Monday, September 3, 2012

Final Quebec Projection: Parti Québécois victory

Tomorrow night, projects that Pauline Marois and the Parti Québécois will win the Quebec provincial election with a plurality or majority of the National Assembly's 125 seats. Though the projection leans slightly towards a majority government, the margin is too close to definitively project with confidence what form the government will take.

This post was updated on September 4, 2012 - see below.

Similarly, either the Liberals or the Coalition Avenir Québec will emerge as the Official Opposition. It is more likely that the Liberals will be given the job, but the CAQ is also capable of jumping from third to second spot in Quebec City.

With 34.1% support, the Parti Québécois is projected to win 63 seats tomorrow night. That is the bare minimum for a majority government. The Liberals, with 27.9% support, are projected to win 33 seats. That narrowly edges out the CAQ, who are projected to take 26.3% of the vote and 27 seats.

The PQ's wobbly majority (if the Speaker is from the party, the Assembly would be split straight down the middle) is likely to get some support from Québec Solidaire. The party is projected to win 7.1% of the vote and two seats.

Option Nationale is projected to take 2.5% of the vote, while the Green Party of Quebec and other parties are expected to get 1% of the vote each.

This campaign has shown a remarkable amount of stability for all of the noise that has come out of the province. Since the campaign began, neither CROP nor Léger Marketing have pegged PQ support at anything other than 32%, 33%, or 34% support, with no discernible change in support since the beginning of the campaign. The Liberals have dropped from around 30% to around 27%, but aside from the Forum poll the Liberals have been steady since before the series of four debates. The CAQ has also been very steady in the last bit of the campaign. They did experience a bump from the early days, but it was only an increase of a handful of points (Léger had them at 28% in their final poll of the campaign and at 27% in their poll from Aug. 6-8).

This leads me to believe that we should not expect any sort of late swing over the final four unpolled days of the campaign (Sept. 1 to 4). If things weren't moving with a debate and the myriad of rather intense stories over the course of the election, why would they suddenly swing in this last stage?

UPDATE (Sept. 4, 2012): As they did at the end of the Alberta provincial campaign, Forum Research conducted a poll last night. They released it through The National Post. Frank Graves from EKOS Research also published the results of their own polling on his Twitter feed before midnight.

I will not be updating the projection to include this new information (it would be impossible to include EKOS's numbers as they only reported the topline results). Federal electoral law and the law in many provinces prohibits the publishing of new public opinion polls on Election Day. Whether projections would also be prohibited could potentially be up to the interpretation of a judge. But in addition to not wanting to run that risk, I believe ThreeHundredEight should try to follow the spirit of the law and not publish new projections on Election Day.

The Forum poll, in any case, backs up the final projection. Like the projection, Forum says that Léger and CROP have under-estimated the PQ and the Liberals and have over-estimated the CAQ and QS. If Forum has it, then the PQ will win a majority government and almost certainly a number of seats within the projection's upper range for the party. Similarly, the Liberals will become the Official Opposition and the CAQ the third party. I am confident that the projected seat ranges will hold true when the ballots are counted tonight.

EKOS's poll is another kettle of fish. While they have identical numbers for the PQ and the CAQ as does Forum Research, they have the Liberals at 23% instead of 29% and QS at 11% instead of 6%. That is a very important difference. Granted, EKOS published these numbers as part of a longer poll and as a means of calibrating their surveying model. But the firm can't put money in the pile and expect to get it back if their bet loses. Forum and EKOS are going for the glory, while Léger and CROP are safely ensconced in virtually identical numbers a few days back from the vote. It will be interesting to see who will turn out to be right. And in the post-mortem, I will post what the projection would have shown had I included the numbers from Forum and EKOS.

Perhaps the long weekend, one of those mythical opportunities for families and friends to discuss politics and make a collective decision, will play a role in tomorrow night's vote. But there is nothing to suggest that we should expect a wholesale swing from one party to another. The number of undecideds is not unusually high and though the CAQ's supporters seem the softest, this comes as no surprise considering they are a 'new' party.
Because of this lack of volatility in the last stage of the campaign, the projected seat ranges are relatively tight.

