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Monday, June 29, 2009

New Poll on Leadership in Alberta Says Stay Tuned.

I was talking to Mark Lisac of Insight Into government just last week on the lack of polling information on the performance of the Stelmach government and speculating why. We have seen some government polling released on the Branding exercise and on the reaction to the Budget but nothing on the government and leaders performance for quite some time. With all the changes going on in health and infrastructure, environment and the continuing crisis in social services I was wondering how well the government was doing in the court of public opinion.

It was good to see the Leger Marketing poll in the CanWest papers this morning. I wonder who commission the Leger poll. I presume it was CanWest but that is not clear. The Stelmach results are compared to poll results from February 2008 - a long time ago in political terms but the comparisons are valuable still the same.

Bottom line for Premier Stelmach - not much has changed with 41% Approval and 40% Disapproval ratings, even though the MSM say his "popularity take a hit." That is only true in the rural areas and all other differences from February 2008 are all within the margin of error and essentially the same today.

The province, Edmonton and Calgary are overall not significantly changed in 16 months. In fact the disapproval rating in Calgary is down 4 points. That minimal decease in Disapprovals has not translated into support in Calgary where he is done 1 point. The $3B taxpayer subsidy in the unraveling of the royalty regime in Alberta just to appease the Calgary energy sector suits has not bought Ed any respect in Cowtown. Edmonton is just the same as they were in February in their opinions of Stelmach with 48% Approving and 37% Disapproving of his performance.

However the Calgary suits may be modestly appeased with royalty cuts, Stelmach's rural Alberta base seems to be shifting away from him. The Stelmach Approval outside of Edmonton and Calgary is down 12 points to 40% from 52% in February 2008. His rural Disapproval rating is up 8% to 39%. That shift is significant. A rural grassroot crusade won Stelmach the PC leadership but if they are starting to abandon him to send a message of discontent. The PC powers that be are seem to be presuming that are going to the Wildrose Alliance.

You can see the politics in play here with the ill-conceived and ill-advised Bill 44 appeasement. the recent Legislative session had lots of political problems for rural Albertas from the land use to power transmission plans and new expanded powers for unilateral provincial powers to establish utility corridors. The recession is impacting small town Alberta hard as forestry, oil and gas, agriculture are all hit hard too.

The good news is Stelmach's worst enemy is likely himself and not the opposition. We don't have comparable February 2008 numbers for Mason and Swann but overall, Albertans are mostly indifferent to them as alternatives at this time with only a 22% Approval rating and larger Disapprovals in each case.

The more interesting data is the trend perceptions of the public's performance opinion of the leaders in the past year. Only 5% are saying they have a better opinion and 13% who don't know about the Stelmach leadership. We see the Stayed the Same and Worsened impression at 30% and 43% respectively. This is illustrative of the possibility of some sleeper issues capturing the public's perceptions.

Staying the same opinions in a recession could be interpreted as positive and worsening perceptions of governments and leaders are to be expected in a recession. However with the low overall approval rating to begin with a "stay the same" perception is not a blessing but a disguised disquiet that could blow up at any minute. Health care cuts and delisting services while Stelmach announces more royalty giveaways like the $3B to big oil to support natural gas drilling when there is already a glut on the market could be the political tinderbox waiting for a spark to inflame public opinion.

There are many more such examples but the point is that the people of Alberta are not happy and they are not sure if there is a coherent government policy strategy to deal with the real concerns they are facing. It has been almost 40 years of PC rule. Is the next tipping point for dramatic political change approaching? Beats me but the disquiet and discontent throughout in the province is crying for leadership. As the public looks around to see where that political and policy leadership is to come from they are coming up empty. That is typically a recipe for change but does that translate in Alberta? Who knows.

The poll was done with 900 random phone interviews between June18-21 with a margin of error of 3.3% so it is a pretty standard provincial sampling but the city and regional samples are smaller an have a 5.7% to 5.5% margin of error.