its climate and environment policies (or perhaps lack thereof) and especially its approach to the federal government. The public believes Smith is doing well in those areas, and they're getting noticed for it, and probably want to keep doing it to stay in Albertans' good books, Brown said.

The equivalent to the fast-food chain's charity works is the Alberta government's management of wildfires, floods and other natural disasters. The big meh.

Albertans are broadly satisfied, regardless of how they feel about the government — the UCP won't get much credit for doing a fine job, just like nobody really flocked to support the Rachel Notley NDP because of how well its administration responded to the Fort McMurray wildfire in 2016.

It's going to sound awkward comparing affordable housing to dirty fast-food bathrooms, but stay with me on this.

The issues in the bottom-left corner of Brown's chart, housing and cost of living, are not proving to be make-or-break issues for the Smith government, according to the pollster. They're areas of dissatisfaction, but they're not driving overall dissatisfaction with the UCP.

"It's not like the public is holding them to account on those," Brown said.

The traditional political observation has been that there's little a government can do to ease inflation or shift the real-estate market, and that voters often realize that.

Things appear different in 2024. Federal Conservative Leader Pierre Poilievre has consistently hammered Prime Minister Justin Trudeau on living costs and housing affordability — and it might have not only battered the federal Liberals' standing in polls, but it could have also meant Albertans are far less likely to blame these cost pressures on their provincial government.

While the last affordability cheques went out a year ago, and provincial fuel taxes have gone up from where they were a year ago, Smith doesn't appear to be ignoring the affordability files. The party continues to look at auto insurance reform, along with an overhaul of the electricity market.

Bad taste in their mouths

The issues in the last box are the ones that bode ill for the UCP, in the same way that burger chain had to get its fizzy-drink house in order to prevent losing customers. "If it's in the bottom right-hand box, these are things that matter to people, but they're not happy with the way governments manage them," Brown said.

While it's only really the naysayers that don't believe Smith's crew is providing honest government, ask former premiers Jason Kenney, Alison Redford or Jim Prentice how quickly the bottom can fall out on that measure.

Then there's how they deal with governments even closer to home. "It seems like the way they deal with the federal government, that's something they should continue because that's a strength for them," Brown said. "But the way they're dealing with the municipal governments — that matters to people, but people aren't nearly as happy with what they're doing in that area."

To ease tensions with mayors in big- and small-town Alberta, the Smith government has diluted the powers it sought to wield over municipalities. It appears it's not helping. So watch that space — a two-front provincial war with the feds and municipal councils may prove too much for voters to bear.

Then there's health care, which always has the potential to be an albatross around a premier's neck. Albertans think the government is mismanaging this crucial file, and it appears to be driving down the UCP's overall approval rating, according to Brown's polling.

Smith's dismantling of Alberta Health Services into four pieces appears to be her big idea for solving the system's various crunches and crises. Taxpayer-funded provincial TV ads now suggest the reorganization will somehow mean fewer patients in emergency-room waiting areas.

That whole move is a high-stakes gamble, designed to ease the public's drive to blame the UCP for what's ailing the health system. Smith will want to prevent it from falling as flat as non-fizzy cola.

West of Centre43:24Number nerds unite!

We’ve assembled a panel of number nerds to dissect our CBC news poll which shows support for the UCP remains roughly the same as it did when the party was elected nearly a year ago. But the NDP is not far behind. Pollster Janet Brown breaks down the numbers along with the CBC’s Jason Markusoff and Duane Bratt of Mount Royal University.


The CBC News random survey of 1,200 Albertans was conducted using a hybrid method between May 1 and May 15 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 +/- 2.8 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 40 per cent landlines and 60 per cent 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. The response rate among valid numbers (i.e. residential and personal) was 11.7 per cent.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Jason Markusoff

Producer and writer

Jason Markusoff analyzes what's happening — and what isn't happening, but probably should be — in Calgary, Alberta and sometimes farther afield. He's written in Alberta for more than two decades, previously reporting for Maclean's magazine, Calgary Herald and Edmonton Journal. He appears regularly on Power and Politics' Power Panel and various other CBC current affairs shows. Reach him at jason.markusoff@cbc.ca

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    Credit belongs to : www.cbc.ca

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