Alberta Politics

Albertans are more progressive than you might think. I’m not surprised.

A new report, “The Quiet Majority“, released by a new group called Progress Alberta shows that we Albertans may be more progressive than we believe we are.

Progress Alberta Edmonton Hunger Ukrainian Strike
A infographic released by Progress Alberta.

According to a survey conducted by Abacus Data, when Albertans were asked whether they consider themselves to be progressive, 59 percent answered yes. It appears that although we identify our province as being conservative, a significantly larger group of Albertans identify as being moderate or progressive.

“Urbanization, in-migration, and generational change are all shifting the province’s political attitudes and behavior,” Abacus Data’s David Coletto said in a press release today.

The survey also shows strong support for same-sex marriage and the decriminalization of marijuana, and support for raising personal income taxes on high income earners and the introduction of a carbon tax.

This survey also reinforces the arguments made by political watchers like Corey Hogan, that shifting demographics and massive population growth have created a new political environment in Alberta which made an electoral win by the New Democratic Party possible in 2015.

As shown in the graphs below, where Albertans place themselves and where they believe most of the population sits on the ideological spectrum is quiet different.

Where Albertans place themselves on the ideological spectrum.
Where Albertans believe most of the population sits on the ideological spectrum.

The results of the survey are not surprising to anyone who has been paying close attention to Alberta politics, as I have over the past ten years. While there are a large number of self-identified conservatives in our province, Alberta’s electorate has always been more populist than conservative.

Peter Lougheed Alberta Conservative Premier
A infographic released by Progress Alberta.

The great success of the old Progressive Conservative government, starting under the leadership of Peter Lougheed in 1971, was forged with the creation of a broad political coalition that appealed to conservative, moderate and progressive voters in Alberta. And at the height of the Ralph Klein-era in Alberta politics, the Liberals and NDP were still able to garner between 30 and 40 percent of the province-wide vote.

This is why I am hesitant to predict the death of the PC Party in Alberta, even in its current weakened state.

The right-wing Wildrose Party led by Brian Jean continues to mount a campaign to take over the PC Party. At meetings across the province, Wildrose Party members are being encouraged to purchase PC Party memberships in order to push the merger agenda at constituency associations and other internal party levels.

Proponents of the take over characterize it as a merger but it is likely that the Wildrose needs the PCs more than the PCs need the Wildrose and the limited appeal of the ideological social conservatism that much of its membership base represents. The PCs won 12 elections from 1971 to 2012 by raising a big tent centrist party, not by just uniting conservatives under one conservative party banner, as Mr. Jean and MLAs like Derek Fildebrandt appear to be proposing.

A infographic released by Progress Alberta.
A infographic released by Progress Alberta.

Many members of the PC Party, including Calgary-North West MLA Sandra Jansen remain opposed to merging with the Wildrose, which could drag the PCs further to the political right and away from where most Albertans stand, near the moderate centre. With the right leader, the PCs may be able to regain the trust of voters lost in 2015.

It is becoming increasingly clear that the Wildrose Party’s strategy is to eliminate the PC Party as an alternative while continuing to brand the NDP government as “risky”, “extreme” and “ideological,” despite no real evidence supporting those claims.

The success of Rachel Notley‘s NDP in 2015 was based on her appeal to moderate and progressive voters. It is not surprising that during last year’s election campaign Ms. Notley frequently invoked the memory of Mr. Lougheed, who was seen by many Albertans as the embodiment of a progressive and forward-looking leader.

The success of the NDP in the 2019 election could be based on their ability to remain appealing to that coalition of moderate and progressive voters. This will require Ms. Notley to keep the balance and moderation that was promised in her party’s election platform and not veer too far left to appease her party’s fringe.

This is only one poll and is not an indicator of how Albertans will vote in future elections but it does provide some valuable information about the values held by many voters in our province. It is encouraging that groups like Progress Alberta are being formed to ensure that issues important to progressive Albertans are publicly discussed in a province dominated by conservative commentators and pundits.

Publisher’s Note

I am pleased to be contributing to Progress Alberta as a member of their advisory board. See the full list of advisory board members here.

Information about the survey

The survey informing this study was conducted online with 1,000 Albertans aged 18 and older from December 2 to 7, 2015. A random sample of panelists was invited to complete the survey from a large representative panel of Albertans recruited and managed by Research Now, one of the world’s leading providers of online research samples.

