Thursday, September 06, 2012

Notes on the Quebec election

Greetings from sunny Calgary, Alberta, where I am getting set to talk about French-as-a-second-language education policy at a language policy conference.  This is in some respects a peculiar venue from which to blog about the Quebec election results, and yet in others it seems perfect.  Here's why:

Like many, I was rather baffled in the final days of the election campaign about what might unfold on Tuesday night.  If you read the polls, it looked like the Liberals were in free-fall, and that we could expect anything from a slim PQ majority to a freakish CAQ minority government, if the collective electorate suddenly moved Orange Crush-like to a new option, facing no better alternatives.  It was actually, in some ways, like what pollsters predicted might happen in Alberta with the Wildrose Alliance.

And yet, when the dust cleared, we were left with a slim PQ minority government, less than 1% of the popular vote above the Liberals, and the CAQ doing particularly well in the region around Quebec City and the south shore, but only pulling a more modest number of seats with their share of the vote.  In other words, we got what might be considered a completely predictable, rational result if you ignored the polls.  The Liberals held on to far more seats than expected, doing particularly well in both anglophone and francophone Montreal-area ridings.  The PQ took many seats, but only a modest share of the vote, which lines up with what we have been seeing about support for sovereignty.  And the CAQ pulled in the ADQ/ Creditiste/Union Nationale smaller-community, semi-rural vote, plus a number of disaffected voters who wanted change but didn't like the two main parties.  It's not what the polls entirely predicted, but it was a typical election result after a multi-mandate government that had grown unpopular.

One thing that leaps out at me from both this election, and the recent Alberta and Ontario elections is the decreased reliability of polls as a good indicator of incumbent party support.  I am starting to wonder if there is a chill effect on people willing to tell a pollster that, despite the media narrative, they plan to stick with the relatively unpopular status quo.  It would certainly help explain what we have seen recently with the provincial Liberal vote in Ontario and Quebec, and the Conservatives in Alberta.

And of course, I'd be remiss if I didn't point out that the popular vote to seat ratio highlights, once again, the need for electoral reform.

I hope to have more to say about this election in the weeks to come, but for now, I just wanted to get a few quick ideas up - and return to actual content-based blogging!


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