1) A new right-wing conservative party combining Alberta PCs and Wildrose;
2) The Alberta NDP; and
3) A new centrist party made up of some combination of moderate PCs, the Alberta Party and/or the Alberta Liberals. (We also accepted other options, including none of the above, too early to tell, another party, or don’t know.)
For now, this is a fantasy electoral landscape, but the results are nonetheless interesting and potentially informative for strategists and observers across the spectrum. About half of Albertans said they would vote for the united right, 21 per cent chose the united centre, while 14 per cent picked the NDP. ( Fourteen per cent gave another answer, such as none of the above or too soon to tell.)
We tested the firmness of the preferences people expressed by asking whether they were sure or might change their mind. Only about half of those who chose a main party (united right, united centre or NDP) said they’re certain that’s how they would vote, while half say they could change their mind. Supporters of the new right-wing option and of the NDP are the most firm in their choices; in each case, about six in 10 said they are certain to vote for their choice. Only about a quarter of united-centre supporters are certain of their choice – not surprising, since this option is largely theoretical.
In short, the united right has good prospects but voters’ views remain tentative; our findings show plenty of ambivalence and indecision.
Setting partisan identification aside for a moment, what underlies these allegiances? What do Albertans really want for their province? One important factor in people’s political choices is their orientation to taxes and views on the role of government in addressing societal issues. We asked Albertans if they think of taxes as mostly a positive thing because they’re how we pay for the goods that support quality of life, such as health care, education and roads; or if they think taxes are mostly a bad thing because they take money out of people’s pockets and hold back economic growth and the creation of wealth. Over all, about two-thirds of Albertans think taxes are on balance a good thing, while about one-quarter consider them mostly bad.
Even in reputedly right-wing Alberta, a majority – those accepting of taxes and not hostile to government – might be open to a political option whose identity does not boil down to “free-enterprise party.” There is an opportunity for someone, whether the NDP or a new centrist entity, to unite this constituency.
Alberta appears to be on the verge of a political realignment as it works to answer the question of whether the province has a revenue problem, a spending problem or some other malady. Many voters appear to be kicking tires and looking for a political home, which means that potential votes are up for grabs.
A thoughtful discussion on the type of society Albertans want and the role that government should play would surely aid residents in orienting themselves to the existing parties and any new formations that might emerge.