It must be inspiring for NDP leader Thomas Mulcair to look at his party’s chances in Quebec at this stage of the election campaign.
Although the province has one of the most volatile electorates in the country – in both provincial and federal elections – the NDP has a comfortable lead this year and stands a chance of winning the most seats in the province.
Although we are now into the second week of the campaign, there have been no major events and few opinion polls. There was the English-language Maclean’s debate last week, but the lack of a clear winner or loser means it is unlikely to influence voter intentions significantly.
Certainly not in Quebec, where a sizeable part of the population probably didn't even tune in. This means that, in terms of determining voter intent, we have to rely on last week's polls to get an idea of where things are at.
The NDP currently holds a sizeable lead over the Liberals. Thomas Mulcair's party sits between 35 and 40 per cent, while Justin Trudeau's Liberals are oscillating between 20 and 25 per cent. A lot of time has passed since the Liberals took the lead in la belle province after Trudeau's arrival as leader of the party. The Bloc remains steady at 20 per cent. The boost they received with the return of Gilles Duceppe seems to have already dissipated. As for the Conservatives, they are hovering between 15 and 20 per cent (after a short period at the beginning of the year when they rose above 20 per cent) and will focus on the few ridings they hold or could hope to win.
Translated into seats, these voter preferences would mean an easy NDP majority. Despite their slight decline compared with 2011 (and a marked increase for the Liberals), the New Democrats could well win as many seats as they did in the last general election, because of slight decreases from the Bloc and the Conservatives. Compared with the three-way race in Ontario, the current battle for Quebec seems a little boring.
Of course, things may change between now and Oct. 19. After all, Quebec is known for its "waves." There was the Conservative wave (with the "mystery of Quebec City") of 2006, the ADQ surprise of 2007 (also concentrated in the Quebec City region) and, of course, Jack Layton's orange wave in 2011. Even the provincial election in 2014 had its share of reversals, with the long, steady decline of the PQ and the sudden rise of the CAQ towards the end. And therein lies the rub, because that's the kind of wave it would take to stop the NDP from winning a majority of seats in Quebec.
Given current voter intentions, the NDP has a 100 per cent probability of taking the most ridings in Quebec! If the election were to take place tomorrow, there is no doubt the New Democrats would come out as the No. 1 party in Quebec — even accounting for the uncertainty of opinion polls and the distribution/effectiveness of the voting and the electoral system. There are certainly scenarios where they would win "only" 33 ridings, but that would still be greater than the Liberals' projected 26 seats. As for the Bloc, the absolute maximum number they could hope to win right now would be 18.
But this does not mean there is no uncertainty in Quebec. For example, there are only nine ridings where the winner is projected to win with 100% certainty (all NDP ridings). On the other hand, there are eight ridings where any one of four parties could win, in theory (but not with the same odds). The riding of Richmond-Arthabaska is one such case. While there is not much uncertainty overall, Quebec remains interesting if you look riding by riding.
Perhaps the real question is: What would need to happen for the NDP not to win the most seats? The graph below shows the probability of Thomas Mulcair’s winning the most seats, based on the percentage of votes received in Quebec.
As you can see, unless the NDP dips below 30 per cent (because of a resurgence on the part of either the Liberals or the Bloc, or both), the party is nearly assured of winning the most seats in Quebec. Once again, this doesn't mean that will be the case on Oct. 19, but it does mean that Quebec is not a province with much uncertainty at the moment. And that's good news for Thomas Mulcair, who can devote more attention to Ontario and British Columbia, two provinces where he will need to gain some ground in order to become prime minister.
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Bryan Breguet has a B.Sc in economics of politics and a M.sc in economics from the University of Montreal. He founded TooCloseToCall.ca in 2010 where he provides electoral analysis and projections. He has collaborated with the National Post, Journal de Montreal and l’Actualité.
He will provide analysis and updates for The Huffington Post Canada throughout the federal election campaign. For riding by riding projections, visit his interactive simulator.
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