Health care, education primary concerns of voters, poll says

EDMONTON - Health care and education are among Albertans' top concerns heading into the provincial election, while government trust and accountability is another hot topic, particularly for Wildrose party supporters, a new poll indicates.

However, pollster Ian Large of Leger Marketing noted there seems to be no single dominant issue that is commanding voters' attention so far in the race, meaning political parties must score points with multi-pronged platforms.

"Things are looking up, the economy is doing well, people are working, people are satisfied with their personal life, and so the concerns they have are much more general than they would be if say, unemployment was the issue," he said. "It indicates that any party trying to run on a single issue, that's not going to speak to most Albertans. There are a bunch of different things at play here."

The poll, conducted by Leger for the Edmonton Journal and Calgary Herald, asked respondents to name the most important issue facing the province from a list of 12 subjects.

Not surprisingly, health care was the most popular answer, chosen by more than one-quarter of the survey's participants.

However, trust and accountability came in second with 15 per cent, well ahead of taxes, deficit spending, crime, the environment, electricity rates, and other issues that are a central part of some parties' campaign platforms.

The third most popular issue was education at 10 per cent, followed by the economy (nine), cost of living (seven), and energy development (seven). Everything else was five per cent or less.

University of Lethbridge political scientist Peter McCormick said the focus on accountability was likely driven by a number of recent controversies that have dogged Alison Redford's PC government, including an ethics investigation into a fundraiser held by Asia envoy Gary Mar, a "bullying" letter sent by a Tory MLA to a school board and revelations about a committee that continued to be paid even though it hadn't met for 40 months.

He noted that when survey respondents were asked a slightly different question — what issues would most affect their own vote — trust and accountability slipped to third and education moved up to second.

That's because while health and education play big for voters across the political spectrum, trust and accountability seem to be vital only toWildrose supporters. According to the poll data, 32 per cent of decided Wildrose voters felt it was an issue that affects their choice, compared with much lower concern among those backing the PCs (13), Liberals (16), NDP (21), and undecided voters (13).

"And it's mostly because you are Wildrose that you are concerned about this, rather than because you are concerned about this you are drawn to Wildrose," McCormick said.

"It's on the agenda because the Wildrose has put it on the agenda," said Large. "It's not surprising voters are aware of it, but whether it's important to them remains to be seen."

As for other issues, the environment ranked as the third most important subject for Liberal voters and fourth most important for NDP backers, but was near the bottom for Wildrose voters.

Deficit budgeting was also a concern for the Wildrose, Liberals felt more strongly about the cost of living and PC voters showed high interest in energy development.

Taxes and electricity rates were not vital factors for anyone, even though opposition parties have made those issues key planks in their platforms.

"There's not a bubbling revolution waiting to happen on those things," McCormick said. "Health care, education, and government trust and accountability — that's the closest you can get to finding a combination of issues that will get people going."

The March 22-25 telephone survey of 1,215 Albertans has a margin of error of plus or minus 2.8 percentage points, 19 times out of 20. The margin increases when results are broken down by region or demographic.

Edmonton Journal, Thurs Mar 29 2012
Byline: Keith Gerein

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