UCP leaked confidential poll data despite refused permission, Alberta pollster says

An Alberta pollster is calling out the United Conservative Party for leaking private data from a poll she did, which shows the party has moved ahead in popular support.

Janet Brown believes the party leaked some of the more favourable results from her poll, because Premier Jason Kenney’s leadership review is coming up on April 9, and memberships need to be bought by Saturday.

However, she said that the leaked information is missing context and doesn’t include some of the less flattering data. 

“They had asked me if I would be willing to put this data out, because they thought it would work to their advantage,” said Brown. “I had said ‘no’ to them on a couple of occasions, but they leaked the numbers anyway.”

Brown runs Opinion Research, which does polling for clients across the political spectrum, as well as unions and other businesses. She also sends a syndicated report, called The Wild Ride Update, to subscribers, one of which is the UCP.

The subscription agreement, however, states that subscribers must keep the data in her reports confidential, she explained while on CBC’s Daybreak Alberta.

“My business model just doesn’t work if the data the client has paid for is out there in the media.”

Janet Brown, shown here, knows it was the UCP who leaked the poll because of the unique footer marked at the bottom of every page of the report. (CBC)

Brown says she knows it was the UCP who leaked the poll because each report she gives to clients has a unique footer at the bottom of every page.

“The reporters who have received the document have confirmed to me that the document they receive is the one that I prepared for the initial party,” she said while on CBC’s West of Centre.

The UCP has not responded to CBC’s requests for comment. 

UCP ‘really did cherry pick’ results, says Brown

Earlier this week, Alberta government political staffers received emails asking them to take Friday off work and volunteer to call supporters ahead of the leadership vote.

The latest Angus Reid Institute poll suggests Kenney has a 30 per cent approval rating — second-lowest among the provincial premiers. Kenney is also combatting critics within his party, namely Brian Jean.

Jean, who recently won the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche byelection as the UCP candidate, has been outspoken about Kenney needing to step down as party leader, and will be gunning for that role on April 9.

“They very much wanted to have some good news out there, because so many other polls were not reflecting very positive on the UCP,” said Brown. 

Brian Jean, right, just won the Fort McMurray-Lac La Biche byelection as the UCP candidate. He has previously said replacing Jason Kenney, left, is his first priority. (Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta, submitted by Brian Jean)

Lori Williams, an associate professor of policy studies at Mount Royal University, says this leak shows there is a lot of nerves at the premier’s office.

“This and a number of other things indicate that there is a great deal of concern, almost panic, it seems,” she said.

“They are very worried about the vote on April 9th and they are pulling out all the stops to try to manage a win.”

Brown says the party “really did cherry pick” the data, explaining that what was leaked is missing context.

For example, Brown’s poll suggests the UCP is ahead by four points and that the premier’s approval rating has climbed from an “abysmally low” 19 per cent to the current level of 36 per cent.

Yet, the reporting so far doesn’t focus on the fact that 60 per cent of Albertans disapprove of the job that Kenney has done as premier.

Also, 55 per cent of the poll’s respondents said they find what Kenney says about the economy and Alberta’s future as not very, or not at all, trustworthy, she said. 

“So, yes, things have definitely improved for the UCP, things have improved for the Premier,” Brown said.

“But there’s a lot of data in here that would suggest that this is probably not the celebration that the UCP want it to be.” 

 

Brown added that her polls also track what she calls “soft” or “orphaned” voters — people that didn’t give an opinion. Without factoring them in, someone cannot accurately comprehend the results.

In the poll that was leaked, soft voters made up about 14 per cent of respondents. This suggests that there are still many voters who are “sitting on the sidelines,” not really knowing what happens next, she said.

They are undecided, in part, because they don’t know who the premier will be as of April 10.

‘Unethical,’ says political scientist

Williams says the UCP leaking this data is “unethical,” because the data was supposed to be confidential and they didn’t include all of the information when they leaked it.

“This is the bread and butter for Janet Brown and her polling organization. So they’re basically jeopardizing her business for the sake of what they thought might be a good news story at a time when the news is otherwise very bad,” she said.

“But then there’s the dishonesty involved in releasing information that looks like it’s saying one thing, when if all the information were released, it would be clear that it’s saying something quite different.”

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