Recently, I was chatting with some people about the next provincial election in Alberta. Some of them were convinced the UCP are guaranteed a win—Alberta is so diehard conservative that no matter what the UCP does, they’ll be elected again.
Me? I’m not sold on that idea just yet.
In last year’s election, the UCP won only 54.9% of the popular vote. That’s barely more than half. And not everyone voted. Only 67.5% of eligible voters showed up to vote. Which means only 37.1% of eligible voters picked the UCP in the 2019 election.
Now, granted it is possible that some of those who stayed home on election day would’ve voted UCP, but without knowing their voter intention, it’s impossible to say.
Where do the parties sit today?
Even so, as Scott Harold Payne pointed out in a blog post last week, support for the UCP has been dropping for the UCP since the election, while support for the NDP has been trending upward. Even the Liberals and Alberta Party have seen recent spikes in support; although, it’s too early to tell if that’s anomalous or part of a larger trend.
Regardless of intention of the voters who stayed home—at 35%, their worst showing since the election and, in fact, their worst showing in the history of the party—the UCP are nowhere close to having majority support, especially if their support continues to drop over the next 2.5 years.
How did the UCP gain more seats than they deserved?
But why did they gain so many seats? If they won only 54.9% of the vote, how did they get 72.4% of the seats?
I decided to spend some time looking at the election results to see if they can provide some insight to the discrepancy and what that might say for 2023.
As we already figured, the 2019 election was a race between the UCP and the NDP. Together, they took 87.6% of the votes. However, even though, no other parties won seats, it’s not like they didn’t win votes.
Here’s how each of the four main parties fared in the election:
The remaining 2.3% was split between 9 parties and various independents.
Clearly, even if they won 54.9% of the seats, they’d have won a majority government anyhow—barely. In fact, if each party received a number of seats proportionate to how many votes they garnered, the legislature would look something like this:
That gives us 2 seats left over. The next most popular parties were the Alberta Independence Party (0.7%) and the Freedom Conservative Party (0.5%), so perhaps they each would get a seat?
The smaller parties
Speaking of the FCP, other than the four main parties, only the FCP and independents managed to even break the 1,000 vote mark in any riding.
The FCP passed 1,000 votes in Chestermere–Strathmore, which was the riding FCP leader Derek Fildebrant ran in, so that wasn’t surprising; however, he came in third to UCP’s Leela Aheer, who received over 68% of the vote and is now the minister of culture, multiculturalism, and status of women.
Only 2 independents managed to reach over 1,000 votes.
First was Todd Beasley, who came in third place in Brooks–Medicine Hat. Beasley was the president of the Alberta Independence Party until late last year, so this showing wasn’t that surprising. Actually, he ran for the UCP nomination in that riding, but was disqualified the day before the nomination because of Islamophobic comments he had made. Beasley got 12.4% of the vote in that riding, just barely behind the NDP’s Lynn MacWilliam, who received 18%.
The second independent to pass 1,000 votes was Rick Strankman, who ran in the Drumheller–Stettler riding, actually held the riding since 2012 as a Wildrose MLA. He later joined the UCP, but lost the nomination for the 2019 election. He decided to run anyhow, but as an independent He won only 8.3% of the popular vote last year, losing out to the UCP’s Nate Horner, who beat him in both the nomination race and in the election. Horner garnered over 76% of the vote in that riding.
Since I mentioned candidates who received over 1,000 votes, I’ll point out that the Alberta Liberals were the only one of the 4 major parties to have only one candidate place that well. Unshockingly, it was David Khan—the party’s leader—and his showing put him in only 4th place in Calgary–Mountain View, at only 5.6% of the popular vote. This was his first time running in the riding, having taken over as party leader in only 2017. Liberals had held this riding since 2004. However, he ran in the 2015 election and two byelections, yet he never finished better than 3rd place.
So, frankly, the only real contenders in the 2019 election were the UCP, the NDP, and the Alberta Party. No other party even came close. They were the top three parties and the only parties who ran candidates in every riding.
The Alberta Party had a decent showing. They received 9.1% of the popular vote, and while that may not seem a lot, they basically quadrupled their 2015 performance of 2.2%.
Only 10 ridings saw the Alberta Party getting under 1,000 votes, and the party received 10% of the popular vote or higher in 30 ridings.
Actually, the party came in second place in one riding. Greg Clark—who was the party leader at one point—received 31% of the vote in Calgary–Elbow, coming second to Doug Schweitzer, who won only 44.3% of the vote and is now the minister of justice. That was the only riding where the party received above 20% of the vote.
