Quebec is poised to elect Pauline Marois as its first female premier Tuesday, returning the Parti Québécois to power after nine years on the opposition benches. The last hours of a gruelling 35-day campaign, however, could decide whether Quebeckers give Ms. Marois a minority or majority government.
The final projection by ThreeHundredEight.com puts the PQ at 34.1 per cent and between 57 and 75 seats, enough to give the PQ a minority or majority government. With the most likely result being 63 seats, the PQ is straddling the line between governing alone and requiring the support of one of four other parties that could elect a candidate to the National Assembly.
With 27.9-per-cent support, the incumbent Liberals under Jean Charest are forecast to win between 25 and 39 seats, with the most likely outcome being 33. That would be the Liberal Party of Quebec's worst result since 1976, when the PQ won its first election.
But the Liberals may not form the Official Opposition. Though they have the inside track on François Legault's Coalition Avenir Québec, the Liberals could still find themselves in third place. The CAQ is projected to take 26.3 per cent of the vote and between 20 and 31 seats, giving Mr. Legault the chance to sit across from Ms. Marois.
However, the odds are still in the Liberals' favour. With their more heavily concentrated vote on the island of Montreal and in the Outaouais, the party has a roughly 2 to 1 chance of forming the Official Opposition. But Mr. Charest may not lead it – he has trailed in all three polls conducted in his riding of Sherbrooke and, though he cannot be ruled out, is projected to come up just short of former Bloc Québécois MP and PQ candidate Serge Cardin.
The CAQ's projected result is 27 seats, meaning Mr. Legault will most likely head up a large second opposition group. If Mr. Charest is indeed defeated in his riding, Mr. Legault would presumably become the de facto leader of the opposition for some time, as Bob Rae did in the House of Commons after the passing of NDP leader Jack Layton.
If the Parti Québécois does form a minority government, Québec Solidaire and Option Nationale could play a significant role. Québec Solidaire, which took less than four per cent of the vote in 2008, has run a smooth campaign and is projected to win 7.1 per cent of ballots cast and one or two seats. While a third seat is certainly a possibility – the election of Amir Khadir in 2008 was unexpected – the most likely result will be a victory by Françoise David and the re-election of Mr. Khadir, the two co-leaders (or as QS calls them, spokespeople) of the party.
Jean-Martin Aussant, the leader of Option Nationale, has a shot in his own riding but is not expected to win.
The PQ has gotten itself into this position due to its strong support in the predominantly francophone regions of Quebec. According to the polls, the PQ has the support of about 37 per cent of francophone Quebeckers – seven points up on the CAQ. The Liberals, with just under 20-per-cent support, are well behind. But with 61-per-cent support among non-French-speaking Quebeckers, the Liberals are assured of winning a block of seats on the West Island, as usual. The CAQ manages a respectable 18 per cent among this demographic.
The battle for a majority government will most likely be played out in the suburbs around the island of Montreal. The PQ is projected to win as many as 24 seats in the region and as few as 15, by far the widest spread in any part of the province. The Liberals, with a projected 23.3-per-cent support to 39.5 per cent for the PQ and 29 per cent for the CAQ, do not have much fight left in them in the region. But if the CAQ manages to attract some of the PQ's francophone voters, Mr. Legault could steal a couple seats from the sovereigntist party and perhaps cause their defeat at the hands of beleaguered Liberal incumbents in a few others.
The PQ appears to be far more secure in the rural parts of the province. Depending on whether Québec Solidaire can get its supporters to the voting booth, Ms. Marois's party also has some room for growth in Montreal. But with 36.8-per-cent support to the PQ's 27 per cent, the Liberals are expected to hold on to their 20 seats on the island (though two or three of them look to be very close).
And in addition to gains in central Quebec and in the Montreal suburbs, the CAQ is expected to dominate the provincial capital. With 37.4-per-cent support in and around Quebec City, the CAQ is forecast to win seven of the region's 11 ridings. The Liberals, with 27.1 per cent, and the PQ, with 25.2 per cent, should split the rest evenly.
Barring the kind of dramatic and unprecedented swing that took place in the Alberta election earlier this year (most of the pollsters active in this campaign have long and successful histories of polling in Quebec, so that should not happen), the Parti Québécois will form Quebec's next government. But with many close battles, in some cases between three parties, the form the government will take and the party that will oppose it may not be decided until late Tuesday night.
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.