Tuesday, April 1, 2014

About the CAQ poll...

Starve the beast long enough, and it will eat anything.

There hasn't been a public media poll released in the Quebec campaign since March 25, and that poll was out of the field on March 23. In other words, the last information we have about the state of the race is now nine days old. A lot has happened since then. The information is terribly out of date, and may no longer reflect the actual situation.

Note: A Forum poll was released at the same time as I wrote this. So, there's that.

So when the Coalition Avenier Québec leaked a poll, that they ordered from CROP, to the media, it was jumped on with desperation. The poll first appeared on the website of The Globe and Mail, and the frenzy started with articles in La Presse, Le Devoir and Le Journal de Montréal and by the Canadian Press.

ThreeHundredEight.com does not use internal polls, and so the poll leaked by the CAQ will not be included in the model. This is not about reliability, as the CAQ apparently does not have its own pollster and instead ordered a survey from CROP. That is a reliable firm, and the report I have seen is indeed a normal CROP report. (Were the poll released by the exclusive pollster of a political party, I wouldn't consider the results at all.) There is nothing untoward in the wording or order of the questions. CROP was asked for a proper poll, and by all appearances they provided it.

Of course, the CAQ did not provide all of the results to the media. A cursory look at the PDF shows that roughly 16 pages out of about 50 pages are missing, containing about eight of the roughly two dozen questions asked. Now why could that be?

This is the problem with internal polls. If the poll had been bad for the CAQ, we would never have seen it. This might be the first poll ordered by the CAQ in this campaign (they aren't flush with money, after all) but we don't know if that is the case or not. Did the CAQ get some worse polls earlier in the campaign and keep the results to itself? Will the CAQ release any new polls it might order if the results are less favourable? That we have to ask these questions shows just why internal polls are problematic.

That the leaked report is a scan rather than the actual PDF tells the story - those 16 pages had to be removed somehow. But why? Were the results on those 16 pages unfavourable to the CAQ? Were the questions asked politically embarrassing? Did those questions reveal strategy or concerns that the CAQ has? Likely it is a mix of all three, but for our purposes the first is the most important.

It is hard to analyse a poll that is only partially released, with all the good results for the CAQ still in it and all the bad results hidden from view. The poll certainly has plenty of good news for the CAQ, but it likely also has plenty of bad news. So, while we can say that there are some positive signs for the party based on this leaked poll, we do not know if there are also some very negative signs for the party as well. If this was a normal poll and all of the information was available, my analysis might end up being that despite some good news for the CAQ, overall the party still has no chance.

I don't want to spend too much time on the numbers themselves, as I would then be playing the CAQ's game. But some of the results are interesting.

The headlines focused on francophone support (the poll was only of francophones, implying the CAQ has given up on non-francophones), and showed the Parti Québécois at 36%, the Liberals at 29%, and the CAQ at 24%. That represents a big drop for the PQ and a big gain for the CAQ. It also implies that overall support would be roughly 40% for the Liberals, 30% for the PQ, and 20% for the CAQ (interestingly, that is about what the just-released Forum poll shows). Majority territory for Philippe Couillard.

Yet the poll shows a majority (52%) expect the next government to be a minority, with just 32% thinking that it will be a majority government.

The poll also showed that Pauline Marois and Couillard have relatively mixed numbers in terms of whether francophones have a good or bad opinion of them, while François Legault and Françoise David have very positive scores. But in an interesting reveal of the CAQ's curiosity, they polled two other figures as well: Pierre Karl Péladeau (49% good opinion, 40% bad) and Jacques Duchesneau (33% good, 36% bad). Why did the CAQ poll about Duchesneau, who isn't running for them anymore? To get an indication of Péladeau's relative worth? To see whether Duchesneau's loss has hurt the party?

The most interesting result - and in this we really do see the CAQ's thinking - is on support for the charter and a referendum. The CAQ had CROP ask whether voters were for both, for one and against the other, or against both.

The result: 21% of francophones said they were both for the charter and for a referendum. But 47% said they were for the charter and against a referendum. This is the CAQ's butter zone. Another 3% said they were against the charter but for a referendum (no one is trying to appeal to these rare voters, except possibly Québec Solidaire), while 29% said they were against both (the Liberal clientele).

The poll also showed the power of perception. While 51% of those who watched the debate on TVA last week thought Legault won it, 41% who did not watch it also thought that Legault had won it, based on post-debate coverage. 

So what to make of this poll? Some of the entrails are interesting, but it is skewed too much by reporting bias (only the results the CAQ deemed positive for them were released). Let's wait until we see the next public poll by CROP or Léger before reaching any conclusions.