The only other riding where the party placed higher than the NDP was Drumheller–Stettler, where Mark Nikota beat out the NDP’s Holly Hefferman to place third, but by only 15 votes.
I don’t know how likely it is for the Alberta Party to quadruple their support again, but if they can improve their showing in 2023, it could translate into more seats. Of all the other parties outside of the NDP and UCP, they have the best chance of gaining seats in in the next election.
Which brings us to the UCP and NDP.
NDP & UCP
We already know that the NDP have 24 seats in the legislature, which means they won in 24 ridings. That’s 27.6% of the seats, despite winning 32.7% of the vote.
Even though they were 20 seats short of a majority, winning those seats may have been closer than we realize.
Take a look at these ridings.
|Spruce Grove–Stony Plain||59%||29%|
|Lesser Slave Lake||58%||36%|
While it’s true that the UCP won 63 seats, these 26 ridings were won with 59% of the vote or less.
Of those, 10 saw UCP support at 50% or less, which means that in those ridings, either the same number of people voted against them as for them, or more people voted against them.
The UCP won in those 10 ridings not because they were the most popular, but because everyone else was less popular, even though together they were as popular than the UCP or more popular.
In 7 of the ridings where the UCP won with under 60% of the vote, the spread between them and the NDP was less than 10 points.
More than half of the ridings where the UCP won with under 60% were in Calgary, long considered a stronghold of the UCP. And 7 of those were 50% or even less.
In 10 of these Calgary ridings, the UCP won by fewer than 20 points ahead of the NDP.
In 4 of them, the spread is under 10 points.
What all this means is that if the NDP are going to win the next election, one of two things needs to happen:
- They win all of the above 16 Calgary seats plus 4 seats elsewhere (Edmonton–South West, Sherwood Park, and Banff–Kananaskis, are all within 10 points).
- Other parties gain seats, reducing how many seats the NDP need to win a majority.
How likely is it for the NDP to win Calgary? I mean really, the question is how likely is it for the UCP to lose Calgary, but since the NDP are next in line in all of those, it makes sense—at this point—to ask about the likelihood of NDP winning here.
Well, first of all, the NDP weren’t shut out in Calgary. They won Calgary–Buffalo (49%), Calgary–McCall (52%), and Calgary–Mountain View (47%). So we already know that Calgary isn’t untouchable for the NDP.
Second, as I said, in 4 of the ridings, the NDP lost by less than 10 points, and in none of those were they under 40%. In another 6, the spread is bigger but still 19 points or fewer—more out of reach but not impossible.
The other 6 would be tougher, but the fact that the UCP are under 60% on those means that they aren’t necessarily guaranteed.
Granted, all this is based on the election results. Voter intention can shift over time. So where does Calgary sit today?
Well, according to 338Canada.com, here’s what voter intention looks like in Calgary as of 1 August 2020:
The UCP are definitely leading here. But hold on. It’s not that large of lead. The UCP are leading in Calgary with 41.3% of the vote, but the NDP still have 37.9%. That’s only a difference of 3.4 points.
And look at the margin of error: 2.6–2.7. Which means, that the NDP are potentially less than 1 percentage point behind the UCP in Calgary.
But that’s for the city as a whole. What about the 16 ridings where the UCP won with under 60% of the vote? Here are 338Canada’s projections as of 1 August.
|2019 UCP||2019 NDP||Proj UCP||Proj NDP|
In every one of these 16 ridings, the UCP has lost support, based on the projected numbers. In fact, in none of these ridings, does the UCP have the majority of voter intention.
In these Calgary ridings where the UCP does lead, the lead is never more than 9.3 points, and in 7 of them, the lead is 5% or less.
As well, the NDP are already leading in 5 of the ridings, with two of these ridings having a lead of more than 12 points over the UCP.
Based on these projections, it’s no guarantee that the UCP will dominate in Calgary in 2023.
Rest of Alberta
But about all the non-Calgary ridings where the UCP captured under 60% of the vote. Well, here’s where 338Canada projects current voter intention:
|2019 UCP||2019 NDP||Proj UCP||Proj NDP|
|Spruce Grove–Stony Plain||59%||29%||46.5%||32.5%|
|Lesser Slave Lake||58%||36%||45.5%||40.0%|
Just like the Calgary ridings we looked at above, in every one of these ridings, the UCP has lost support. However, the UCP still have solid leads in both Spruce Grove–Stony Plain and Leduc–Beaumont, where they’re leading by 14% and 13.7% respectively. But they’re the only ones. In the other 8 ridings, the UCP either lead by less than 6% of the popular vote or they trail the NDP, who lead in 5 of those ridings.
