The polls taken after the Quebec election debate illustrate well the intrinsic difficulty of probing public perceptions: CROP and Strategic Counsel had Dumont as the winner, while Léger called it for Charest, the overall impression being quite muddled. As well, Strategic Counsel thought Boisclair benefited by exceeding expectations.
Those results are by their nature an unreliable guide to the outcome. TC is more inclined to credit polls that ask about behaviour, voting intention rather than perceptions. But things are equally unclear in the party preference surveys. The Liberals continue to lead in most voting intention polls, except for Strategic Counsel which has the PQ ahead, but among francophones, the PQ is narrowly ahead in all the polls to date. My estimate at the moment would suggest a PQ minority but that remains highly uncertain. The latest estimate by Democratic Space (a blogger and seat forecaster with a good record) gives the Liberals a one seat edge.
Curiously, the zeitgeist (judging from media coverage) is with Dumont and the ADQ. Perceptions of Mario Dumont and the ADQ in this SES poll, however, run consistently behind Charest and the Liberals.
I have always found Quebec politics extremely difficult to read and this election is no exception. It is clear that the ADQ has grown, but it has less money, weaker organization and less qualified candidates than its opponents. And it has a narrow geographic and socio-economic base - all indicators that it shouldn't win. But the campaign leaves the impression that Mario is on the verge of a significant breakthrough. He is certainly in the process of establishing a new vote pattern in 21st century Quebec, even while emulating the appeal of the old Union Nationale and the Créditistes.
The ADQ clearly damaged the PQ in 2003, and now it is hurting the Liberals in 2007. The Léger poll gave the Liberals just 33% compared to the 46% they won in 2003. A minority government continues to be the most likely prospect.
Tomorrow's federal budget is a key part of Liberal strategy, so there is much yet to be played out. And it even seems possible that a federal campaign could begin as early as tomorrow. As if the Quebec political scene was not already confused enough.