Monday, April 7, 2014

Final Quebec projection: Liberal victory

Philippe Couillard's Quebec Liberal Party is on track to win tonight's provincial election in Quebec and form a new government. Pauline Marois's Parti Québécois should form the Official Opposition, while François Legault's Coalition Avenir Québec and Françoise David's Québec Solidaire should retain their positions as the third and fourth parties, respectively, in the National Assembly.

The final projection suggests that the Liberals are very likely to win a majority government, though a minority government is still a distinct possibility. All of the charts below can be magnified by clicking or tapping on them.

The likely outcome

The Liberals are projected to win between 60 and 78 seats, putting them mostly over the 63-seat mark needed to form a majority government. They should take between 38.5% and 44.2% of the popular vote. Their best performance since 2003, when Jean Charest first won a majority government, is thus possible. The precise projection is for the Liberals to take 40.1% of the vote and win 69 seats, their best result since 2008 and 2003, respectively.

Click to magnify
The Parti Québécois should finish second with between 38 and 54 seats, capturing between 26.1% and 29.6% of the vote. In terms of seats, the party should not do worse than its 2007 performance under André Boisclair, but could take its lowest share of the vote since 1970, when the PQ took 23% in its first electoral outing. The projection gives them a precise total of 26.9% of the vote and 45 seats. The former would be their worst performance since 1970.

Remaining in third place should be the Coalition Avenir Québec, with between five and 13 seats and between 21% and 24.4% of the vote. More precisely, the CAQ is expected to win 22.8% of the vote and nine seats. That is a drop from their 2012 performance of 19 seats and 27.1% of the vote, but relative to the past results of the Action Démocratique du Québec, its predecessor party, it still represents their third-best result since 1994.

Québec Solidaire will finish fourth with two seats and between 7.2% and 8.4% of the vote (or 7.9% more precisely), which would make this campaign their best result on record.

The provincial Greens, who have fielded only 44 candidates out of a possible 125, are projected to take between 0.5% and 0.7% of the vote. Option Nationale, which has put up almost a full slate, should take between 0.4% and 0.7% of the vote. Other parties and independents are projected to take between 0.5% and 1.5% of the vote (the Conservative Party of Quebec, the party fielding the most candidates in this category, will likely finish first in this group). No seats are projected to be won by any candidate other than those running for the four major parties.

Expecting the unexpected

Recent polling performances have taught us to approach elections with a great deal of caution, and tonight's vote should be no different. In 2012, the Liberals were under-estimated in the polls to a great degree, enough to turn a potential slim PQ majority into a very slim PQ minority. An exact repeat of 2012 is unlikely, as the Liberals are no longer a government in free fall, a role the PQ is now filling. Nevertheless, some sort of miss is still more than possible.

Ranges tracking
The maximum and minimum ranges take that into account (though even here, they are designed to capture 95% of potential results). At these ranges, the Liberals could win between 48 and 83 seats and between 36.1% and 51.4% of the vote, while the PQ could win between 29 and 63 seats and between 25.8% and 34.4% of the vote.

This does open up the possibility of the PQ finishing first in the seat count and second in the popular vote, but it would require a miss of the same proportions as we saw in Alberta and British Columbia. Considering how the campaign unfolded in Quebec, such a result would not only be surprising from a statistical point of view but from a completely subjective one as well. The uncertainty that prevails at the end of this campaign is more in terms of how far the PQ may fall, rather than whether a Liberal victory is in the cards.

That is because of the gains the CAQ has been making in the last two weeks of the campaign. They could win between four and 23 seats and between 18.7% and 26.7% of the vote. As the party has seen its support increase in every new poll since March 19, it makes it very likely that the CAQ will end up on the high side of the projection. Indeed, the CAQ could end up with more seats than they had at dissolution.

For Québec Solidaire, there is far less potential for a major surprise, ranging at between 6.5% and 9.2% of the vote and between two and three seats. That all points to improvement over 2012's result, however.

The Greens and Option Nationale, even at their maximums, are not expected to be able to do much better than their projected result (and could even fall to as little as 0.3% of the vote). Fatima Houda-Pepin in the riding of La Pinière, however, is considered capable of pulling off an upset at the extreme edges of the projection.

Regional breakdown

The Liberals are projected to finish first in the four regions defined by the model: the island of Montreal, the suburbs of Montreal, the Quebec City region, and the rest of the province.

