Health most important issue for Quebec voters, Vote Compass survey says

Health, education and the economy are the top three concerns of voters so far in the election, according to a survey of 50,000 people. But, for young people, their number one concern is the environment.

But, for young people, their number one concern is the environment

Coalition Avenir Québec Leader Francois Legault has made several promises related to health-care issues so far in the campaign. (Paul Chiasson/Canadian Press)

Health care has displaced the economy as the top priority for voters early in the Quebec election campaign, according to a survey of more than 50,000 people.

In the two previous elections — 2012, 2014 — the economy was the most commonly cited issue of Quebec voters who opted to take an online questionnaire known as Vote Compass.

The economy was also the top issue in the Vote Compass survey conducted for the June election in Ontario and the current campaign underway in New Brunswick.

But after several years of sturdy economic growth here, the economy has dropped off as a concern of Quebec voters.

Only 21 per cent of respondents chose the economy as their top issue this year, compared to nearly half (47 per cent) in 2014, when the Liberals defeated a short-lived minority Parti Québécois government.

"It's surprising to see the drop, but the economy is doing well so maybe people feel they don't have to worry about it," said Charles Breton, research director of Vox Pop Labs, the data science firm that runs Vote Compass in partnership with CBC and Radio-Canada.

Taking the economy's place in the top spot is health, chosen as the primary concern of 30 per cent of respondents.

That comes following a series of contentious health-care reforms imposed by the Liberal government and widespread debate in the province about how to care for Quebec's aging population.

Not surprisingly, it has also been raised on the campaign trail. Current frontrunners, the Coalition Avenir Québec, have repeatedly attacked the Liberals for their handling of the health-care file.   

"Health care is what the parties have been talking about," said Breton.

"Whether it's care for the elderly or doctor's salaries — those are the discussions that have been happening so far on the campaign trail."

Generational divide on environment

Education (24 per cent) and the environment (13 per cent) round out the top four issues at the forefront of the minds of respondents.

But there is also a sharp generational divide when it comes to the issue that voters care about the most.

Younger voters (aged 18-34) most commonly cited the environment, while health care was the dominant issue for voters over 55.

In 2014, said Breton, only around 10 per cent of young voters singled out the environment as a priority. Now 27 per cent of them do. More women (19 per cent) also cited the environment than men (13 per cent).

In addition to the generational divide, there were linguistic difference. English-speakers were more likely to cite the environment as their top issue, whereas francophones were more likely to choose health. 

And those things people don't care about

The issues that have dropped off in importance are, arguably, just as telling as the priorities.

Sovereignty and language issues were roughly twice as important in the elections of 2012 and 2014 than they are now.

This reflects the fact that none of the main parties, not even the PQ, have much to say about a referendum.

The PQ's leader, Jean-François Lisée, has promised not to hold a vote on Quebec independence until 2022, or in the other words, not until a second PQ mandate.

That has contributed to the historic nature of the campaign, the first in more than a generation where the prospect of a referendum is off the table.

Some analysts expected concerns over immigration and diversity could fill the space once occupied by sovereignty.

But the Vote Compass results suggest that too isn't a major concern of voters, despite being amply debated among the parties and in the media.

Even following the controversy surrounding the PQ's Charter of Values, only five per cent of respondents selected it as their top issue in the 2014 election.

This year four per cent said it was the issue that mattered most to them.

Here are some more findings. 

A word about methodology

The Vote Compass questionnaire asks a series of multiple choice policy questions to help voters locate themselves on the political spectrum. It includes an open-ended question: "What issue is most important to you in this election?"

An algorithm works to combine similar words under general headings. So, for example, mentions of "doctor," "health" or "hospitals" were included under health care.

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The findings are based on 53,542 respondents who participated in Vote Compass and answered the "Most important issue" open question from August 24, 2018 to August 28, 2018.

Unlike online opinion polls, respondents to Vote Compass are not pre-selected. Similar to opinion polls, however, the data are a non-random sample from the population and have been weighted in order to approximate a representative sample.

Vote Compass data have been weighted by gender, age, education and country of birth to ensure the sample's composition reflects that of the actual population of Quebec according to census data and other population estimates.