Ever since the controversial Mario Beaulieu became its leader in June, the Bloc Québécois has been drifting further into irrelevance. What kind of opportunity has this opened up for the other parties in Quebec?
It is undeniable the Bloc has taken a significant hit in recent months. It was already struggling to better its 23 per cent performance from the 2011 federal election when Beaulieu unexpectedly won the leadership.
But two new polls suggest the Bloc is on the verge of dropping into fourth place in Quebec.
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The polls were conducted by Quebec-based pollsters CROP (for La Presse) and Léger (for Le Devoir), each surveying 1,000 Quebecers via the firms' internet panels. CROP was in the field between Sept. 17 and 22, while Léger polled between Sept. 22 and 25. As these surveys were conducted online, a margin of error is not applicable.
The Léger poll pegged support for the BQ at just 16 per cent, the lowest registered by the company in more than a year. CROP, meanwhile, had the Bloc at just 13 per cent, confirming the historic low it had reported in its previous survey in August.
This is not just a case of fatigue with federal politics, but rather disinterest with the Bloc Québécois itself. Before removing the undecideds from the sample, both CROP and Léger estimated support for the provincial Parti Québécois to be 18 per cent. The very same people polled by the two firms gave the Bloc between 11 and 14 per cent support. In other words, roughly a third of respondents who would otherwise cast a ballot for the separatist PQ at the provincial level opted to support a federalist party at the federal level.
From crisis comes opportunity
With the Bloc dropping and making available as much as 10 points' worth of support that had gone its way in 2011, an opportunity has opened up for both the NDP and Liberals.
The Conservatives polled at 12 and 13 per cent in the two surveys, below their 17 per cent support in the 2011 election, and so do not seem poised to make any gains in popular support in the province.
The Liberals have made inroads at the expense of both the Conservatives and NDP since the last election, as CROP and Léger placed the party at 34 and 39 per cent support respectively (up from 14 per cent in 2011). The NDP was down to 29 and 36 per cent respectively from the 43 per cent they scored at the ballot box 3½ years ago.
And it seems with the renewed slide of the Bloc, it is the Liberals who are taking most advantage.
Both Léger and CROP have Liberal support up since mid-June, and particularly among francophones. In the polls conducted since Beaulieu's victory, the Liberals have averaged nearly five points more support than they did in the same period before the BQ leadership vote, while the NDP has hardly budged.
Regional and linguistic divides
Of the two parties, though, who currently has the edge?
It is very difficult to reconcile the polls from Léger and CROP, as the results for the Liberals and especially the NDP are far apart. Based on what other surveys have been showing, Léger is more likely closer to the mark. But it will be necessary to see future polls before determining whether or not the NDP have moved from the high-20s to the mid-30s in the province.
In some respects, however, the NDP are better positioned than the Liberals.
Both CROP and Léger gave the New Democrats the advantage among francophones, who decide the outcome in the vast majority of Quebec's seats. Though Léger gave the NDP only a two-point edge (32 vs. 30 per cent for the Liberals), CROP put the gap at 10 points (38 to 28 per cent). This is consistent with surveys conducted throughout 2014, as the NDP has not trailed among francophones in any poll since before February.
On who Quebecers would prefer as prime minister, Thomas Mulcair polled better (29 per cent according to Léger, 31 per cent according to CROP) than Justin Trudeau (26 and 25 per cent, respectively).
The Liberals do have a very comfortable lead among non-francophones, with between 57 and 67 per cent support across the two surveys. The NDP trailed at length, with between 18 and 29 per cent. But this vote is largely wasted for the Liberals, as they would pile up huge majorities in a handful of ridings.
The NDP's vote is more efficiently distributed, and polls have suggested that the NDP is doing quite well among Montreal-area francophones, as well as in Quebec City and the "regions" of the province. Nevertheless, the Liberals are competitive throughout Quebec, indicating there will be electoral battles from one end of the province to the other.
These contests could come in unexpected places if support for the Bloc does not rebound. The BQ even risks slipping behind the Conservatives in the province as the Liberals and NDP vie for top spot.
With Quebec shaping up to experience another dramatic swing in 2015 to follow the one of 2011, voting patterns could shift in unpredictable ways — making the outcome in virtually every riding even more uncertain than usual.
The Léger and CROP polls were weighted by age, sex, language, region, and education level in order to have the sample reflect the voting-age population of Quebec.
Léger says the French-language wording of the questions mentioned in this article was as follows: "Si des élections fédérales avaient lieu aujourd'hui, pour quel parti auriez-vous l'intention de voter? Serait-ce pour...?" (If a federal election were held today, for which party do you intend to vote? Would it be for...) and "Selon vous, lequel des chefs de partis fédéraux ferait le meilleur premier ministre du Canada?" (In your opinion, which of the federal party leaders would make the best prime minister of Canada?)
The wording of the questions asked in French by CROP and mentioned in this article was as follows: "Si des élections fédérales avaient lieu maintenant au Canada, pour lequel des partis suivants voteriez-vous? Voteriez-vous pour...?" (If a federal election was being held now in Canada, for which of the following parties would you vote? Would you vote for...?) and "Parmi les chefs de parti suivants, lequel ferait le meilleur premier ministre du Canada?" (Of the following party leaders, who would make the best prime minister of Canada?)