09/20/2013 11:04 EDT

Tom Mulcair's NDP Back On Top In Quebec As Liberal Support Dips, Poll Suggests


New Democrats lead in Quebec in a major poll for the first time since Justin Trudeau became Liberal leader.

But is this a sign of things to come in the battleground province?

The poll by CROP for La Presse, interviewing 1,000 Quebecers online between Sept. 12-15, suggests New Democrats have picked up six points in the last month and are now narrowly ahead in Quebec with 33 per cent support. That is the best the party has done in a poll by CROP since before Trudeau's leadership victory and the first time since then that the party has been ahead in the province in a large-sample survey by a Quebec-based pollster. More striking, however, is the 10-point drop by the Liberals to 31 per cent support.

What could explain this change of fortune? Other recent polls have been hinting at potential Liberal weakness in Quebec. This could be due to any number of factors, but the issue dominating Quebec politics at the moment would seem to be the most likely culprit. The Parti Québécois' proposed Charter of Quebec Values has been panned by both Liberals and the NDP, despite it having support among francophone Quebecers (though that support appears to be on the wane).

But while both Trudeau and Thomas Mulcair spoke out against the charter, the Liberal leader voiced his opposition earlier and louder than did Mulcair. It could be that this has hurt Trudeau among francophones, and indeed the poll does show Liberals have fallen to second place among this demographic with 27 per cent support (down six points) against 38 per cent for New Democrats (up seven points).

Still, it may not be as simple as that.

While the Liberals have fallen seven points over the last month, when one includes undecided voters, support for Trudeau as the best person to be prime minister has dropped just three points, to 28 per cent. That still puts him one point up on Mulcair, whose support has increased four points to 27 per cent. It would appear, then, that it isn't Trudeau in particular who has dragged his party down.

The waters continue to get muddier when we see Liberals have fallen 17 points among non-francophones (who are almost unanimously against the charter) to 55 per cent, with the Greens, New Democrats, and Conservatives making up the lost ground.

New Democrats made their most significant gains in the suburbs of Montreal, while Liberals were down significantly, both on the island and off of it. It is hard to determine what the poll is saying as the trends are somewhat contradictory, implying that there may be an element of statistical anomaly in the numbers. But it does seem clear the Liberals have taken a hit in Quebec to the benefit of the NDP. This has been backed up in other quarters.

CROP shows that the race is primarily between these two parties. Neither the Bloc Québécois (at 17 per cent) nor the Tories (at 14 per cent) budged from where they stood in mid-August. Neither party held a lead in any part of the province, and the Bloc was still seven points behind Liberals and 18 points behind the NDP among francophones.

That means that Trudeau and Mulcair still have a lot of votes - and seats - to fight over in Quebec, a province that will decide the fate of these two parties in the next election.

Éric Grenier taps The Pulse of federal and regional politics for Huffington Post Canada readers every week. Grenier is the author of ThreeHundredEight.com, covering Canadian politics, polls and electoral projections.

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