How did the Alberta wildfires impact the campaign?
June 2, 2023
Just as we anticipated in our final pre-poll survey, Danielle Smith and the United Conservatives ended up on top when all the votes were tallied. That same survey also dug into how Alberta’s wildfires may have influenced voter sentiment.
Based on responses from 1,200 eligible Albertan voters from May 26 to May 28, 2023, we examined the Albertan experience with the wildfires, how they felt the issue was addressed during the campaigns, and who they saw as the most capable leader in dealing with it.
For our analysis, we lumped folks who had either voted or were likely to into three camps: Smith’s UCP, Notley’s NDP, and the undecided.
Wildfire Impact on Voters
First off, we wanted to gauge how the wildfires had affected voters. Three in four (75%) confirmed that they experienced some impact. When broken down by region, those from Calgary were less likely to report being affected than those in Edmonton and other communities within Alberta. Interestingly, undecided voters showed a more contrasting response compared to the overall sample.
We followed up with a question about any hardships they had experienced due to wildfires in the past three years. Over half, 54%, mentioned they’d had to stay indoors, 39% suffered health problems, and 14% had to change their travel plans. When compared to the overall respondents, UCP voters were less likely to experience issues, while NDP voters were more likely to.
Campaign and Government Response to Wildfires
Opinions were fairly split on whether the electoral campaign adequately addressed the current wildfires. NDP voters were more likely to disagree with this statement than UCP voters. A significant 65% of undecided voters confessed that they weren’t familiar enough with the electoral campaigns to make a judgment call. People from Calgary and Edmonton showed a bit more agreement than the total respondent pool.
As for the Alberta government’s efforts in wildfire prevention, 34% believe it’s on the right path, while 29% think it’s going the wrong way. Not surprisingly, there’s a clear divide between UCP and NDP voters. Over half of UCP voters (51%) feel things are moving in the right direction compared to just 21% of NDP voters. Conversely, 16% of UCP voters and nearly half of NDP voters (48%) believe it’s on the wrong path. Among the undecided, 67% aren’t sure about the current direction – a significant jump from the 37% total for Alberta. Voters from Calgary and Edmonton were less pleased with the current direction, whereas other communities were more supportive.
Best Leaders for Wildfire-Related Issues
Our final questions asked people which party and leader would best handle wildfire-related issues.
Danielle Smith and the UCP edged out the NDP in:
- Developing a long-term wildfire mitigation strategy (36% UCP vs. 32% NDP)
- Boosting funding for firefighting and wildfire responses (38% UCP vs. 36% NDP)
Meanwhile, Rachel Notley and the NDP came out on top in:
- Addressing challenges related to Alberta’s climate change (29% UCP vs. 41% NDP)
- Shifting Alberta’s economy away from oil (22% UCP vs. 44% NDP)
- Collaborating with the federal government on wildfire responses (36% UCP vs. 39% NDP)
The survey data suggests that the wildfires in Alberta did indeed have some impact on voter sentiment in the election. A substantial 75% of the respondents reported experiencing some form of impact from the wildfires. This indicates that wildfires were a personal issue for many voters, likely influencing their perception of the candidates and their platforms.
The responses also indicate some partisan differences in perception and experiences. NDP voters reported more adverse consequences from the wildfires compared to UCP voters. This difference may have shaped their views on the government’s response to the wildfires and their choices in the election.
Importantly, the data suggests that voters had mixed feelings about how well the issue of wildfires was addressed during the campaigns. Some felt the issue was sufficiently handled, while others disagreed. Particularly, a large portion of undecided voters felt they did not know enough about the electoral campaigns’ take on the wildfire issue, indicating a potential gap in information or communication.
Moreover, the voters were somewhat divided on the government’s performance in terms of wildfire prevention, with a sizeable number of voters uncertain about the direction the government was taking although more felt the government has handing the issue well. Suggesting that in the end, the wildfires and the Smith government’s handling of the emergency likely did better than harm to her re-election prospects.
Whether the NDP would have done better had it made climate change and the fires a bigger part of their campaign remains to be seen. On the one hand it may have further activated its base and connected the fires with the UCP’s less aggressive policy stand on climate change. On the other hand, as the NDP was seeking to convert past UCP voters, climate change wasn’t a top issue despite the wildfires.
The survey was conducted with 1,200 Alberta adults eligible to vote from May 26 to 28, 2023.
A random sample of panelists were invited to complete the survey from a set of partner panels based on the Lucid exchange platform. These partners are typically double opt-in survey panels, blended to manage out potential skews in the data from a single source.
The margin of error for a comparable probability-based random sample of the same size is +/- 2.9%, 19 times out of 20.
The data were weighted according to census data to ensure that the sample matched Alberta’s population according to age, gender, educational attainment, and region. Totals may not add up to 100 due to rounding.
This survey was paid for by Abacus Data Inc.
Abacus Data follows the CRIC Public Opinion Research Standards and Disclosure Requirements that can be found here: https://canadianresearchinsightscouncil.ca/standards/
ABOUT DAVID COLETTO
David Coletto is Chair, CEO and a founding partner of Abacus Data a full-service market research and strategy firm based in Ottawa and Toronto. With over a decade and a half of experience in the industry, David and his partners founded Abacus 12 years ago and since then David has become one of Canada’s most respected social researchers regularly commenting on politics, the labour market, and consumer behaviour.
He earned a PhD in Political Science from the University of Calgary in 2010 and is an adjunct professor at Carleton University. He is the host and producer of inFocus with David Coletto a podcast that explores the intersection of public opinion, politics, public policy, and consumer behaviour.
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