The PQ is projected to win between 57 and 75 seats, straddling the line of a majority government but not overlapping with any of the other parties: the Liberals are projected to win between 25 and 39 seats and the CAQ between 20 and 31 seats. The fight, then, is between these two parties for the role of the Official Opposition. As most of the battles are not between the Liberals and the CAQ, however, if the CAQ over-achieves and manages to place second there is a greater chance that the PQ will be reduced to a minority. On the other hand, if Liberal support tanks the PQ is most likely to take advantage and form a majority government.

The question of how voting intentions will differ from actual votes has been an important one for this campaign, as the projection model bets that the PQ and PLQ will be under-estimated and the CAQ and QS over-estimated.

But if that does not occur, and if the polls are bang-on, it would not change much. Removing the turnout adjustment from the projection and instead using only the poll average, the PQ would still win with 61 seats - just below a majority government. The Liberals would still form the Official Opposition with 33 seats and the CAQ would win 29 seats.

The ranges would put the PQ at between 53 and 75 seats, the Liberals at between 24 and 38 seats, the CAQ between 21 and 36 seats, and Québec Solidaire between one and three seats. In other words, the projection would move from leaning towards a PQ majority to leaning towards a PQ minority, while the Liberals and CAQ would have almost even odds at forming the Official Opposition. Hardly paradigm-shifting.

Now that we have gone over the general outline of the projection, let's look at it in further detail by going through it party-by-party.

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Though the Parti Québécois is almost certain to finish on the top of the pile tomorrow night, the campaign will not have been one of their shining moments. A win is a win, of course, but the PQ is likely to emerge victorious with less of the vote than they earned in their 2008 defeat (35.2%), not to mention their defeats of 1985 and 1989.

The big unknown is whether the PQ will be able to win a majority government. They are on the cusp of one, meaning that a handful of votes in a handful of ridings could make the difference. Will supporters of Option Nationale and Québec Solidaire swing over to the PQ to give them a majority? Or will the PQ slip through on their own?

The PQ is projected to win between 32.8% and 35.5% of the vote, which runs the gamut of a middling minority to a strong majority government. They appear to have the support of 37.3% of francophones, precariously close to minority territory, while they also have the support of 9.2% of non-francophones.

Their best regions are in eastern Quebec and the Montreal suburbs, where the party is expected to win half of their seats. Eastern Quebec is particularly strong for the PQ, as they should sweep the Gaspésie, the Saguenay, and the Côte-Nord with 43.4% of the vote. They are also looking good in the Montreal suburbs with 39.5% support, but with between 15 and 24 seats it is the region where their majority government will likely be won or lost. They are fighting the CAQ north of the city and the Liberals in Laval, primarily.

On the island of Montreal, however, the PQ is likely to re-elect all of their incumbents except Nicolas Girard in Gouin, though the projection does consider a Girard victory possible. How the QS vote will turnout could determine whether the PQ is able to win any new seats on the island. The PQ should do well in the Mauricie region of central Quebec, while they should win two seats in Quebec City (but could win between one and three).

With the lone possibility of a single seat in Quebec City, if the PQ wins a majority government they should be well-represented in every part of the province. If they are given a minority, it will likely be because the Quebecers who live in the suburbs of Montreal defect to the CAQ, like they did in 2007 when they swung to the ADQ. That will be the region to watch.

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Jean Charest's Liberals started the campaign in a surprisingly good position, considering the problems the party and government has had in its third mandate. The Liberals were within a couple of points of the PQ and with a good campaign could have managed to be re-elected to a minority government. François Legault got off to a running start with the candidacy of Jacques Duchesneau, which brought the corruption issue to the forefront, and from that point the Liberals saw their re-election chances drop to nil.

But they still have some solid bases of support. The projection gives them between 26.9% and 28.9% of the vote, enough to keep them in the running for the job of the Official Opposition. They have the support of 61.4% of non-francophones, which gives them a good chunk of seats automatically, but only 19.6% support among francophones. That means a lot of defeated incumbents off the island of Montreal.

