With a solid and persistent lead among francophone voters in Quebec, Pauline Marois had good reason to hope for a majority victory when she dissolved her government and called new elections. Now that the vote is just days away, the Parti Québécois instead appears to be on track for a crushing defeat.
ThreeHundredEight.com's latest vote and seat projections, taking into account all polls that have been conducted so far in the campaign, gives the PQ just 29 per cent of the vote, down nine points from where the party stood only four weeks ago. The Liberals are projected to have 41 per cent support, a gain of six points since the campaign began. The Coalition Avenir Québec has made some gains as well and is projected to be at 18 per cent support, followed by Québec Solidaire at 10 per cent.
With these numbers, what had been a comfortable PQ majority is now looking like a big Liberal victory. The Liberals are currently projected to win 72 seats, well above the 63 required to form a majority government. The PQ, which had 54 seats at dissolution, is on track to be reduced to 46 seats, while the CAQ could fall to just five. QS should be able to retain their two seats without problem.
Reversal of fortunes for PQ
It has been a remarkable turn of events for the PQ. The party was polling at around 35 to 36 per cent at the beginning of the year, with that support increasing to between 36 and 38 per cent when the campaign was kicked off. But since then, the PQ has been shedding support, dropping to between 32 and 33 per cent at the mid-point of the campaign before plummeting to below 30 per cent in the last two surveys released.
The three other major parties have all benefited. But the CAQ has perhaps made the biggest increase, having started the campaign at around 13 to 14 per cent and having now managed 19 per cent in the last two polls. It may be enough for Leader François Legault to exit political life with a respectable showing, but he is still well below the 27 per cent his party captured in 2012.
The campaign is not over yet, and with the changes that have occurred over the last four weeks it should not come as a surprise if further changes take place between the last day of polling (April 1) and election day (April 7). But the trends will be hard to reverse for Ms. Marois.
The projection model's vote and seat ranges may give a better indication of what to expect on election night, considering the potential for polling error and shifting sympathies over the next few days.
Liberal seat projection in majority territorty
These still point to a Liberal victory, with the most likely seat haul for the party ranging between 62 and 79 seats (with between 39 and 45 per cent support). That does not overlap with the PQ's range of between 42 and 56 seats (with between 28 and 32 per cent of the vote), though it does make a Liberal minority government a plausible result. The CAQ can be expected to win between two and six seats with between 17 and 20 per cent support.
While there is always the possibility of a late and dramatic swing in voting intentions, which appears to have been the cause of most of the error in Alberta, the difficulty in identifying who will turn out to the polls (the issue in B.C.) remains. One pollster in this campaign (Ipsos Reid) is separately reporting likely voter results, a strategy that was used with success by Abacus Data in the most recent provincial election, which occurred in Nova Scotia in October. Hopefully the lessons learned over the last few years will pay dividends on Monday. But if voting intentions swing dramatically or fail to capture the intentions of actual voters, a wider range of outcomes can be imagined. The Liberals could win between 53 and 85 seats while the PQ could take between 36 and 63. The ingredients for a PQ surprise are there – perhaps even a slim majority government – but the likelihood is small.
With the same assumptions, the CAQ could win between one and eight seats and QS between two and three.
The PQ's support among francophones has dropped considerably since the campaign began, when it stood at an average of 46 per cent. It currently sits at an estimated 34 per cent, while the Liberals have jumped to 30 from 24 per cent and the CAQ to 22 from 18 per cent.
This has been reflected in the PQ's losses outside of Montreal. The party has fallen 11 points in the suburbs north and south of Montreal, 10 points in Quebec City, and nine points in the regions of Quebec. The Liberals were the beneficiaries, with gains of five points in the suburbs, eight points in the regions, and 13 points in Quebec City.
With polls now suggesting the gap between the Liberals and PQ has increased significantly, particularly among those voters most likely to cast a ballot, it appears very likely that Philippe Couillard will emerge from Monday's vote as Quebec's new premier. But the final polls of the campaign may give us a clue whether or not that expectation will be likely to hold.
ThreeHundredEight.com's vote and seat projection model aggregates all publicly released polls, weighing them by sample size, date, and the polling firm's accuracy record. The seat projection model makes individual projections for all ridings in the province, based on the regional shifts in support since the 2012 election. Projections are subject to the margins of error of the opinion polls included in the model, as well as the unpredictable nature of politics at the riding level. Full methodology can be found here.
Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com.