When Quebeckers head to the ballot boxes on April 7, Pauline Marois is hoping they will give her Parti Québécois minority government a majority mandate. Voters have 33 days to make up their minds. But if an election were held today, Ms. Marois would likely get her wish fulfilled.
The latest vote projection from ThreeHundredEight.com gives the Parti Québécois 38 per cent support in the province, followed by the Liberals under Philippe Couillard at 35 per cent and François Legault's Coalition Avenir Québec at 15 per cent. Though the margin between the PQ and the Liberals is narrow, the sovereigntist party is well placed to win a majority government.
Based on these levels of support, the seat projection model awards 69 seats to the PQ, well above the 63 required to form a majority government and representing a gain of 15 seats from the number the party held at dissolution. The Liberals would drop one seat to 49, while the CAQ would be reduced to just five seats in the National Assembly. Mr. Legault's party elected 19 MNAs in 2012. At 8 per cent, Québec Solidaire would see its two MNAs re-elected.
The francophone majority
The PQ's ability to win a majority government with a popular vote margin of less than three percentage points is due to the party's towering advantage among francophones, who make up the majority of voters in almost all of Quebec's 125 ridings. The PQ is projected to have the support of 46 per cent of francophones, against 24 per cent for the Liberals and 18 per cent for the CAQ.
The Liberals have the support of 76 per cent of non-francophones, with the PQ at 9 per cent and the CAQ at 7 per cent. This gives the Liberals the advantage on the island of Montreal, where they are projected to hold 49 per cent support to just 28 per cent for the PQ and 12 per cent for Québec Solidaire. This should hand the Liberals an easy majority of seats in the city.
PQ dominates outside major cities
But in the rest of the province, the Liberals do not have nearly as much strength. In the suburbs surrounding the island of Montreal, the PQ has 44 per cent support to 30 per cent for the Liberals and 16 per cent for the CAQ, enough to give the PQ two-thirds of the region's seats. The area around the provincial capital is a three-way race, with the PQ and Liberals tied at 31 per cent apiece and the CAQ trailing with 25 per cent. In the rest of the province outside the two metropolitan centres, the PQ holds sway with 40 per cent support to 30 per cent for the Liberals and 18 per cent for the CAQ.
The regional advantages awarded to the PQ by the polls give them a good cushion in its quest for a majority government. When taking into account the potential for errors in the polls, the PQ is estimated to be in a position to win between 62 and 81 seats, compared to between 36 and 56 for the Liberals. That leaves little room for anything but a majority victory by the PQ, barring significant polling error.
Where support might shift
Of course, a month of campaigning remains and the polls will undoubtedly move. But it will require a swing in momentum for the tide to turn in Mr. Couillard's favour. Since the debate over the secular charter erupted at the end of August, the PQ has been steadily making gains in the polls. The party was polling under 30 per cent at the time, with the Liberals flirting with 40 per cent support. Both the Liberals and the CAQ have seen their support drift away since then – particularly among francophones. The PQ now has the support of almost one in two French-speakers in Quebec. Little less than a year ago, the party was tied with the Liberals at 30 per cent among this election-deciding demographic.
But the Liberals do have some potential for growth – perhaps more than the PQ does, as the party might have maxed out its likely support. The latest Léger poll for Le Journal de Montréal suggests that the Liberals are the second choice of almost half of the CAQ's supporters. The PQ is the second choice of 19 per cent of CAQ supporters, with other parties and "none of the above" making up the rest. Coincidentally, only half of CAQ voters said their support for the Mr. Legault was definitive. The Liberals also score better than the PQ on issues related to healthcare and the economy.
The Parti Québécois, however, polls more strongly on issues related to identity, which will be a major plank of its campaign. That has been a focus for the government over the last few months as well. Since that coincided with increasing popular support, it may be a winning strategy to employ over these last four weeks.
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.