That is their best region, where 20 of their 33 seats are likely to come from. They lead with 36.8% but are in danger of being reduced to as few as 16 seats on the island, depending on how the PQ vote turns out.

Elsewhere, the party is in dire straits. After leading at the outset, the Liberals have dropped precipitously in Quebec City. They are projected to win 27.1% of the vote but only between zero and four seats. In the suburbs around Montreal they could win three or six, thanks in large part to residual support in Laval.

In eastern and central Quebec, the party might only win three seats. The four seats in the Outaouais projected to go Liberal, meanwhile, is the only pocket of concentrated Liberal support outside the West Island.

But I think the Liberals should not be under-estimated. The possibility exists where support for the Liberals will simply tank as voters decide that they can't support this nine-year-old government and will cast their ballot for a party that can win. However, the Liberals have a good organization and are the go-to option for convinced federalists, so I would not be surprised to see the Liberals over-achieve expectations. That could, for example, play out in Sherbrooke. Jean Charest is projected to lose, but it is always risky to bet against Charest. If one Liberal riding is going to be missed by the projection, I expect it to be this one. On the other hand, a gap of 12 or so points like the one recorded in the last Segma poll is also easy to imagine. The survivability of Liberal incumbents could be one major factor tomorrow night that prevents the CAQ from finishing second.

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The projection believes the CAQ will finish third, however. The CAQ has decent support but it lacks efficiency and concentration. They are lagging behind the PQ among francophones by seven points, and are likely to finish a strong second in a lot more ridings than the Liberals will. But the CAQ is the big unknown of tomorrow night - will they over-achieve or under-achieve? If anyone has momentum, it is the CAQ - and they also have the 'change' card in their deck. But they lack an organization and the kind of enthusiasm needed to make-up for that deficient ground game. And will their support emerge in unexpected places?

With between 24.8% and 27.8% projected support, the CAQ does have a chance of finishing second in the popular vote. Even so, the odds are against them finishing second in the seat count, due to the Liberal advantage in Montreal. They have the support of 30.3% of francophones and 18.1% of non-francophones, a very respectable score for François Legault. But neither of those numbers are high enough to put the CAQ over the top.

Their two strongest regions are Quebec City and central Quebec. The CAQ is projected to win seven of 11 seats in the capital, and lead with 37.4%. In central Quebec, particularly in Chaudière-Appalaches and parts of Estrie and the Centre-du-Québec, the CAQ is well placed to win a swathe of seats as well.

Whether they form the Official Opposition could be decided in the Montreal suburbs, where they are projected to win seven seats (including those of Legault, Duchesneau, and Gaétan Barrette). They could bump that up to nine, but the polls have not moved in their favour in this region enough to give them many more seats.

The party is weaker in eastern and western Quebec, where only a handful of seats might go their way. They are expected to be shut out from the island of Montreal, though with 17.1% support they have done much better than the ADQ.

The CAQ is the hardest party to project in this election because of its status as a "new" party. The polls indicate that the CAQ is following in the footsteps of the ADQ, but there is a strong possibility that their support could be higher or lower than expected in certain ridings. The three ridings occupied by the floor-crossers (Blainville, Deux-Montagnes, and Sanguinet) are particularly mysterious. The model awards bonuses to floor-crossers as they take their old votes with them, but it is hard to say if that will happen with these three CAQ incumbents. These are three seats that I suspect could go a different way tomorrow night than expected, particularly Blainville where the PQ has a strong candidate. If that occurs, though, the odds of a CAQ Official Opposition diminish considerably.

If any party is going to cause a surprise in the polls, it is the CAQ. How their vote turns out will likely decide the result of the election.

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How the votes of Québec Solidaire will turnout will also be very important. From less than 4% in 2008, QS has done fairly well in this election. They are projected to almost double their support, and if things go very well for them they could more than double their vote haul.

The party has 7.6% support among francophones and 4.7% support among non-francophones, a decent split for a party that has their best shot in some of the most multi-cultural parts of Montreal.

