The NDP nosedive in Quebec shows no signs of slowing down.
With a steep drop in support among francophones, the New Democrats are now only one or two points ahead of their main rivals in the province, where more than half of the NDP’s 101 MPs were elected in May 2011.
Two recent surveys, one by Nanos Research for CTV and The Globe and Mail and the other by Léger Marketing for Le Devoir and the Montreal Gazette, indicate the New Democrats continue to bleed support in the battleground province.
The Nanos poll found the NDP to be sitting at 29 per cent support, compared to 27 per cent for the Liberals and 24 per cent for the Bloc Québécois. The larger Léger poll pegged NDP support at 28 per cent, with the Bloc at 27 per cent and the Liberals at 22 per cent.
Though the order of the top three may not be clear, all signs point to an emerging three-way race in Quebec.
If there is a silver lining to be found for the New Democrats, it is that they are still the leading party in both of these surveys. However, the margins are small enough that they are statistically insignificant and a one to two point lead is a far cry from the 20 point edge the NDP held over the Bloc on election night last year.
The NDP is still in the midst of a leadership race, while the the Bloc settled on Daniel Paillé in December and Bob Rae has ensconced himself as Liberal leader. This disadvantage, however, is not as clear cut as it may seem. Daniel Paillé has had difficulty getting himself into the media spotlight and Nycole Turmel is a francophone Quebecer, unlike her interim counterpart Bob Rae.
It is also not a sure bet that once the New Democrats choose their next leader that their voters will come back into the fold. An Abacus Data survey from last week found that more than one quarter of Quebecers had not heard of any of the NDP’s eight leadership contenders. With the exception of Thomas Mulcair, no leadership candidate had name recognition over one-third in the province.
Nevertheless, if the NDP can hold on to a lead of any size in Quebec it will give the party's next leader an opportunity to regain lost support. At the same time, a narrow margin could easily disappear if the person chosen to head the New Democrats makes even one misstep.
Compared to mid-December, when both Léger and Nanos were in the field, the New Democrats have slid between four and five points. Both the Liberals and the Bloc have taken advantage, with the BQ gaining between one and four points and the Liberals between four and five.
In the Léger poll, the New Democrats have slipped seven points among francophones to fall to 26 per cent, eight points behind the Bloc. This is the first lead the Bloc has registered among this important demographic since the election. The Liberals, meanwhile, seem to have recovered support in and around Montreal where they stand at 26 per cent, clumped together with the NDP (30 per cent) and the Bloc (28 per cent).
The Liberals and Bloc have not feasted on NDP support alone – the Conservatives are down between three and six points in the province since mid-December.
Quebec is still very much at play. Though the province’s voters have already shown they can swing violently from one party to another in a matter of days, that kind of volatility cannot be taken for granted. A voter lost today may be lost for good.
Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers on most Tuesdays and Fridays. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls, and electoral projections.
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