Are Stephen Harper's Conservatives making inroads in Quebec?

Polls analyst Eric Grenier looks at what might explain the increased support for the Conservatives in Quebec.

Polls suggest the Tories are gaining in Quebec — what's behind the sudden surge?

A recent surge in the polls suggests the Conservatives could be an important player in Quebec in the 2015 election. (Jacques Boissinot/Canadian Press)

When there was talk early last year of the Conservatives targeting some 15 seats in Quebec that formed a so-called "Blue Arrow," it seemed like wishful thinking. 

The party's polling in the province was poor at the time. But with a renewed focus on terrorism and national security, have the Conservatives finally found a way to bring those hopes into fruition?

The Conservatives appear to be in the midst of a mini-surge in Quebec, a province that sent just five Conservative MPs to Ottawa in the 2011 federal election. The latest polling averages put the Tories at 21 per cent in the province, their best performance in the polls in almost four years.

This stands in stark contrast to the 13 per cent the Conservatives were registering as recently as early November, and through the end of 2014 the Tories were still polling under 16 per cent in Quebec.

Federal polling averages in Quebec (ThreeHundredEight.com)

The Liberals and New Democrats have suffered as a result of the Tories' increase, falling about four points apiece since November to 28 and 27 per cent, respectively. The Bloc Québécois, at 17 per cent, is stagnant and sits in fourth place in the province — likely the first time it has consistently polled that way since breaking onto the federal scene more than 20 years ago.

With these levels of support, the Conservatives could reasonably expect to win between 13 and 18 seats in Quebec. That would be the best tally for the party and its predecessors since 1988, when Brian Mulroney's Progressive Conservatives captured 63 seats.

But is this unexpected turn of events a product of a few outlier polls, or something real?

Four of the five polling firms that have conducted surveys since the beginning of the year have shown growth for the Conservatives in Quebec, with EKOS and Forum showing gains of up to 12 points since the fall. 

Ipsos Reid and Abacus Data have recorded more modest gains of three to four points.

Léger has shown an increase from where the party stood in September, but, unlike the others, suggests the Conservatives have been holding steady since November.

Since the beginning of the year, the polls have ranged between 16 and 26 per cent for the Conservatives in Quebec, with six of seven polls putting the party at 18 per cent or more.

By comparison, the polls from December ranged between 13 and 19 per cent, with seven of eight of them pegging Conservative support at 17 per cent or less. And throughout 2014, the Conservatives averaged just 14 per cent support.

It seems undeniable that the Tories have made some real gains in the province.

Security issues resonating with Quebecers?

But what is behind this surge in support? Stephen Harper's own personal numbers have shown some marginal gains in the province, perhaps not enough to entirely explain his party's gains.

A poll conducted by Léger may be more revealing. Interviewing a little over 1,000 Quebecers, Léger found that about three-quarters of respondents said they were concerned about terrorism and religious fundamentalism. A comfortable majority, or 62 per cent, said they support the mission in Iraq against the Islamic State.

An even larger proportion, or 74 per cent, said they agreed with the federal government's proposed anti-terrorism law that gives more powers to police and security forces. Support was highest among those who said they would vote for the provincial Liberals or Coalition Avenir Québec, just the kind of voters the Conservatives are trying to woo. 

Though the Conservatives still have not reached the level of support they had in 2006, when the party won 10 seats in the province and 25 per cent of the vote, the situation in Quebec has changed significantly. The Conservatives' opponents now are divided, whereas in 2006 the Bloc Québécois still reigned supreme over the province.

If security issues do indeed resonate with Quebecers, and with the gap between first and third place in Quebec now just seven points, the Conservative "Blue Arrow" could hit the target.

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. Upper and lower ranges are based on how polls have performed in other recent elections. The seat projection model makes individual projections for all ridings in the country, based on regional shifts in support since the 2011 election and taking into account other factors such as incumbency. The 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. The polls included in the model vary in size, date, and method, and have not been individually verified by the CBC. You can read the full methodology here.

The poll by Léger was conducted for Le Devoir and Le Journal de Montréal Feb. 2-5, 2015, and interviewed 1,036 Quebecers via the internet. As the poll was conducted online, a margin of error does not apply.


Éric Grenier

Politics and polls

Éric Grenier is a senior writer and the CBC's polls analyst. He was the founder of ThreeHundredEight.com and has written for The Globe and Mail, Huffington Post Canada, The Hill Times, Le Devoir, and L’actualité.


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