Saturday, April 16, 2005

Reading the Polls: Quebec

Last year the Bloc claimed 48.8% of the vote, the Liberals 33.9%, the Conservatives 8.8% and the NDP 4.6%. New polling paints a new picture though, Environics has the Bloc at 51.4%, the Conservatives at 18.9%, the Liberals at 13.5% and the NDP at 12.2%. EKOS has the Bloc at 50%, the Conservatives at 18%, the Liberals at 15% and the NDP at 10%.

I’m breaking the 75 Quebec ridings in to three categories: Bloc Victories from Last Year, Small Liberal Wins and Big Liberal Wins. From these categories, I’m calling 52 of the 54 Bloc ridings safe, withholding only Louis-St. Laurent which was a reasonably tight three way race last year and Richmond-Arthabaska which voted PC in ’97 and 2000. Close Liberal victories are races where the Grits won by fewer than 6% over the Bloc. These are almost entirely in mixed language ridings which lack a strong history of voting Liberal. Given the drop in support for the Liberals, all but one of these ridings appears guaranteed to go Bloc.

That leaves 13 ridings which the Liberals won big, plus three others which we should take a closer look at. One, Papineau, is Pierre Pettigrew’s seat which he won by only 2.5%. The other two are areas where the Conservatives could make a move.

That still leaves the question, however, of where will the Liberals lose their support? To suggest they will lose support equally across the province is ludicrous, it will be heavier in some regions that in others. So where will it be strong? The obvious answer is that it will be strong where Liberal support is the least solid – in Bloc ridings. Generally, the Grits poll around 25% in ridings they lose, while the Conservatives get around 10%. I would expect those numbers to be reversed pretty much across the board. On top of that, the Liberals will also lose a lot of support in in ridings where there is a tight fight with the Bloc.

In both cases, the reason is simple – the Liberal vote is not a pro-Grit vote, but rather an anti-Bloc vote. It’s vital to remember that the BQ is a far left party and while Quebec is largely more left wing than the rest of the country there are still some who oppose their social and financial agenda. Further, there are lots of people who oppose sovereignty and vote against the Bloc based solely on that. Almost all of those voters are likely to abandon the Grits. I suspect a large portion of the Liberal loses fall in to this category. In fact, if the Liberal lost 2/3rds of their support in ridings they lost, that would account for a 40% drop in their polling numbers – almost all of what they have lost according to the latest polls.

However, voters who have a long history of supporting the Liberals and are legitimately voting for the Liberals rather than against the BQ are far less likely to abandon the Grits. In reference to the above categories: Bloc wins are all strenghtened as the Liberals lose a great deal of support, Close Liberal victories disappear but ridings which were huge Liberal victories are likely to stay in the Liberal column. In short, predictions that the Liberals would drop to one seat in the province are riduclous.

Here’s the rundown of the sixteen ridings to watch:

Bourassa: This North Montreal riding has voted Liberal every election since 1968 except for ’88 and ’93 (lost by 53 votes). Last year, Denis Coderre got 50% of the vote and won by just over 12%. However, in 2004 parts of two Bloc ridings were added to Bourassa which has made it a much more competitive riding. According the 2001 census over 30% of the population lists neither English nor French as their first language. It will be a tough race, but the Liberals should be able to hold on to this seat.

Hull-Aymler: This riding on the border with Ontario has voted Liberal ever time since 1917. Over 75% of the riding opposes sovereignty and Marcel Proulx collected 42% of the vote last year and defeated his Bloc opponent by 9%. This is a riding where the Liberals won’t be losing their support to the Bloc, but rather to the Conservatives. Will Proulx lose that much support? Tight race, but the Liberals should hold the seat.

Lac-St. Louis: This Southwest Montreal area riding has gone Liberal every election except ’84 and ‘88 since 1966. The Bloc is not a factor in this riding, and Liberal Frank Scarpaleggia got 64% of the vote and defeated his Conservative opponent by 52%. Is this a riding where the Conservatives can make a big move? Will the Liberals drop the 30% they would need to for the Conservatives to win? Seems unlikely, but it’s a race worth watching. If the Conservatives make this competitive it will be a good sign for the party.

Lasalle-Emard: Paul Martin’s riding has voted Liberal every election since ’68 save one. Martin won by 26% over his Bloc opponent last year, collecting almost 57% of the vote. Conservatives pulled in under 5% in the last election and there is no chance they will win this year. A bad split could hand the seat to the Bloc that but that seems really unlikely.

