Wednesday, May 23, 2012

PQ and Liberals neck-and-neck as CAQ falls away

Emotions are running high in Quebec at the moment, with the student protest continuing unabated and the provincial government coming down with a law seen by many as draconian, by many others as necessary. Over the last week, four polls on the provincial voting intentions of Quebecers have been released, and they all show that in the midst of this turmoil the Parti Québécois and governing Liberals are running neck-and-neck.
Starting with the oldest survey, conducted May 10-17 by Segma Recherche for Le Soleil, the Parti Québécois led in this poll with 32%, four points up on the Liberals.

The CAQ trailed with 19%, followed by Québec Solidaire at a very high 11%. The Greens were not far behind with 9%.

Segma has not been in the field for quite some time, so there is nothing to compare these results to.

But they generally jive with everything else we've seen. The PQ leads with 36% among francophones and is second among non-francophones with 14%, while they lead in the regions of the province with 37%. They trail the Liberals in Montreal with 29% and in Quebec City with 25%.

The Liberals are ahead among non-francophones with 55%, and lead in Montreal with 30% and Quebec City with 36%. They are running second in the regions with 25%.

This sort of divide, with the PQ ahead in the regions, the PLQ in Quebec City, and the two parties running close in and around Montreal, has been the case for months. What is interesting, however, is that Segma seems to suggest that the polls by Forum Research showing the CAQ in the doldrums were not so unusual.
Speaking of Forum, the firm released two polls over a few days as a result of the emergency legislation that came down late last week. Their poll from May 15 put the Liberals ahead of the PQ with 35% to 33%, while their poll from May 17 put the Liberals ahead by 34% to 33%.

Combining the two polls, we get the Liberals leading with 35%, unchanged from Forum's last poll of Apr. 24. The Parti Québécois trails with 33%, down two points, while the CAQ is up three points to 19%.

Québec Solidaire is up two points to 10% while the Greens stand at 3%.

The Liberals lead among non-francophones with 65% (-4), in Montreal with 36% (-5), and in Quebec City with 38% (+6). They are tied with the PQ on the north shore with 35% (+4) and trail in second with 30% on the south shore (unchanged) and among francophones (31%, +1).

The Parti Québécois leads among francophones with 35% (-4) and on the south shore with 37% (-6). They have dropped five points on the north shore to 35%, tied with Liberals, and trail in Montreal with 32% (+3) and in Quebec City with 26% (-4).

Both of these polls point to a minority government, but obviously the PQ is better placed with Segma's numbers. With those results, they win 62 seats to 49 for the Liberals, 10 for the CAQ, and four for Québec Solidaire.

The Parti Québécois wins 23 seats in and around Montreal, one in Quebec City, and 38 in the rest of Quebec, while the Liberals split their seats 29-9-11, respectively.

With Forum's numbers, the result is far closer. The Liberals squeak out a win with 59 seats (31 in Montreal, eight in Quebec City, 20 in the rest of Quebec) while the PQ takes 58 seats (25-1-32). The CAQ wins nine while QS takes two.

In both of these cases, the margin between minority and majority is so close that anything could happen. If we simply average out the two results, the PQ wins 60 seats to 54 for the Liberals. I wouldn't want to be projecting such a narrow gap the day before the election.
The newest poll, however, is probably more instructive. Taken May 19-21 by Léger Marketing, it encompasses some of the post-Bill 78 controversy and some of the violence of the weekend protests.

This poll puts the Liberals and PQ tied at 32%, representing a gain of four points for the Liberals and one point for the PQ since Léger's last poll of Apr. 30-May 2.

The CAQ is down three points to 21%. With Forum putting the party at between 18% and 19% support, Segma at 19%, and now Léger at 21%, it can be said with a good degree of confidence that François Legault's CAQ has indeed dropped from the mid-20s to around 20%.

Unfortunately, Léger did not release their regional results but we can see that the PQ leads among francophones with 39%, a gain of two points, while the Liberals are up three points to 25%. The CAQ is down two to 24%. Support among non-francophones has jumped by 10 points for the Liberals to 64%.

The Quebec seat projection model is regionally based, so I cannot make a projection for this poll. However, a Liberal/PQ tie would likely result in the Parti Québécois winning a few more seats than the Liberals but not achieving a majority.

The political dynamics in Quebec are getting quite interesting. The Liberals and Parti Québécois are in a death-grip while the CAQ is struggling to keep its head above water. At these levels of support, it can best hope to play the spoiler and be kingmaker in the next National Assembly, though the Liberals and PQ are weak enough that a campaign could turn everything on its head. And then there is the big chunk of support going to Québec Solidaire, which is now pushing the low-to-mid-teens around Montreal, and is almost certainly in third place on the island itself. That makes for a few interesting races - the Segma poll suggests the party could win as many as four seats.

The protests themselves look like they could last for at least another three months, while the inquiry into corruption in the construction industry has kicked off this week and will be returning in mid-September after a summer break. The inquiry is a hot commodity, some thinking it could be more explosive than Gomery, and it is supposed to report in October 2013. Jean Charest needs to call the election sometime between now and the end of 2013. And added to that can be two by-elections in June and another sometime before the end of the year due to the resignation of former education minister Line Beauchamp.

At this point, to call the political landscape of Quebec a minefield would be an understatement.