Quebec has been relatively quiet and stable since the beginning of this election — until the past two weeks. Now, Quebecers are moving away from the NDP and leaving all four main parties possibly above 20 per cent.
While Thomas Mulcair and his party could still win a majority of the seats in this province, the fall seriously hurts the NDP chances of forming the next government.
The only reason the NDP has remained in the race for power is Quebec. At the end of August, polls were so good for the New Democrats that they could realistically expect a total north of 60 MPs there. After three weeks of constant decline, however, the party would most likely be happy just to stay where it is.
To be fair, the NDP is still ahead in the poll average and is actually projected above 50 seats in Quebec — for once, the NDP is actually helped by the electoral system and vote splitting. The trend is where it really hurts.
The Bloc Québécois in particular is currently making an impressive comeback. The party was, after all, on the verge of being wiped off the electoral map not that long ago.
Is the turnaround because of the niqab issue? Possibly. Quebec is where the most people indicate that the issue is the decisive one, and the French media have been talking about it non-stop for a week.
It could also be Bloc Leader Gilles Duceppe's good performance at his first debate — although we don't actually have poll numbers about this debate alone.
Whatever the reasons, the Bloc has risen enough to be back in contention in many ridings. The Tories are also doing quite well, while the Liberals are mostly stable. The inability of Justin Trudeau to capitalize on the decline of the NDP in Quebec is indicative of the limited potential gains his party can make in la belle province.
According to our calculations, every one-point decrease in support for the NDP is costing the party 1.5 seats. The fall is especially costly if it's in favour of the Bloc. For instance, another five polling points exchanged with the Bloc would cost the NDP at least 12 seats. At 10 points, it's 32 seats! Mulcair really can't afford to drop below 26-28 per cent of Quebecers who support him without risking major losses.
Let's also not forget that Stephen Harper is currently enjoying good poll numbers almost everywhere in the country. So much actually that if the election were tomorrow, there is almost no doubt the Tories would win more seats than any other party.
Below are the most up to date projections. The calculations use past election results as well as the current polls (both national and riding ones) to predict the winner in the 338 ridings. They include regional and incumbency effects. The confidence intervals and the chance of winning are obtained through the use of 5,000 simulations that account for the uncertainty of the polls as well as for the distribution of the vote and the electoral system. In other words, these simulations try to include every possible scenario, given the information we currently have.
The NDP has therefore moved from being the favourite to win the most seats to a situation where it's more likely to finish third (22 per cent) than first (0.2 per cent). At this point, the only chance of Mulcair's becoming prime minister relies on a massive underestimation of his party by the polls. That is something more likely to happen to the incumbent Conservatives.
We are focusing on Quebec today, but the NDP has been dropping almost everywhere. The table below shows the change in seats for each party in each province between the end of August and now.
Maybe surprising to some readers is the fact the Liberals are still third despite some improvements in the polls and seat gains. After all, some polls (such as the recent Nanos or Léger) put them in first place. What we need to remember is that polls vary. We can't cherry-pick and focus on the one or two that are favourable to one party.
So while it's true that some polls give the Liberals more votes — across the country — than the Conservatives, you also have others (namely Angus Reid or Forum) giving the Conservatives a really comfortable lead.
Moreover, vote efficiency is simply not Trudeau's friend for now. The Atlantic provinces would provide a lot of seats, but it's significantly harder everywhere else. Unless the NDP keeps dropping in Quebec, the Liberals could even have a hard time finishing second nationally.
By the way, finishing second could be of crucial importance should Harper fail to secure a majority. As has been discussed by a lot of experts and analysts, it's really difficult to predict what would happen in this situation. If Harper were to fail to pass his throne speech, the General Governor could ask another leader to try to form a government. In that case, whoever is in second place would most likely be asked first.
There is still a long way to go until Oct. 19. So, for instance, there is plenty of time for Mulcair and the NDP to rebound. There is no doubt, however, that the NDP needs to change its strategy, particularly in Quebec.
As for the Conservatives, a good showing in Ontario could bring them close to a majority. Or at least close enough that we couldn't completely disregard it.
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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.