03/13/2012 08:48 EDT | Updated 03/13/2012 10:08 EDT

Quebec Polls Suggest A Three-Way Federal Battle And The Importance Of The NDP Leadership Race


The question of who is leading in Quebec is answered differently with every new poll.

Surveys coming out of Canada’s most politically volatile province are only consistent in that they cannot agree on what is really happening in Quebec.

In seven polls that have been conducted since mid-February, the New Democrats have led five times and the Bloc Québécois twice. The role of runner-up has fallen to the NDP once and the Bloc and Liberals three times each.

The likely NDP seat results for these numbers range anywhere from some 50 seats to less than six.

What is clear is that the New Democrats are no longer the consensus choice of Quebecers. As recently as five months ago, the NDP were dominant in the province with well over 40 per cent support. They have been on a steady decline since then, though they appear to have finally levelled out. But the amount of support they can now count upon teeters between salvageable and disastrous.

Three recent surveys, from CROP, Nanos Research, and Ipsos-Reid, have put the New Democrats slightly over 30 per cent in the province. Two others, from Forum Research and EKOS Research, have pegged NDP support at 28 per cent. In all of these polls, the New Democrats have led over their rivals.

But in a Forum Research poll from late February, and a new Léger Marketing poll, the NDP have trailed with 22 and 27 per cent support, respectively. In these two cases, NDP MPs who keep their job in Quebec would be few and far between.

The NDP’s chief rival in the province appears to be the Bloc Québécois, which has rebounded somewhat from its performance in May 2011 (in only two of the seven polls did the Bloc score below its election result). The two newest polls, from Ipsos and Léger, have put the Bloc at 30 and 31 per cent support, respectively.

However, Quebec is far from a two-horse race. The Liberals have pulled themselves out of the basement in the province and have placed second, with 26 or 27 per cent support, in a few recent polls.

But though the data seems contradictory, it is possible to make some sense of it. The New Democrats do appear to be holding a narrow lead over the Bloc Québécois with support in the high-20s, even pushing 30 per cent for both parties. The Liberals are running in third in the mid-20s, while the Conservatives are well behind at below 20 per cent support. The two most recent surveys even put the Tories at under 15 per cent.

This could all change very soon. The Bloc Québécois is undoubtedly benefiting from the vacuum created by the NDP leadership race and the better performance of the Parti Québécois, now leading in provincial polls. But it is not as simple as choosing an NDP leader: if the New Democrats select Thomas Mulcair, a Forum poll indicates the NDP will soar to 40 per cent support in the province once again. But if they choose Brian Topp or Peggy Nash, the same poll suggests the party could drop to 20 per cent support or lower, allowing the Bloc Québécois to return in force.

There is a lot at stake in Quebec, and the choice that New Democrats make on March 24 at their convention in Toronto may decide the fate of the party in the province. Though Thomas Mulcair looks like the safest bet, the last federal election demonstrated that even the safest bets can be a gamble.

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.

Also on HuffPost

Photo gallery NDP GOES 1 ON 1 WITH HUFFPOST See Gallery