A new poll showing a dramatic shift in public opinion among francophone voters is adding a new layer of uncertainty to the final week of the Quebec election campaign.
The Coalition Avenir Quebec jumped nine percentage points since last Thursday's televised debate, which, according to a survey obtained by The Globe and Mail from the party, was won by party leader François Legault. The poll of only francophone voters was paid for by the CAQ and conducted by CROP, which frequently conducts surveys for Quebec media outlets, including La Presse and Radio-Canada. Its last results gave the Liberals a slight lead.
The Liberals and PQ conduct their own polling and have not released results during the campaign. The CAQ, however, turned to established polling firms which it pays to gauge public opinion.
The poll of only francophone voters shows the Parti Québécois at 36 per cent, ahead of the Liberals at 29 per cent, the CAQ at 24 per cent and Quebec Solidaire at 8 per cent.
The polling firm CROP surveyed 1,000 francophone respondents online on March 28 and 29.
During its maiden election campaign in 2012, the CAQ received 27 per cent of the popular vote, mainly in predominantly francophone ridings. The latest poll among francophones voters indicate that the CAQ's base of support may be swinging back to Mr. Legault, leaving the prospect of the election of another minority government in the April 7 vote.
Should future polls confirm a three-way race among francophone voters, it could create several surprises and upsets on election day.
CROP vice-president Youri Rivest confirmed the poll numbers and said the question regarding voter intentions was the same as the one the firm asked in previous polls.
Mr. Rivest refused to make any public comments regarding the results. He explained that CROP does not always comment on the results of opinion polls conducted for private clients.
According to the polling firm's analysis of the survey, Mr. Legault's performance during the televised leaders' debate had a significant impact on voters. More than half – 51 per cent – of those who saw the debate concluded that Mr. Legault had won. Even those who didn't watch the debate came to the same conclusion simply by what they had heard about the event, the CAQ noted in its analysis.
The poll also found that Mr. Legault's image had significantly improved since last week's debate. At the outset of the campaign the PQ struggled after the arrival of media magnate Pierre Karl Péladeau as a star candidate for the PQ. The vote quickly polarized, boosting support for the Liberals who hammered away at the threat the PQ represented for the holding of another referendum on sovereignty. "However, things have changed in a remarkable way since the debate," the CAQ stated in its analysis.
Francophone voters are split three ways when asked which leader has conducted the best campaign, with Liberal Leader Philippe Couillard holding a slight lead over Mr. Legault and the PQ's Pauline Marois.
"The increase in support for the CAQ observed in this poll appear credible but like all shifts in public opinion will need to be corroborated by other measures over the coming days," the CAQ stated in its analysis of the poll.
Another CROP poll conducted for a Quebec media is expected to be published in the coming days and will help further gauge the importance of the CAQ's increase in popular support.
Editor's note: An earlier version of this story incorrectly attributed quotes from the analysis of the poll results. The quotes are from an analysis written by the Coalition Avenir Quebec political party and not CROP, the polling firm.