Regional breakdown
On the island of Montreal, the Liberals are projected to have between 50% and 57.3% support, enough to give them 20 or 21 seats. The island is a rather static place in Quebec, where few seats change hands. Even at the extremes, the Liberals are projected to still win between 19 and 21 seats. The PQ should finish second with between 19.1% and 21.6% of the vote, taking five to six seats, while QS should take between 11.7% and 13.6% of the vote and two seats. The CAQ could edge out QS for third in the popular vote, with between 11.9% and 13.9%. The region is where QS could win its third seat, and it will be interesting to see how much of the vote the party takes here. Polls have given them as much as 19% support, which would easily net them four seats, but also as little as 9%, which is less than the 12% the party captured in 2012.

Tracking regional support
In the off-island suburbs of Montreal, the Liberals hold their narrowest lead with between 32.9% and 37.7% of the vote to between 29.5% and 33.5% for the PQ. This should net the PQ between 14 and 17 seats, while the Liberals take between 12 and 14 and the CAQ between zero and four. This is a bit of a swing region, as the extremes expand to 9-21 seats for the PQ, 8-16 for the Liberals, and 0-8 for the CAQ. The results for the CAQ are worth keeping an eye on, as this is the region of Quebec where they have made the most gains since the mid-point of the campaign.

Riding projections, A-L
The Quebec City region is a two-horse race, with the Liberals between 37.2% and 42.7% of the vote, compared to between 31.5% and 36.7% for the CAQ. The Liberals should win between six and eight seats, while the CAQ should take between three and four. The PQ can win none or one. This is another swing region, but primarily for the CAQ. They could win as many as seven seats, dropping the Liberals to three.

Riding projections, L-Z
In the regions of Quebec, the Liberals should take between 35.8% and 41% of the vote and win between 22 and 35 seats. The PQ should capture between 30% and 34% of the vote and between 19 and 30 seats, while the CAQ should take between 21% and 24.5% of the vote and between two and five seats. This is the most important 'region' of Quebec in terms of deciding the electoral outcome (not surprisingly, it has the most seats in the model). This region alone could drop the Liberals to 62 seats and into a minority situation. The major electoral battles will occur in the swathe of territory between Montreal and Quebec City: the Mauricie, Centre-du-Quebec, and Estrie. More than a few three-way races could occur here.

The polls

Polling in Quebec has been quite consistent, with pollsters generally agreeing on the state of the race and the trends that were developing. At the beginning of the campaign, the PQ and Liberals were neck and neck as the CAQ was well behind. But at the mid-point of the campaign the PQ began to falter, as the three other parties inched upwards. The Liberals held steady but the PQ plunged, as the CAQ increased its support significantly. If the campaign had been a week longer, the PQ may have dropped into third. That could potentially still happen.

Polls representing at least 99% of the weighted average
The last set of polls have been rather consistent. With the exception of the Forum Research poll conducted on April 3, all of the final polls (looking at likely voters, when available) have had the Liberals between 38% and 40% of the vote, a rather tight grouping. The PQ has been between 27% and 29%, which is just as tight. But the CAQ has been harder to peg. Ipsos Reid had the party at 18% among likely voters in their poll ending April 1, while the polls from EKOS, Léger, and Forum ending on April 3 had the CAQ at either 21% or 23%. The poll by Angus Reid finishing April 4 had the party at 25%. Is that a normal spread caused by the margin of error, or are these steady gains being made by the CAQ? Did those gains plateau, or would polling conducted on April 6 have shown another two or three point gain for the party?

Campaign polling trends
Support for QS has been mixed as well, with the party at between 6% and 12% in the final polls. The bulk of the surveys, however, put the party under 10%, and considering its historical tendency to under-perform the polls, that is the safest bet.

But the polls have been generally even throughout the campaign, with little real controversy or outliers. It has been interesting, however, to see the polling being dominated by firms from outside Quebec. Léger was the only Quebec-based firm to be polling up to the end, while the other surveys in the last week came from Ipsos Reid, EKOS, Forum (all Ontario-based) and Angus Reid (B.C.-based). CROP dropped out of the field, publicly at least, after their poll of March 13-16. CROP had been very active in 2012, so that was unusual. There was also a great lack of riding-level polling, with only two surveys being released during the entire campaign, after one in five ridings were individually polled in 2012.

How the leaders fared

Both Philippe Couillard and François Legault have seen their numbers improve throughout the campaign. The most frequently polled question, on who would make the best premier, showed gains for both leaders.

Couillard had started the year at between 22% and 25% on this question, but as the campaign progressed that increased to between 26% and 27% to 30% in the last Angus Reid and 33% in the final Ipsos Reid. Legault went from 13% to 15% before the campaign began to between 23% and 25% at the end of it, putting him either in a tie or ahead of Pauline Marois. The incumbent premier dropped from 30% to between 20% and 25%.

