Last Friday, Le Devoir/Montreal Gazette released a new Léger Marketing poll on the political situation in Quebec at the provincial level. With an election rumoured for 2012, though I can't imagine why Jean Charest would want to rush into anything at these numbers, where the parties stand right now is very important. This is the first poll, along with La Presse's CROP, to show the landscape since the announced merger of the CAQ and the ADQ.
I imagine that is the case. With the ADQ now melded into the CAQ, the party is now more obviously right-of-centre, whereas before François Legault spoke of a "gauche efficace". It would not surprise me that more than a few Quebecers were not pleased that Legault aligned himself with the ADQ.
The Parti Québécois, for example, has gained three points and now trails the CAQ with 24%. As Gérard Deltell had taken the ADQ in a definitively federalist direction, it is possible that the CAQ has lost some of its more sovereigntist supporters with the merger.
The Liberals are unchanged at 22%, while Québec Solidaire is up one point to 9%. The Greens are up two points to 5%.
Adding further evidence that the merger of the CAQ and the ADQ has cost Legault support in some quarters, his party is down three points in the Montréal region to 31%. The Liberals are up six to 27%, while the PQ is down one point to 21%.
On the other hand, the CAQ is up big in the Quebec City area and in the other regions of Quebec. They now lead with 43% (+14) in Quebec City and 43% in the rest of Quebec (+7). The Liberals trail in Quebec City with 22% while the PQ is up nine points to 28% in the rest of the province.
Among francophones, the CAQ is up two points to 42% with the PQ up four points to 28%, while among non-francophones the Liberals lead with 53% to the CAQ's 15%.
The Liberals would form the Official Opposition with 32 seats, while the PQ would win 31 and Québec Solidaire would win three.
That means a minority government for François Legault. It would be a difficult proposition to govern in such a situation - it is unclear to me who Legault would turn to for support. Perhaps he would be able to lure four or five PQ and Liberal MNAs to his side.
Now, it may come as a surprise that I am projecting a CAQ minority with these numbers. Firstly, the projection model is a regional model, and the CAQ's lead in the Montreal region is quite small. It generally assumes that the CAQ's Montreal strength is in the suburbs and not on the island, while its "rest of Quebec" strength is disproportionately concentrated in the area between Montreal and Quebec City, leaving the western and eastern edges more to the PQ.
Secondly, the CAQ's support is based on the ADQ's 2008 support base. This means that in some areas there is very little growth for the CAQ, even if the party is doing two or three times better than the ADQ did in 2008.
The old model I was using that had both the ADQ and CAQ included assumed that the CAQ's support was more uniform, like the NDP's support was in the 2011 federal election. This was a safe assumption because the CAQ was almost as new to Quebec as the NDP was in May, and because Legault embodied that same element of change.
But now that the CAQ and the ADQ have joined forces, I think that the party will be identified more with the right-of-centre political spectrum, and will have its best performances in areas where the ADQ performed well in 2007. The recent by-election in Bonaventure gives us some evidence. The area was never good ADQ territory, and the party did horribly in the by-election. But polls indicated that a CAQ candidate would have only gotten around 15% support - almost exactly what my current projection gives the CAQ in Bonaventure.
The CAQ and the NDP have only their novelty in common. There is no reason to think that the civil servants of the Outaouais, a perhaps natural clientele for the NDP, would vote for the CAQ, or that Gaspesians, who have some of the province's better ranked hospitals while also being among its poorest residents, are going to warm up to the public/private health care proposals of the CAQ.
The CAQ follows in the ADQ's footsteps by winning in its traditional areas of support: 13 seats in Quebec City, 12 in central Quebec (Mauricie, Centre-du-Québec, Cantons de l'Est), and 12 in Montérégie. The party also wins 12 seats in western Quebec (Laurentides, Lanaudière, primarily). But like the ADQ, the CAQ has less luck in eastern Quebec, winning only two seats. But unlike the ADQ, the CAQ actually breaks into the metropolis with two seats in Montreal and Laval.
The Parti Québécois is strongest in the parts of Quebec where the Bloc Québécois performed well in the federal election, primarily in eastern Quebec. The PQ wins 12 seats there, with seven in western Quebec, three apiece in Montérégie and Montreal/Laval, and two apiece around Quebec City and in central Quebec.
The Liberals win 22 of their seats in Montreal and Laval, with another three coming in Montérégie, two apiece in Quebec City and western Quebec (the Outaouais), and one apiece in eastern Quebec and central Quebec.
Québec Solidaire wins all three of its seats on the island of Montreal.
Is the potential for a bigger CAQ sweep there? Absolutely, as with the older model of uniform CAQ support the party would win more than 90 seats at these numbers. But I don't believe that their support will be uniform. Their message will find resonance particularly in the ADQ's traditional strongholds. What Legault brings to the table is the ability of the CAQ to breakthrough into areas the ADQ was never competitive. But I do not think that Legault will have the widespread appeal that Jack Layton did, and the 2012 election will look more like 2007's provincial vote than it will the 2011 federal result.