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Francophone support gives Parti Québécois the edge

Parti Québécois Leader Pauline Marois campaigns in Joliette, Que., on Aug. 1, 2012.

Christinne Muschi/REUTERS

With the election campaign in Quebec less than a day old, a new poll suggests that the Parti Québécois and Liberals are neck-and-neck in voting intentions, with the PQ's edge among francophone voters putting them on track to form the province's next government.

The survey by Forum Research provided exclusively to The Globe and Mail indicates that 39 per cent of Quebeckers support the PQ while 38 per cent would cast their ballot for Jean Charest's Liberals. The Coalition Avenir Québec trails in third with only 14 per cent support.

Québec Solidaire has the support of 4 per cent of Quebeckers, while 3 per cent say they will vote for the provincial Greens.

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The snap poll, conducted Wednesday night shortly after the writ dropped in the province, surveyed 1,617 Quebeckers via telephone using an interactive voice response system. The poll has a sampling margin of error of 2.4 per cent, 19 times out of 20.

Francophone voters, who decide the vast majority of the province's seats, support the PQ to the tune of 43 per cent, according to the poll, compared to 32 per cent for the Liberals. Regionally, the PQ and Liberals are in a close race in and around Montreal, while the Liberals lead in Quebec City and the Parti Québécois in the rest of the province.

Though the poll shows the same close contest between the PQ and Liberals as a recent survey by Léger Marketing, which pegged PQ support at 33 per cent to 31 per cent for the Liberals, the Forum poll suggests that sympathy for François Legault's CAQ has dropped considerably. The party last scored 19 per cent in a poll released by Forum in mid-May.

"Dropping the writ has allowed the electorate to crystallize their views," said Lorne Bozinoff, president of Forum Research.

However, the recent poll by Léger Marketing put support for the CAQ at 21 per cent, while a poll conducted by CROP for the party had them at 24 per cent. Both surveys were conducted at the end of July.

What is clear is that the electorate is ready for an election, with 68 per cent saying that it is time for a vote to be held, echoing a similar finding by Léger Marketing. But the Parti Québécois starts the campaign with the advantage, despite their lead being within the margin of error in both recent polls.

In addition to the party's traditional support among francophone Quebeckers, the PQ appears to be benefiting from a higher degree of voter enthusiasm than the other major parties. A majority of PQ voters, or 54 per cent, said they were "very enthusiastic" about voting for their party, compared to 42 per cent among Liberal supporters and only 34 per cent among CAQ voters. The Léger poll also showed a high degree of commitment for the sovereigntist party, with 96 per cent of PQ supporters saying they were certain to vote. No other party did better than 86 per cent in that survey.

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But all three main party leaders have to overcome their own unpopularity. All three have negative approval ratings. The PQ's Pauline Marois has the highest approval rating at 37 per cent, marginally better than Mr. Charest's 33 per cent and Mr. Legault's 30 per cent.

However, a majority of respondents disapproved of both Ms. Marois and Mr. Charest, while 26 per cent of Quebeckers are unsure of their opinion of the CAQ leader. That is twice the number who said the same for Ms. Marois and almost four times the proportion who were unsure of their opinion of the premier. While this presents an opportunity for Mr. Legault to shape voters' opinion of him, he has less than five weeks to do so. Quebeckers will cast their ballots on Sept. 4.

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