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Nenshi viewed most positively in NDP race but party faces uphill battle against UCP: poll

A new poll suggests Albertans view Naheed Nenshi most positively among his competitors for the NDP leadership, but no matter who wins, the party still faces an uphill battle against the governing UCP.

“Convincing half of Albertans or more to vote NDP is always a tough prospect, and right now, none of the candidates that are running really do any better than Rachel Notley is doing today,” said pollster David Coletto.

“That doesn’t mean they can’t or they won’t in the future.”

The Abacus Data survey of 1,000 people shows Nenshi receiving a positive impression from 31 per cent of respondents, with NDP MLA Sarah Hoffman receiving the second-highest positive impression at 12 per cent.

Nenshi, a former Calgary mayor, also had the highest negative impression among the NDP candidates, at 23 per cent. But Albertans viewed Nenshi more positively overall than his competitors, giving him an eight-point net positive impression.

Kathleen Ganley, a Calgary MLA, was the only other candidate to receive a positive net impression from respondents, though many did not know the candidates well enough to offer an opinion.

Rakhi Pancholi, who dropped out of the race Tuesday, had a net negative impression, at minus 2, but 61 per cent of those surveyed said they didn’t know enough about her to offer an impression.

Nenshi announced his plans to run for the leadership on March 11, joining a field of candidates running to replace NDP Leader Rachel Notley, whose party lost last spring to the United Conservative Party.

The field now includes Nenshi, Ganley, Hoffman, Edmonton-Rutherford MLA Jodi Calahoo Stonehouse, and labour leader Gil McGowan.

The poll, conducted from March 14 to March 21, suggests the next NDP leader has some ground to make up.

When all respondents were asked for whom would they vote if a provincial election were held today, 45 per cent said they would cast their ballot for the UCP, down one percentage point since October. 

Thirty-three per cent said they would vote for NDP, a figure unchanged since October. Two per cent said they would vote for the Alberta Party, two per cent fell into the “other” category, while 18 per cent of respondents were undecided.

Among the survey’s committed voters, a total of 779 respondents, 55 per cent said they would vote UCP, while 40 per cent said they would vote for Alberta’s New Democrats.

Two people in suits smile as they take a photo.
Alberta Premier Danielle Smith and deputy premier and Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Services Mike Ellis take a selfie together after the 2024 budget on Feb. 29. A new poll shows the governing UCP continuing to lead the NDP. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

With committed voters, the UCP is strongest outside the province’s two largest centres, with 66 per cent of respondents from other communities backing the party, compared to Calgary (52 per cent) and Edmonton (42 per cent).

As for which NDP candidate might best help put a dent in the UCP numbers, the Abacus Data survey explores that, too. 

When committed voters were asked to consider how they would vote with various NDP candidates at the helm of the party, Nenshi was the strongest among the field.

However, none performed better than Notley in the poll, and no one was stronger than the UCP.

“Outside of those two big cities, the NDP has a long road to go before it’s going to convince enough people to vote for it, that it could win a large number of seats in the smaller communities around the province,” Coletto said.

“It remains to be seen whether the NDP can do it. But early evidence from this survey suggests none of them, right now, are catching any fire or creating any interest among Albertans who wouldn’t otherwise vote NDP.”

However, University of Calgary political scientist Melanee Thomas noted that Albertans are less than a year removed from the last provincial election, giving the next NDP leader lots of time to establish themselves on the political scene.

“There will be the best part of three years for whoever the new leader is to build their vision of the party and to also make sure that the public knows who they are and what they’re about. And so in this sense, I wouldn’t be super fussed about any of these numbers,” Thomas said.

Despite leading the NDP in the horse race portion of the Abacus poll, the UCP’s disapproval ratings outweighed its approvals among all Albertans it surveyed.

A close-up shot of a man with brown hair.
Abacus Data CEO David Coletto says none of the candidates competing for the helm of the NDP appear to be creating any interest among those who wouldn’t otherwise vote for the party. (Carla Turner/CBC)

Thirty-two per cent of respondents said they approved of the job Premier Danielle Smith’s government was doing, while 38 per cent disapproved. Twenty-two per cent neither approved nor disapproved. Seven per cent didn’t know.

The survey also found that 36 per cent of respondents said the province was headed in right direction, while 46 per cent said it was off on the wrong track. Eighteen per cent were unsure.

“When we compare Albertans to, say, how people in Ontario or federally feel about the direction of the country or other provinces, Alberta actually is more optimistic, even though more people think the province is headed in the wrong direction than in the right direction,” said Coletto.

The issues on which respondents want the UCP government to most sharpen its focus are managing the cost of living, improving health care and improving the education system.  

The Abacus Data survey was conducted using an online panel. A margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of this size is plus or minus 3.16 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

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