EDITOR’S NOTE: CBC News and The Road Ahead commissioned this public opinion research in May as the lockdown in Alberta was eased. It follows similar research conducted in March, just as the social and economic shock of COVID-19 was becoming apparent. As with all polls, this one is a snapshot in time.
This analysis is one in a series of articles to come out of this research. You can find links to the previous stories at the bottom of this one. More stories are to follow.
With Alberta in Phase 2 of its economic relaunch and the first wave of COVID-19 seemingly in the rear-view mirror, the Alberta government has signalled that its focus now is to get the economy going again while keeping a lid on the pandemic.
In CBC’s Road Ahead poll in May, the survey asked respondents, “What do you think are the most important things Alberta can do to get its economy back on track?” This was an open-ended question, meaning respondents could answer in whatever way they wanted and were not limited to a set of responses. This gives us an unfiltered view of what Albertans are thinking.
The responses show Albertans are divided on the best long-term strategy for strengthening the economy. One group favours economic diversification. Another favours doubling-down on oil and gas.
This might seem like just another policy debate, but underneath lies a deeper rift — an existential crisis questioning what it means to be Albertan. Are we about oil or not? Is there a new, post-oil Alberta? Or is it oil and gas or bust?
The intertwining of policy with identity helps explain why politics seem so much more mean-spirited in Alberta right now. These results suggest things could get even messier.
But first, let’s look at the data.
What Albertans told us
A quick way to see the responses on the whole is through a word cloud, shown below. This shows the 100 most-mentioned words, excluding commonly-used words like the, and, but, etc. Similar words are grouped, so government, governments, and governing are grouped together under the term govern. The larger a word appears, the more frequently it was mentioned.
Some words clearly stand out, like oil, get, people, gas, work and pipeline. The prevalence of these terms shows Albertans are focused not only on getting people back to work, but also on the energy industry, which has long been the main driver of the province’s economy.
That said, there is another term that is also mentioned frequently: diversify. This suggests when Albertans think about oil, many of them are thinking not of continuing Alberta’s reliance on it, but diversifying away from it.
This fits in with the results from our March 2020 survey, which found Albertans are split on whether the province should move away from oil and gas.
Diversify vs. double-down
Using computerized text analysis, we can classify responses into four topics based on which words appear in which responses, how many times they appear, and alongside what other words they appear. This is a machine learning technique, so it’s not perfect, but the results fit with what…