Friday, December 6, 2013

PLQ should win by-elections, as Montreal vote holds steady

Voters in the Quebec provincial ridings of Viau and Outremont will be heading to the polls on Monday to fill the seats vacated by Emmanuel Dubourg (recently elected federal Liberal MP for Bourassa) and Raymond Bachand (who placed third and last in the PLQ leadership race). Both ridings should stay within the provincial Liberal fold, but it does give us an opportunity to look at voting intentions on the island of Montreal.

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The by-election in Viau looks unlikely to have any surprises. David Heurtel of the Liberals should easily take a riding won by Dubourg with 47.3% of the vote in a very bad election year for the party in 2012. In fact, 2012 was the only time that the Liberals did not capture a majority of the vote in Viau. Tania Longpré of the Parti Québécois, Jamilla Leboeuf of the Coalition Avenir Québec, and Geneviève Fortier-Moreau of Québec Solidaire will fight it out for second place.

The PQ has the inside track on that title, as the party took 23.7% of the vote here in 2012, compared to 12.4% for the CAQ and 11.5% for QS. In addition, as we will see below, the PQ's vote on the island of Montreal has been holding steady - if not increasing. Fortier-Moreau, however, is the only return candidate from that election year on a long ballot (nine candidates are running, the others being from Option Nationale, the Greens, the Conservatives, the UCQ and the Équipe Autonomiste).

But Outremont might be of more interest. Philippe Couillard is the Liberal candidate, as he tries to get into the National Assembly to lead his party. With an election expected in the early spring, Couillard might best be able to count in weeks the time he will be Outremont's representative.

On paper, there is the potential for a Couillard defeat. Why? Both the PQ and the CAQ have opted not to put up candidates of their own, in order to facilitate Couillard's entry into the National Assembly. Québec Solidaire is awarding the Liberals no such courtesy, and have the best shot of pulling off an upset if they can gather almost every vote that is against the Liberals.

In 2012, Bachand took 41.5% of the vote in Outremont, followed by the PQ's Roxanne Gendron at 23.2% and Québec Solidaire's Édith Laperle at 18%. Laperle is running again, and if she can capture the PQ's share of the vote she could take as much as 41.2%. Throw in a few CAQ voters not willing to back Couillard and supporters of ON who might be tempted to back the best horse, and you have the ingredients for a QS upset.
But the ingredients are very thin, and not just because Laperle needs every PQ vote as well as a few more votes in order to topple Couillard.

The chart above shows support on the island of Montreal as recorded by CROP since the last election. In that election, the Liberals won the island with 44.9% of the vote, compared to 23.8% for the Parti Québécois, 15.4% for the CAQ, and 12% for Québec Solidaire.

There have been wobbles back and forth since then, but the latest polls suggests that the PQ and the PLQ have both picked up a little support on the island of Montreal, coming from both the CAQ and QS. The most recent poll gave the Liberals 49% support on the island, followed by the PQ at 30%, the CAQ at 12%, and QS at 9%.

If we stretch that back to August, in order to get a stronger sample of around 900 decided voters, we get a clearer picture of support on the island (numbers for all parties have been relatively stable since then, so averaging out these four polls is not unreasonable). In that larger sample, we get the Liberals at 48.5%, the PQ at 29.8%, the CAQ at 9.8%, and QS at 9%.

This means that since the last election, the Liberals have gained roughly four points and the PQ six, with QS down three points and the CAQ down more than five.

If we apply this swing to Outremont, we see that fewer votes are available to Laperle. The proportional swing model would now give the Liberals 45% in Outremont, against 29% for the PQ, 14% for QS, and 9% for the CAQ. Whereas before the combined vote of the PQ and QS was almost equal to that of the Liberals, the two parties now fall two points short of Couillard. And that is without taking into account the boost Couillard is undoubtedly going to get as party leader. Laperle would now need more than a third of the CAQ's vote, an ideological leap that may be too wide to reasonably expect.

In Viau, applying the swing would give Heurtel 51% to 30% for the PQ and 9% for Québec Solidaire.

That Québec Solidaire has apparently dropped in support on the island of Montreal is something to consider when looking at their province-wide support. They have bettered the 6% they took in 2012 in the last seven polls, and the current aggregation has them at 9%. But all of those gains have apparently come off of the island of Montreal, where Québec Solidaire has no concentration of support and little prospect of winning new seats. It is hard to see how QS could win a third or fourth seat on the island of Montreal if their support actually drops - especially considering that we can probably expect Françoise David's share to increase in her riding next time (note that almost 1 in 3 ballots cast for QS on the island in 2012 was either for her or Amir Khadir).

It is also worth noting that the fact the PQ has gained support on the island of Montreal goes against the conventional wisdom that the debate over the secular charter is between urbane Montrealers and bumpkins in the rest of the province. Instead, and polling data has explicitly backed this up, it appears that Montreal francophones are no less likely to support the charter than their counterparts in the rest of the province (some polls suggest they are even more likely to support it). The divide is most certainly regional because of the multicultural population of Montreal vs. the rest of the province, but that is primarily due to the linguistic differences between the regions. This makes the charter good politics for the PQ, because it would appear that they are unlikely to lose the few seats they have in Montreal, while gaining new ones elsewhere.

But for now, the Liberals are the ones who will be gaining seats: Viau and Outremont on Monday.