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Latest projection puts PQ on track for slim majority

PQ leader Pauline Marois delivers a speech before the Montreal Board of Trade Tuesday, August 28, 2012 in Montreal.

Paul Chiasson/THE CANADIAN PRESS

Despite a few hiccups in the last weeks of the campaign and gains by François Legault's Coalition Avenir Québec, Pauline Marois and the Parti Québécois are on track for a slim majority government heading toward the Sept. 4 provincial election.

According to the seat projection for the Globe, the Parti Québécois would have the support of 34.1 per cent of Quebeckers if an election were held today, giving them 66 seats. That is just over the bar of 63 seats needed to form a majority government.

The PQ is trailed by the Liberals with 28.5 per cent and the CAQ at 25.8 per cent support. With these vote tallies, the Liberals would likely win 32 seats and the CAQ 25.

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Québec Solidaire, with 6.7 per cent support, is projected to win two seats. Option Nationale, with 2.1 per cent, and the provincial Greens, with 1.8 per cent, are not expected to win any seats.

Compared to the last projection of Aug. 14 for The Globe and Mail, before the series of four debates that took place between Aug. 19-22, the Liberals have been in freefall. They have slipped more than four points and 15 seats. The PQ has held relatively steady, but due to the drop of the Liberals, are currently projected to win eight more seats than they were two weeks ago. The CAQ has made the biggest gain in popular support, up 3.1 points and seven seats.

The most recent polls have put the CAQ narrowly ahead of the Liberals. The projection model, which takes into account expected differences between voting intentions and actual results, gives the advantage to the Liberals due to their stronger and better funded organization (an analysis of recent federal and provincial campaigns suggests that polls tend to overestimate smaller parties and underestimate larger parties). In terms of voting intentions, the CAQ is averaging more support than the Liberals, with 27.6 per cent to the Liberals' 27.3 per cent, but even then the greater concentration of Liberal support on the island of Montreal gives them the better shot at forming the Official Opposition.

Montreal is indeed Jean Charest's last bastion of support, as he is projected to take 42.5 per cent of the vote on the island and win 20 seats. It is the only place in the entire province where Liberal support has not dropped over the last two weeks. The PQ trails with 26.1 per cent on the island, while the CAQ has failed to make any inroads with only 14.9 per cent support.

The CAQ has made major gains in Quebec City, however, where the party is in the lead with 35.9 per cent, an increase of 3.1 points since Aug. 14. The Liberals have dropped 5.1 points to only 28 per cent support in the capital, putting them in a fight for second with the PQ (25.2 per cent). The CAQ is projected to win seven of 11 seats in the region.

The Parti Québécois is better positioned outside of these two urban centres, particularly in the suburbs around Montreal. The PQ has taken advantage of a dramatic decrease in Liberal support in the region and is ahead with 39.5 per cent to the CAQ's 30.2 per cent. That is enough to give the PQ 21 seats to the CAQ's six, though Mr. Legault's party is in the running in at least four other seats in the area. The Liberals have slipped to only 21.3 per cent support.

The PQ is also leading by a wide margin in eastern and western Quebec, and is in a tight race with the CAQ in the central part of the province. These areas are predominantly francophone.

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That is an electorate that both Ms. Marois and Mr. Legault will be fighting over in the last days of the campaign. According to a weighted average of the polls, the Liberals have fallen below 20 per cent support among this demographic as francophones turn to the two other main parties. The PQ has the inside track with 36.9 per cent support to the CAQ's 30.1 per cent, but the gap has closed by almost five points between these two parties in the last two weeks.

The Liberals are still dominant among the non-francophone population, though their support has dropped almost 11 points to 63.7 per cent. The CAQ's attempts to woo anglophones to their party has had only a minimal effect, as the CAQ stands in second at 16.6 per cent support among these voters. That is a gain of more than seven points in two weeks, however. And there is a possibility that Mr. Charest's comments on expanding Bill 101 to federal institutions and his third place finish in recent polls could push federalists over to the CAQ if they are seen as the best chance of preventing a PQ majority.

That result is still very much in the air. The projection model, which also takes into account the volatility in polling, suggests the PQ could still only win a minority. The role of the Official Opposition is up for grabs, as the CAQ does have the potential to finish ahead of the Liberals in the seat count. But unless the CAQ manages to make major gains over the last few days, the Parti Québécois is very likely to form the province's next government.

The projection aggregates all publicly available polls, weighing them by sample size, date, and the polling firm's accuracy and track record. The seat projection model makes individual projections for all 125 ridings in the province, based on the regional shifts in support since the 2008 election and including the application of factors unique to each riding, such as the effects of incumbency. The projection is subject to the margins of error of the polls included as well as the unpredictable nature of politics at the riding level.

Éric Grenier writes about politics and polls at ThreeHundredEight.com.

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