Laval-les-Ilse: This is going to be a tough riding for the Liberals to hold, as Raymonde Falco won by only 10% over his Bloc opponent. Worse, the riding has voted Conservative in the past so there could be a strong swing away from the Liberals. Conservatives won’t be able to take the seat unless the Liberals lose almost all their support and it goes almost entirely to the Conservatives (ie. impossible), but a split will likely hand the seat to the Bloc.

Mount Royal: Lac-St. Louis, but with a bigger split (76%-9%), a superstar candidate (Attorney-General Irwin Cotler) and a stronger history (Liberal since 1940). Much like Lac-St. Louis, the Conservatives will target this seat, but I’d be shocked if they lose it. The Liberals will lose support here, but it won’t all go to the Conservatives, and there simply won’t be a big enough drop in support for Cotler to lose the seat.

Notre Dame-De-Grace-Lachine: The Liberals have held this Montreal area riding since 1962 and Marlene Jennings defeated her Bloc opponent by over 30% last year. The Conservative candidate pulled in only 10% of the vote, so it would take a brutal drop for the Liberals to lose this seat.

Outremont: Jean Lapierre, the Minister of Transportation, is in serious trouble. Despite getting 41% of the vote and defeating his Bloc opponent by almost 8%, this will be an incredibly tough seat to hold. The NDP claims 14% of the vote here, so we may see an interesting split destroying Lapierre and giving the seat to the Bloc. Liberals have lost the seat only once in the last seventy years. Tight race and one which should be really fun to watch.

Pierrefonds-Dollar: The Liberals have lost this seat twice in the last 50 years and Bernard Patry collected 64% of the vote and won by almost 50 points over the Bloc. If the Liberals lost 40% of their support and it all went to the Conservatives it wouldn’t matter in the least. Even if it all went to the Bloc they would still probably win. Solid Liberal hold.

Pontiac: This riding near the Ontario border could be the most interesting race in Quebec. Liberal David Smith won the race with 38% of the vote, the Bloc pulled in 29% support, the Conservatives 22%, NDP 6% and Greens 5%. The riding voted Conservative twice in the 80s but has been solid Liberal territory besides that. French is the mother tongue of the vast majority, so the Liberals will likely take a pounding. This could be the Conservatives’ break through riding.

Saint-Laurent-Cartierville: Superstar candidate (Stephan Dion) who won by almost 50% (66.8%-17.3%) in a riding full of immigrants (46%) while only 33% speak French in this Montreal riding. The Conservatives finished fourth in this riding behind the NDP. They’ve held the riding was created in 1988. Easy hold for the Liberals.

Saint-Leonard-Saint-Michel: The Liberals have held this Montreal area riding since 1979 and Massimo Pacetti took 64% of the vote and won by 42% over his Bloc opponent. The Conservatives came in fourth in this riding, so baring an absolutely brutal split the Liberals should hold the riding. However, this was Alfonso Gagliano’s riding so it is possible that the Liberal backlash will be stronger here than elsewhere. Seems unlikely, should be an easy Liberal hold.

Westmont-Ville-Marie: The Liberals have dominated this riding for almost a century, and Lucienne Robilliard won last year with 56% of the vote. The next four parties were relatively evenly split, with the Bloc picking up 14%, NDP at 12%, Conservatives at 10% and Greens at 6%. Unless the entire opposition manages to gather around one party then the Liberals will hold on to the seat.
Louis-St. Laurent: This riding has voted for an incredible number of different parties, electing members of four different parties. Bernard Clearly of the Bloc won last year with 38% of the vote, defeating his Conservative opponent by 7% while the Liberals lagged behind with 22%. Will the Liberals lose enough support for the Conservatives to take the seat? This will be one for the Conservatives to watch, a big chance to break through in Quebec.

Papineau: Minister of Foreign Affair Pierre Pettigrew is in for the fight of his life. In fact, he’s almost certain to lose, but I’m putting it here just because he’s a senior member of cabinet in a visible post. He only won last year by 1% of the vote over his Bloc opponent. Still, the area has a huge immigrant population with 46% reporting neither English nor French as their first language. Should be a Bloc pick up.

Richmond Arthabaska: Andre Bellevance took this riding easily for the Bloc last year, collecting 56% of the vote and defeating his Liberal opponent by 28%. The Conservatives got only 10% of the vote, but the PCs won the seat in ’97 and 2000. However, Andre Banchard was against the merger and quit politics after Stephen Harper took over the party. The Conservatives will be looking for a strong showing here, but the Bloc are almost certain to win this seat.

So here's the breakdown:

Liberal High: 13 Low:4 Likely:9
Cons High: 3 Low:0 Likely:1
Bloc High:69 Low:59 Likely:59

Skipping over Ontario, next up Prairies...


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