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Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois speaks during a Montreal news conference on Feb. 19, 2012. (OLIVIER JEAN/Olivier Jean/Reuters)
Parti Quebecois Leader Pauline Marois speaks during a Montreal news conference on Feb. 19, 2012. (OLIVIER JEAN/Olivier Jean/Reuters)

Crunching Numbers

PQ claws its way back atop tumultuous Quebec polling landscape Add to ...

After flirting for almost a year with the kind of catastrophe that reduced the Bloc Québécois to only four seats in last May’s federal election, the Parti Québécois is back on top in Quebec and would likely have formed government had an election taken place this month.

A weighted average of recent polls from Léger Marketing and CROP puts support for the PQ at 29.4 per cent, narrowly edging out the governing Liberals. Premier Jean Charest’s party has the projected support of 29 per cent of Quebeckers, while François Legault’s Coalition-Avenir-Québec trails with 27.2 per cent.

It is a dramatic change of fortunes. In an average of polls from these firms in November, the CAQ was on track to form a majority government with 34 per cent of the vote, well ahead of the Liberals (24.5 per cent) and the PQ (20 per cent). But in a matter of months, and particularly since the beginning of 2012, the CAQ’s support has dropped precipitously to the benefit of both Pauline Marois and Mr. Charest.

With these levels of support, the Parti Québécois would likely win 51 seats in the 125-seat National Assembly and form a minority government. The Liberals would likely win 39 seats and become the Official Opposition, while the CAQ would win 33 seats. Québec Solidaire would likely double its current seat count from one to two.

This is in sharp contrast to the November projection, when the CAQ was forecast to win 88 seats and the PQ only eight.

But despite the PQ and the Liberals being neck-and-neck in the popular vote province-wide, the PQ has a significant advantage among the francophone electorate. They have roughly 35 per cent support among French-speaking Quebeckers, who are predominate in the vast majority of the province’s ridings. The CAQ follows with 32 per cent while the Liberals have only 19 per cent support among this demographic.

However, the Liberals have a monopoly on the non-francophone vote with 73 per cent support. No other party cracks double digits among anglophone and allophone voters.

This is the main reason behind the Liberals’ significant edge in and around Montreal, where they lead with 35.9 per cent to 24.4 per cent for the PQ and 23.6 per cent for the CAQ. It is also why the Liberals have a solid base of seats to rely upon on the island of Montreal. In the region as a whole, they would be projected to win 33 seats to 12 for the CAQ, 11 for the PQ, and two for Québec Solidaire.

The one bastion for Mr. Legault remains Quebec City. His party leads there with 35.4 per cent support, trailed at length by the Liberals (26 per cent) and the PQ (25.8 per cent). Following in the footsteps of Mario Dumont’s ADQ, which officially merged with the CAQ earlier this year, Mr. Legault’s party would win seven seats in the city compared to two apiece for the PQ and the Liberals.

Outside of the two main cities of the province, the Parti Québécois has a wide lead of its own with 36.3 per cent support, compared to 29.3 per cent for the CAQ and 20.7 per cent for the Liberals. The PQ wins the bulk of their seats in the regions of Quebec, taking 38 to 14 for the CAQ and only four for the Liberals.

The lines are being drawn in the province between the three parties. The Parti Québécois is strongly positioned in the rural and francophone regions of Quebec, as well as its traditional fortress in the Saguenay–Lac-Saint-Jean region and south of Montreal. The Liberals are dominant on the island of Montreal and in the Outaouais, and are very competitive in the suburbs of the province’s main city. The CAQ, meanwhile, has a base in the capital and is well-placed in the suburbs north of Montreal.

However, there are many close contests throughout the province. Taking these into account, the Parti Québécois is currently in a position to win between 44 and 58 seats in a snap election, compared to 35 to 45 for the Liberals and 28 to 38 for the CAQ. In other words, the odds heavily favour a PQ minority government but the Liberals are still in the running – though Mr. Charest is also at risk of finishing third behind Mr. Legault.

Though Ms. Marois is still far removed from the 40 per cent her party registered in April, the tide appears to be turning back in her favour after suffering through months of the PQ’s endemic internal turmoil. And Mr. Legault, who is only weeks removed from being on track to become the province’s next premier, could instead remain as the leader of a third party in the National Assembly.

To say that the Quebec electorate is in flux would be an under-statement. From Jean Charest’s vantage point, the window appears to have closed for a successful election campaign before the summer – but with this volatility who knows what the spring thaw will bring?

The projection aggregates polls from Léger Marketing (Feb. 10-12, 2,009 surveyed) and CROP (Feb. 17-21, 1,000 surveyed), weighing them by sample size, date, and the polling firm’s accuracy record. The seat projection model makes individual projections for all 125 ridings in the province, based on the provincial and regional shifts in support since the 2008 election and including the application of factors unique to each riding, such as the effects of incumbency. The projection is subject to the margins of error of the polls included as well as the unpredictable nature of politics at the riding level.

Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com

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