Janet Brown

Not only are the Progressive Conservatives the most popular political party in Alberta, but Premier Alison Redford enjoys a commanding lead in public confidence among the province’s political leaders, the province’s latest poll says.

Premier Redford’s leadership has the approval of 62 per cent of Albertans — almost two thirds of the province’s voters — according to the survey by Trend Research of Edmonton, which was published yesterday.

This is the second poll in as many days that shows Redford’s PCs far ahead of all opposition parties in public esteem. But this one adds the information that the premier herself more popular than her own party. Both polls were in the field at the same time.

By comparison to Redford’s approval rating, Wildrose Leader Danielle Smith, Leader of the Opposition in the provincial Legislature, has the approval of only 42 per cent of Albertans, says the survey, which was conducted for well-known pollster Janet Brown and political newsletter publisher Paul McLoughlin.

That their leader has the approval of fewer than half of the province’s voters while the premier has the confidence of more than two thirds in a methodologically sound poll taken while the government party was in the midst of a swirling controversy over public health care executives’ expense accounts cannot be called good news for the market fundamentalist Wildrose Party.

The Trend poll — the results of which were published in Alberta Scan, McLoughlin’s subscription-only newsletter — also shows approval among Albertans province-wide for Alberta NDP Leader Brian Mason at 33 per cent, and for Alberta Liberal Leader Raj Sherman at 32 per cent. Alberta Scan is not available online.

On the relative popularity among committed voters of Alberta’s political parties, the Trend poll’s results were very similar to those of the survey by Environics Research Group that was published on Thursday and reported on this blog yesterday.

Like the new information about leader popularity, this seeming confirmation of Environics’ results, which could not be called particularly good news for the Wildrose Party or Smith, adds up to more grief for Alberta’s market fundamentalists and the province’s rural rump of social conservative zealots.

The Trend poll shows support among committed voters for Redford’s PCs at 49 per cent — an increase from 44 per cent in the April 23 provincial election. By comparison, the survey placed support for the Wildrose Party at 27 per cent, down seven points from 34 per cent on election day. Trend had the Alberta Liberals at 12 per cent and the NDP at 10 per cent province-wide. Nineteen per cent indicated they were undecided.

By comparison, Environics’ numbers showed the Tories at 43 per cent, Wildrose at 26, Liberals at 14, NDP at 13 and undecided at 13.

The trend poll was conducted between Aug. 10 and Aug. 20. Environics was in the field between Aug. 10 and Aug. 22. Because the dates are so similar, concluding that the Trend poll is more bad news for the Wildrose Party carries the same caveat as yesterday’s analysis of the Environics numbers.

To wit: Voters who may not have blamed Premier Redford for the expense account scandal at Capital Health, which happened long before Alberta Health Services was created let alone before her watch began, may still be upset at other uproars that have made news since. These include the closing of a planned police college and a viable nursing home for dementia patients in a Wildrose riding, plus a fiscal update that indicates the province will post a bigger deficit in 2012 that previously forecast.

Then again, they may not. Voters who are disinclined to vote for more progressive parties may nevertheless weigh Redford’s sins, real and imagined, against the radical market fundamentalism and extreme social conservatism of the Wildrose Party and decide to overlook a year or two more of deficit financing and a failure to pander to rural ridings that vote for the opposition.

The Trend poll of 900 Albertans is considered accurate with a margin of error plus or minus 3.3 per cent 19 times out of 20.

Some readers will naturally wonder, as did political analyst David Heyman in a comment on Facebook about yesterday’s post, if “polling in Alberta was rendered irrelevant after the last election, surely?”

Perhaps, but I tend to think that the spectacular failure of Alberta’s pre-election polling was driven by several factors, not all of which can be used to discredit the work of responsible pollsters like Brown and Environics.

First, of course, the electorate was volatile and voting decisions were affected by the famous bozo eruptions of some social conservative Wildrose candidates. So polls that may have been accurate on April 19 obviously weren’t accurate any more by April 23.

Second, however, was the addition of several poor quality polls to the mix — some of which may in fact have been deceptive push polls designed to produce results that would boost the Wildrose Party’s chances.

Finally, it is said here, the work of poll aggregators who lumped the results of several polls together created a misleading picture when some of the poorer quality polls were included.

Whatever happened, it illustrates that while polls remain valuable tools that are worth reporting, they need to be taken with the appropriate grain of salt.

This post also appears on David Climenhaga’s blog, Alberta Diary.

David J. Climenhaga

David Climenhaga, author of the Alberta Diary blog, is a journalist, author, journalism teacher, poet and trade union communicator who has worked in senior writing and editing positions with the Globe...