Forum was the only firm to also ask approval rating questions, and here we see growth for Legault again. His approval rating was 32% at the beginning of the campaign, while his disapproval rating was 49%. In Forum's last poll, Legault had an approval rating of 57% to 27% disapproval. He really had a stellar campaign - but most of it in the last two weeks.

Couillard's numbers were stable after an early jump from 34% to 44% approval. His approval rating barely deviated from that to the end of the campaign, while his disapproval rating topped out at 42% in the final week.

Marois's approval ratings dropped insignificantly but consistently, from 34% to 32% and then 31% at the end of the campaign, as her disapproval rating increased from 58% to 65%.

These three sets of numbers tell the story of the election rather well. An early bump for Couillard that held steady (a good way to describe his campaign), and sustained decrease and increase for Marois and Legault, respectively.

Pauline Marois is given a 55% chance of winning her riding of Charlevoix-Côte-de-Beaupré, with between 36% and 41% of the vote against 33% to 38% for her Liberal challenger. One would expect a leadership bonus to make her safe, but we've seen many cases of leaders losing their seats in recent elections (Darrell Dexter in Nova Scotia, Christy Clark in British Columbia, Michael Ignatieff and Gilles Duceppe in the federal election of 2011).

It is a similar situation in Roberval, Philippe Couillard's chosen riding. He lives there, but he certainly did not choose an easy seat for himself. The Saguenay-Lac-Saint-Jean region is not known for its Liberal leanings. The model considers the riding a genuine toss-up, with the PQ given a 50% chance of winning it with 38% to 44% of the vote against 37% to 43% for Couillard.

Oddly enough, François Legault is slated to be the leader most likely to win his seat of the three main parties. And this after he spent most of the campaign expected to lose. He is given a 61% chance of winning L'Assomption, with between 38% and 44% of the vote against 35% to 39% for the PQ candidate.

Françoise David is the safest leader going into tonight's vote, with an 87% chance of winning her Montreal riding of Gouin. She is projected to take between 47% and 54% of the vote, against 27% to 30% for the PQ candidate. Her co-spokesperson, Andrès Fontecilla, is unlikely to be successful in the neighbouring riding of Laurier-Dorion. Gerry Skalvounos of the Liberals is given a 73% chance of winning, with between 38% and 43% of the vote against 25% to 28% for Fontecilla. I would bet on a better performance for Fontecilla, however.

A campaign that shows the importance of campaigns

Most commentators, including yours truly, expected the Parti Québécois to be successful in its quest for a majority government. The PQ was dominating among francophones and Couillard was starting to look like he had the leadership instincts of an Ignatieff. The CAQ was being squeezed out of the debate on the charter. But in the end, a mismanaged, chaotic, and inconsistent campaign sunk Pauline Marois and the PQ. As soon as the focus turned to a potential referendum, the Liberals made headway as the best anti-PQ option. And as soon as the PQ started to flail wildly as its poll numbers dropped, Legault began to look like the better anti-Liberal option. It was a disaster for the PQ from start to finish.

This is what makes the last polls of the campaign believable. One could argue in Alberta that Wildrose did not have the feeling of a government about to come to power, or that in B.C. the New Democrats had not really waged a winning campaign. It would be shocking if the PQ somehow managed to win this election tonight, after itself giving every indication that the party was on track for defeat. The behaviour of the party over the last few weeks has not been the behaviour of a party doing well.

That does not make tonight's vote a foregone conclusion. There are numerous factors to take into account:

The Liberals have only been out of power for 18 months. Are Quebecers ready to give them a majority government? Will voters who want nothing of a PQ victory but still feel uncomfortable with the Liberals go over to the CAQ, now that a PQ re-election is no longer likely?

Will the PQ manage to convince enough sovereigntists not to split the vote in order to prevent a majority victory by the Liberals?

The CAQ's voters have been recorded in poll after poll as being much less committed to their party than supporters of the PQ and Liberals. Will those voters waver when it comes time to cast a ballot? Does the CAQ have enough organization to get out its vote? Will the momentum that has been carrying Legault and the CAQ forward in the last few weeks continue and push the party to new heights?

And will QS be able to better its historical under-performance of the polls, concentrating its vote in the right places? Or will their high hopes be squashed again?

We'll find out tonight. It has been a whirlwind of a campaign, so plenty could still have occurred in the final days after the pollsters left the field. But Philippe Couillard and his Liberal Party appear set to prevail.