Did the UCP really win a “strong, historic” mandate in 2019?

The UCP claim that they won a strong—even historic—mandate in the 2019 Alberta provincial election. But is that claim true?

Last month marked two years since the UCP won the 2019 provincial general election. Now we’re more than halfway through their first term, or as the UCP like to call it, their mandate.

On the night of the election, now premier Jason Kenney sent out this tweet:

A bit later, he qualified that by calling it a strong mandate:

A couple of months after that, he called it historic.

The next month, he called it the “largest democratic mandate”.

But was that mandate historic? Was it the largest? Was it strong?

Let’s dive into the numbers, shall we?

During the 2019 election, 1,905,520 eligible voters voted. The number of registered voters was 2,824,309, which means that about 67.5% of the voters actually voted.

Of those who did vote, 1,040,563 chose the UCP and 619,921 chose the NDP, the only two parties who won seats, giving them 54.9% and 32.7% of the popular vote, respectively.

Remember, that’s not based on all voters. If we calculate the share of the popular vote based on eligible voters, then 54.9% of 67.5% of eligible voters, or 37.1%, voted for the UCP. In other words, 62.9% of eligible voters didn’t choose the UCP.

Granted, only 22.1% of eligible voters chose the NDP, but then again, the NDP aren’t the ones insisting that they received a strong mandate.

As far as seats go, in the 2019 election, there were 87 seats up for grabs. The UCP won 63 and the NDP won 24. That’s 72.4% and 27.6%, respectively.

One could probably make a pretty good argument that 72.4% is a pretty strong mandate. However, looking at just the total number of seats won is a bit misleading. Because given that multiple parties were running in each riding, it’s possible to win a riding without getting the majority of the votes.

In fact, of the 63 seats the UCP won, 26 of them were won with 59% of the popular vote or less, and 10 of them were won with less than half the vote. In 7 ridings, the spread between the UCP and the NDP was less than 10 points.

In other words, the UCP won only 37 seats with a solid share of the popular vote—that’s fewer than half of the seats (42.5%).

Regarding the specific claim that the UCP won the largest share of the popular vote than any party since 2001, that’s technically true. However, in every other case, the seats were split among more than just two parties.

So, it’s not really that impressive that only two parties won seats in 2019, and the UCP ended up with less 55% of the popular vote. I mean, the PCs won 72 seats in 2008, but with 52.72% of the popular vote. They won 61 seats in 2004 with 46.80% of the vote and 61 seats in 2012 with 43.97% of the popular vote.

Here, let me show you what I mean.

Here are the seat counts and share of the popular vote for all the winning parties in the last 5 provincial elections. As Kenney claimed, the UCP had the highest share of the popular vote. They also had the second highest seat count.

But look at the spread between the seat count and popular vote:

Every other winning party since 2001 won their seat count with much a much larger spread. In other words, they won with a proportion of the popular vote that was way smaller, relative to the number of seats they won. That’s way more impressive. Even the NDP, who won the fewest seats during that period, performed better than the UCP by the measure.

On Kenney’s point that the UCP “received the largest number of votes for a party in Alberta electoral history”, that’s not that impressive either.

The 2019 election also had the highest number of votes cast in general in Alberta electoral history: over 1.896 million, in fact. And if the ballot boxes received the most votes in general, it stands to reason that the winning party might also get the most votes.

But guess who also “received the largest number of votes in Alberta electoral history”. The official opposition. The NDP, although, they came in second place, received nearly 620,000 votes. That’s the most votes any official opposition party has every received . . . in Alberta electoral history.

Again, not that impressive.

Let’s summarize what we know so far:

  • 54.9% of the votes went to the UCP
  • 37.1% of eligible voters chose the UCP
  • 42.5% of the seats were won with significant vote share

Hardly a strong mandate.

But what about the historical mandate claim?

Well, let’s start with popular vote. Here’s what the popular vote looked like for every political party that unseated a sitting government in Alberta’s history:

UCP had the highest share of the popular vote, compared to the other 4 parties, although only slightly higher than the Social Credits, when they unseated the UFA in 1935.

How does that compare to the parties these 5 winning parties unseated?

While it’s true that the UCP had the highest share of the popular vote compared to the other 4 times a governing party was unseated, look at how the NDP fared in 2019.

Even though the UCP were the highest new party in terms of popular vote share in 2019, the NDP received the third highest share of all the unseated parties. The next highest winning party was the Social Credit, and they decimated the UFA, who received only 11%.

One interesting thing is that the winning UCP and ousted NDP had the second highest spread (22.18 percentage points), yet despite that, the NDP had the third highest share of the popular vote.

And here’s the number of seats.

Again, the UCP had the best showing of the 5 parties. However, the NDP had the second-best showing of all the ousted parties, and were only 2 seats away from having the best showing.

Not only that, but in none of the other cases did only 2 parties take all the seats.

ElectionWinning partyOusted party# other parties
who won seats
1935Social CreditUFA2
1971PCSocial Credit1

Considering that no other party besides the NDP won seats in 2019, the UCP should’ve easily taken more seats than they did, especially if they had such a strong, historic mandate.

So, what do we learn from all this?

Well, basically, that the UCP didn’t win as strong a mandate as they thought they did, and given how poorly the UCP have performed in the polls for the last 5 months, it seems that mandate has become even less strong.

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By Kim Siever

Kim Siever is an independent queer journalist based in Lethbridge, Alberta. He writes daily news articles, focusing on politics and labour.

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