That is where their election will play out, as the projection gives them 12.1% on the island. They could also take as much as 16.1%, but the projection does not award QS the possibility of more than two seats.

Personally, I would not be shocked to see QS win three or four. They have a good shot in Laurier-Dorion and Sainte-Marie-Saint-Jacques, two ridings where Québec Solidaire's maximum result is three points or less from being within range of making the ridings potential pick-ups. Amir Khadir was not expected to win in Mercier in 2008, so we should not be surprised if QS is able to over-achieve in these two ridings.

Outside of Montreal, QS is not in the running for any other seats. They are not expected to get more than 6% support in any other region of the province. They could put up some good scores in Hull and Taschereau, but in neither of those ridings is the expected winner low enough to put QS within range.

If QS manages to get both Khadir and Françoise David elected, they should consider the election a success. Having their two strongest personalities in the National Assembly will make it much easier for them to win three or four seats in the next election. If they manage to pull that off this time, the election will be a smashing success.

Meanwhile, the survival of Option Nationale depends on whether their leader is re-elected in Nicolet-Bécancour. The projection does not expect that to happen, but it also does not rule it out. It is very difficult to estimate what will happen in this riding. The polls have shown that either Jean-Martin Aussant or the CAQ's candidate could win, but the samples have been so small that the riding can be considered a four-way race. If Aussant is not elected, ON will not survive as a viable party. If he is re-elected, it has a shot.

But its support is very small and the party is unlikely to hit double-digits in any riding aside from Aussant's. That they managed to put 121 candidates on the ballot is remarkable for such a young party, but while its youth gives it some of the most enthusiastic support it also provides a handicap. Young people don't vote in the same numbers as older people.

People who support Option Nationale would likely vote PQ or QS if the party was not on the ballot. Aside from seeing whether Aussant gets re-elected, it will be interesting to see whether ON will end up costing either PQ or QS any seats.

This was a horrible campaign for the Green Party. Their leader, Claude Sabourin, was unable to get himself in the news aside from a story in which a reporter from La Presse was able to get himself nominated as a Green candidate without any sort of background check.

With little more than half of a full slate, this is the worst performance for the Greens since 2003. They are not expected to take more than 2% of the vote, and are more likely to get 1%. Sabourin might manage double-digits in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, but any shot the Greens had at strong performances were lost when the CAQ emerged as the alternative choice of anglophones.

One long night, many questions to answer

Let's be honest - no one will look at polls and projections the same again after the Alberta campaign. Never mind that it was an extraordinarily exceptional event, there will always be some (including Jean Charest) who will point to that result as a reason to never believe polls ever again. Tomorrow will determine whether he has a point. If something like that happens, the race is close enough that any of the three main parties could win. I really don't think something like that will happen, but let's take the opportunity to recognize that no one can ever be 100% certain of anything when it comes to democracy.

Putting that aside, Quebec appears to be almost certainly headed towards a PQ government. The question that will be answered tomorrow night is whether they will be awarded a minority or majority government. If the PQ does not get a majority, their minority is likely to be so large that a scenario where Jean Charest remains in power is unimaginable. So that is really what is at stake, and it will be up to those swing voters hesitating between QS/ON and the PQ, the CAQ and the PQ, and the Liberals and the CAQ to decide.

Then there is the question of who will form the Official Opposition. If the Liberal vote turns out, their vote efficiency virtually assures they will finish second. If it doesn't, or if the CAQ gets a boost in support in the last days of the campaign, then François Legault will become the Leader of the Official Opposition. If Jean Charest is not elected in his riding of Sherbrooke, Legault will likely become the de facto head of the opposition either way.

In addition to those two big questions, there are many small ones to answer. Will Françoise David be elected? Can QS win a third or fourth seat? Will Jean-Martin Aussant return to the National Assembly? Will voters be scared off from the PQ because of the threat of a referendum? Will Jacques Duchesneau, Gaétan Barrette, Léo Bureau-Blouin, the CAQ transfuges, and even François Legault win in their ridings?

It will be a long and fascinating night.