The Marketing Research and Intelligence Association policy limits statements about margins of sampling error for most online surveys. The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 3.1%, 19 times out of 20.

12 replies on “Albertans are more progressive than you might think. I’m not surprised.”

I would guess that the largest single group of Albertans are fiscally conservative and socially moderate. These people would be liberals in the classical sense. Progressive is a rather vague term, like social license, that means different things to different people.

In any case, it is rather ridiculous to try to peg people using just a single indicator. Take myself for example. I support the Wildrose but I would not fit into any of the stereotypes that so-called progressives use to describe WR supporters. I read the Economist, I practice yoga, I play the piano, and I have a Masters Degree. Where would I fit in on this ideological spectrum?

Thanks for the comment, Gary. You are correct that individuals are complex and three dimensional, and it could be difficult to capture that depth in any poll. But how people self-identify and how they identify their neighbours is an important indicator in politics, which is what this survey reveals.

Say, wasn’t the whole purpose of the Alberta Party to be “appealing to that coalition of moderate and progressive voters?”

Would you say they are now obsolete, Dave?

I would also question the accuracy of the poll. For example, Abacus shows that 47% of Albertans support the carbon tax while the Miainstreet poll last month pegged support at just 22%. You could drive a semi between those results.

This is a biased group with extremists like Gilbert McGowan. We are more conservative than you will ever admit. comes to my finances, I am quite conservative. However, when it comes to politics I favourite democracy and fairness for all including the very wealthy and the very poorest. The Wild Rose party describes itself as decidedly on the side of larger businesses and the wealthy.

If it were possible, I would like a provision for direct democracy where citizens could introduce bills in parliament which the elected representatives would be required to vote on. That way people’s ideas would be presented in public at a given time. The general public could see how wide spread those ideas were. Of course the proponents would need to convince a lot of people that their ideas were sound and we’ll supported.

By doing that it would keep politicians in tune withe the general public’s a given time.

What’s the urban/rural split? As Alberta becomes more urban I expect the more ‘progressive’ as defined in this would grow. It’s the reason the PCs for years gerrymandered riding boundaries to make one rural voter equal to two urban voters. Now it’s bitten them as rural goes towards the Wild Rose and urban towards the NDP. That said I think the ‘Fiscal Conservative-Social Liberal’ is now the largest voting block. This is the group Nick Taylor and Laurence Decore were trying to draw away from he PCs to the Liberals during the Getty and Klein eras.

I would legalize prostitution, drugs, gambling, get the government out of the marriage business, so I guess I might be quite progressive, and what party do I support? WRP

While I don’t entirely disagree, the methodology of this so-called “poll” is weak. Not only was it an online panel instead of a random sample, but the question was not very helpful. I mean, really, how many people don’t want to call themselves “progressive”?

What is needed is high-quality public opinion sampling on a broad range of public policy issues, from taxation and government finances, to natural resource development and environmental protection, to social and moral questions. Results should be mapped against something like the Political Compass ( with two perpendicular axes delineating both the role of government in the economy and the role of government in regulating personal behaviour.

I think if such research were to be done, outside of the election cycle and therefore not linked to party affiliations and positions, you might find that Alberta voters are not a monolithic whole, but that there are both regional and urban-rural differences.

True, but people complained that the political compass was putting them too often in the centre as well. When CBC had a link to it, they figured it was biased toward the Liberals. It seems to be a more reoccuring trend that people fit closer to the centre than the political parties are. That is probably also partially to blame on our ‘democracy’ where people + parties feel the need to be 180 degrees opposite, just because the other party said it.

First- I have never heard of anyone encouraging WRP members to buy a PC membership! Question your facts!
I have asked many ppl what they think progressive means, and most have not got a clue- so when you ask how progressive are you- I suspect ppl are defining it by a feeling but not a true definition. if you drill down with ppl, most want a province that is fiscally conservative- against out of control spending. But they are also socially responsible. That is where I sit and That is where WRP sits under Jean. Most PC members and voters also sit there, that is why the two groups could come together. But there is a spectrum in the PC party and ppl such as Sandra Jensen would no doubt be more comfortable as a Liberal or a NDP. It was a long standing thing in the PC party that no matter your political stripe, if you wanted to get elected you ran as a PC. So the remaining piece of the Party has a broader spectrum under their tent than most other parties-

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *