Last week, two new polls on the provincial voting intentions of Quebecers were released and both showed that the Parti Québécois is on track to win a majority of the seats in the National Assembly. Whether or not that has put off any plans that Jean Charest might have had for a spring election, we will soon find out.
We'll start with the Forum poll, which is the most recent. Forum was last in the field 23 February, and since then the Parti Québécois has picked up two points and now leads with a commanding 41% of the vote.
The Liberals are up one point to 29% while the CAQ is unchanged at a woeful 19% support.
Québec Solidaire sits at 8% while the Greens are at 4%.
Forum has lately pegged PQ support higher than the other two active polling firms, CROP and Léger. But in terms of a trend, Forum is squarely with those two others by finding the PQ on the upswing.
The Parti Québécois leads among francophones with 45% (+2) and in every region of the province: Montreal (37%, +2), Quebec City (35%, +5), the north shore (46%, -1), and the south shore (47%, +1). They stand in second place among non-francophones (which, it should be pointed out, does include speakers of neither French nor English) with 9% (-3).
The Liberals are leading among non-francophones with 68%, up seven points since late February. They are second among francophones with 24%, a drop of one point, and are second in Montreal (32%, -1), Quebec City (29%, -4), the north shore (25%, -2), and the south shore (26%, +2).
The CAQ is running third among both linguistic groups and in every part of the province.
Forum finds that Pauline Marois has the best leadership approval rating at 42%, with 46% disapproving of her performance. François Legault is second with a 32% to 44% split, while Jean Charest has an approval rating of only 26%, with 66% disapproving.
Among their own supporters, however, all leaders are doing generally well: 84% of CAQ voters approve of Legault, 80% of Liberal supporters approve of Charest, and 79% of PQ voters approve of Marois.
CROP poll, which was taken a few days before Forum's survey.
CROP was last in the field 17-21 February and since then the Parti Québécois has gained four points and sits at 34%, ahead of the Liberals at 30% (+1) and the CAQ at 24% (-2).
Québec Solidaire is down three points to 5%, while the Greens are up two to 5%. Option Nationale has only 1% support.
This poll is more in line with Léger's recent survey, and continues the trend of PQ gain, PLQ stability, and CAQ loss. QS also seems to be making more room for the PQ.
The Parti Québécois is ahead among francophones with 41%, a gain of five points. They also lead outside of Montreal and Quebec City with 42% support, a gain of seven points. They are running second in Montreal (29%, +3) and Quebec City (30%, -1).
The Liberals are leading among non-francophones with 77% (-6) and in Montreal with 36% (-1).
The CAQ is ahead in Quebec City with 37%, a drop of three points, and is second among francophones with 29% (-2) and in the rest of Quebec (28%, unchanged).
François Legault and Pauline Marois are tied on the question of who is the favourite choice for Premier, with 21% apiece. Jean Charest is not far behind with 19%. Support for independence sits at 43%, a gain of three points.
With CROP's numbers, the PQ wins 63 seats, the Liberals 38, the CAQ 22, and Québec Solidaire two.
With Forum's numbers, the PQ wins 80 seats, the Liberals 34, the CAQ nine, and Québec Solidaire two.
In the CROP poll, the PQ wins 21 seats in Montreal, two in Quebec City, and 40 in the rest of Quebec. They win 31 seats in Montreal, four in Quebec City, and 45 in the rest of Quebec with Forum's numbers.
The Liberals would win 32 seats in Montreal, two in Quebec City, and four in the rest of Quebec with CROP's results, and 25 seats in Montreal, three in Quebec City, and six in the rest of Quebec with Forum's.
The CAQ wins 3/0 in Montreal, 7/4 in Quebec City, and 12/5 in the rest of Quebec with the results of CROP and Forum's polls, respectively.
I tend to believe that CROP and Léger are closer to the reality in Quebec: that the Parti Québécois is leading but that they are far from the runaway favourite that Forum has concluded over the past few months. What is certain is that the CAQ is dropping, and dropping fast. The Parti Québécois has benefited in two ways: firstly, by taking the support of francophones who had been supporting Legault, and secondly, by winning support back from Québec Solidaire now that the PQ is looking like a winner once again.
Forum's poll was taken shortly after the budget was announced last week, and CROP's was taken shortly before the budget. It is too early to say that the budget has not changed anything, but it is the kind of budget that is unlikely to be a game-changer. With his Liberals stuck and the PQ so far ahead among the francophone electorate, one would assume that Jean Charest will not be calling an election this spring. But with the inquiry into corruption in the construction industry starting in the fall and likely to continue well into next spring, Charest's window is starting to get very small. By the fall of 2013, he would be forced to call an election no matter where his party stands in the polls.
Being within range of the PQ might be the best he can hope for between now and the end of next year. Will he come to the same conclusion before the summer? Will he bank on a summer campaign to take advantage of low turnout? Or will he hold on to power as long as he can? We'll find out soon enough.