Can the NDP win the 2023 election?
So, when we compare all 26 ridings where the UCP won by less than 60% of the vote, they seem to have lost support in every one of them. In 14 of them, their lead over the NDP is under 10 percentage points, and 10 of those are 5 points or less. Plus, the NDP are leading in 10 ridings, with two of those having a lead of more than 12 percentage points.
Remember, the NDP need only another 20 seats more than they currently have to win a majority government. If they could convert their projected support into votes in those 10 ridings where they lead and flip the ridings where they trail by 5 points or under, they could potentially get the 20 more seats they need. Just barely though.
If they can convert some of 6 ridings where UCP support is between 5 and 10 points over them, that could give them a bit of a buffer.
What will it take?
Now, before anyone gets too excited, there’s a huge caveat we must keep in mind. Take a look at this table:
|Spruce Grove–Stony Plain||-12.5||3.5|
|Lesser Slave Lake||-12.5||4.0|
This table shows the change in support in each of the riding, between the number of votes they received on election day and 338Canada’s August 2020 projections.
What we see is massive loss in support for the UCP. In fact, the UCP lost support in 23 of the 26 ridings by more than 10 points. However, the NDP gained double digit support in only 1 riding (2 if you round up on Calgary–Elbow).
So, while the UCP saw big losses in these ridings, it wasn’t because the NDP were making huge gains. Which means the UCP voters are going elsewhere.
This also means that UCP voters aren’t necessarily fleeing the party because they prefer the NDP. They’re probably fleeing because of what the UCP is doing, not because what the NDP are doing.
And unless the NDP can capture a lot more of the support that the UCP has lost, they’ll probably struggle to win those 20 ridings they need to win a majority.
If the UCP can right their ship and reverse the draining support, the NDP may stand no chance of winning the next election.
To win the next election, the NDP needs more than the UCP making everyone mad. They’ll need to do more than paint the UCP as the bad guys. Because just like how Albertans moved from the PCs to the Wildrose, and then to the UCP—sidestepping the NDP—if they find the UCP distasteful (or even corrupt), they may choose different parties altogether. While that may enough to win one election with a split vote, it’s no guarantee to be enough for a long-term NDP administration.
Eventually, the NDP will need to start spending more time developing and promoting policies that appeal to more people than they do attacking the UCP. Policies that appeal to consumers and workers. Even so-called left-leaning policies could be reframed to have broader applicability.
Other parties winning seats
However, back to my earlier claim about the NDP needing to either win Calgary or have other parties win seats, reducing how many seats they need to win government. I’ve talked at length about the first. Now just a quick point about the second.
As I indicated above, the UCP’s losing support. And while some of it looks as though it might be going to the NDP, clearly most of it is going somewhere else. Presumably the other parties.
Look at 338Canada’s projection for Calgary–Bow, the riding for Doug Schweitzer, the justice minister.
The Alberta Party has a slight lead in this riding. As I mentioned earlier, this is Greg Clark’s old riding. But, the Alberta Party is seeing a glimmer of hope promise in a few other ridings.
Here are all the ridings where 338Canada projects them to take above 10% of the popular vote, where they sit in at least third place, and where the UCP have less than 60% of the projected vote:
|Riding||Popular vote||2019 showing|
That’s 17 ridings. Obviously that’s nowhere near enough to win the next election, but it shows that some voters see them as serious contenders, especially in Calgary–South East, where they are barely behind the NDP’s 21.6%. Combine that with Calgary–Elbow, and the party has two potential ridings it could win in 2023.
But if they want to win more than two seats, they’re going to have to improve that popular vote projection by more than 1 percentage point in the 17 ridings above. That’s a big ask of the party, especially given that it’s still been over a year since they’ve had a permanent leader.
All of that being said—and that sure was a lot—338Canada recently conducted 50,000 general election simulations, and in 95.6% of the simulations, the UCP won.
A lot can happen in 2.5 years. And the UCP shouldn’t assume—neither should the NDP for that matter—that the 2023 election is theirs for the taking.
Be sure to check out this article written by Mark Taylor and Deirdre Mitchell-MacLean last month on how the UCP can be defeated. Mark pointed out the article to me after I published mine.