Jean Charest's Liberals may be headed for defeat in the Sept. 4 election according to two public opinion polls, both showing the Parti Québécois with a small lead, but indicating various degrees of voter support for the upstart Coalition Avenir Quebec.
The CAQ's impact on the campaign is still hard to measure, especially since the party' s star candidate, former Montreal police chief and anti-corruption crusader Jacques Duchesneau entered the race. The potential for a close three-way race remains a real possibility on voting day as voters gauge their options in the early stages of the campaign.
According to the survey conducted by Léger Marketing for the Montreal daily Le Devoir, the PQ has the support of 32 per cent of voters, the Liberals 31 per cent and the CAQ 27 per cent, a six-point jump from the previous poll for Leader François Legault's new party since the campaign was launched on Aug. 1.
However, the PQ still leads among the crucial francophone voters who decide the outcome of elections in the province. According to the Léger poll, 39 per cent of francophones support the PQ compared to only 18 per cent for the Liberals and 31 per cent for the CAQ. Meanwhile, 81 per cent of non-francophone voters concentrated mainly in the Montreal region support the Liberals.
The polling firm CROP also gives a slim overall lead to the PQ. The survey, conducted for the Gesca group of newspapers including La Presse and Le Soleil, shows the PQ at 32-per cent, the Liberals at 29 per cent and the CAQ at 21 per cent. The CROP poll has the PQ holding a commanding lead among francophone voters at 38-per cent, with 25 per cent supporting the CAQ and 22-per cent for the Liberals.
A third poll poll conducted in Mr. Charest's home riding of Sherbrooke showed that the incumbent leader could face a humiliating personal defeat at the hands of the PQ candidate Serge Cardin.
The poll, conducted by Segma Recherche for the local Sherbrooke daily La Tribune, gives the PQ candidate a 15-percentage point lead over Mr. Charest. Mr. Cardin received 46 per cent of the support of Sherbrooke riding voters, with Mr. Charest trailing at 31 per cent. The CAQ candidate received 11 per cent support from the 501 voters surveyed in the riding between Aug. 6 and Aug. 8, 2012.
It appeared Mr. Charest continued to attract solid support from the elderly voters who have traditionally voted Liberal in the riding. However, he faced an uphill battle in consolidating support from voters in all other age groups, according to the poll.
Although the gap appears slim between the PQ and the Liberals, Mr. Charest's support continues to drop among francophones. Depending on how the vote splits in various ridings, the PQ could form either a majority or a minority government based on the two recent surveys.
The numbers from the Léger poll indicate that "the Liberals would lose francophone seats," pollster Jean-Marc Léger said in an interview with Le Devoir, adding that Quebec was involved "in a real campaign, a real battle and that everything was unpredictable."
The numbers indicate that voters were still weighing their options. According to the CROP poll, 44 per cent of those surveyed said they could change their allegiance between now and voting day. Moreover, the disapproval rating among voters towards the Charest government remained steady. The CROP poll showed that 68 per cent of voters disapprove of the Liberals.
Although Mr. Charest launched the campaign in the middle of summer, 64 per cent of Quebeckers said they were interested in the campaign, according to the CROP survey.
And in a campaign dominated by the issue of corruption in the financing of political parties and the awarding of government contracts, the CAQ, with Mr. Duchesneau in its ranks, emerged as the party best suited to fight corruption and collusion, according to the CROP poll. Voters conclude that the PQ was the best party to settle the student strike, but that Liberals were still viewed as the best party to manage the economy.
The numbers explain the strategies adopted by the parties, with the Liberals focusing on the economy and the CAQ on corruption, while the PQ continues to position itself as the only viable alternative to the Charest government.
But not all is lost for Mr. Charest. The CROP poll showed that Quebeckers still view him as best suited to be premier, followed closely by PQ Leader Pauline Marois, and Mr. Legault not far behind.
The Léger poll was conducted via Internet using a sample of 1,589 eligible voters between Aug. 6 and Aug. 8, 2012. The numbers were deemed to be accurate within 2.5 percentage points (+ or –) 19 times out of 20.
The CROP poll was conducted between Aug. 4 and Aug. 8, 2012. The firm conducted telephone interviews with 1,061 eligible voters. The margin of error for such a sample was within 3 percentage points (+ or –) 19 times out of 20.
The Segma Recherche poll was conducted in telephone interviews with 501 voters in the riding. The margin of error for a poll this size is 4.4 percentage points (+ or -) 19 times out of 20.