September 4, 2012 7:40 am

Undecided Quebec voters could upset poll predictions

Poll predictions seem clear enough in Tuesday’s Quebec election: a win for sovereigntist Pauline Marois’ Parti Quebecois and the end of the nine-year reign of Jean Charest’s Liberal party.

But according to some analysts, one factor could defy expectations this time around.

Approximately 10 per cent of the Quebec electorate is heading to the ballot box without a firm choice – another ten per cent will likely change its mind with ballot in hand.

“It’s a very tough election to predict,” said University of Montreal professor Claire Durand. “”The parties are too close to one another.”

A Forum Research poll released on Monday suggests the PQ would win a majority with 36 per cent, the Liberals would capture 29 per cent, the Coalition Action Quebec 25 per cent and Quebec Solidaire with six per cent.

Another poll done on Monday by Leger Marketing showed 33 per cent for the PQ, 28 per cent for the CAQ and 27 per cent for the Liberals.

Just a few days earlier, a poll done by CROP gave the PQ 32 per cent, the CAQ 28 per cent, the Liberals 26 per cent and Quebec Solidaire 9 per cent.

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The polls aren’t even decided on how many are undecided: the Leger poll showed nine per cent of the electorate is undecided, while the CROP poll put that number at 12 per cent.

Add to that the proportion of voters who change their minds – generally another 10 per cent – and the result of the three-way race seems anything but certain.

“This election is not decided yet. If people say: ‘I don’t have to go vote because it is decided,’ I would not put money on that,” said Durand, who is also a member of the World Association of Public Opinion Research.

Durand said 10 to 15 per cent of voters change their minds at the ballot box and last-minute strategic voting is likely to come into play as people are forced to choose between a sovereignist party and a right-leaning Liberal party.

With the race so close, those last minute changes could make a difference, especially depending on who those voters are, according to veteran Ipsos Reid pollster John Wright.

“Going into the final hours it is volatile, but it could be in the final hours things go in a particular direction and I would hesitate to stake a claim on which way it is going,” Wright said.

Ipsos Reid has not done horserace polling on the Quebec election, but Wright said for the companies that are polling there are a lot of wild cards to consider before making a call.

There are student protests over tuition, allegations of corruption in the construction industry, the separatist question, and economic storm clouds hanging over the province.

“I can’t think of a better mix of issues to go into the potency of an explosive evening, ” Wright said.

Quebec is the second provincial election to challenge pollsters this year.

In the week leading up to Alberta’s provincial election in April, six of seven polls showed the Wildrose party had a lead of at least six points. The seventh poll, done by Forum Research on April 22, showed the Wildrose lead was just two points.

Election Day proved them wrong when Alison Redford’s Progressive Conservatives won by a commanding 10-point margin.

“If the polls get it wrong (in Quebec) it will be a very good occasion for pollsters to look at their methodology again, question their methodology and improve,” Durand said.

Polling firms have had to find ways to deal with the declining number of landlines and the rise of the Internet in their methodology over the past decade.

“We should have been cautious about polls for a long time and this time even more,” Durand said. “They are a scientific attempt at measuring public opinion, but this attempt has some bias and a margin of error.”

Wright said it is “ridiculous” for people to expect pollsters to be exactly right every time.

“When an election is held, you are held to 100 per cent accuracy. It’s unreaslistic. It happens occasionally, but so are hole-in-ones for people who have golfed all their life,” he said.

If anyone has a shot at that hole-in-one, Wright said Leger and CROP will be the ones to watch.

“They’ve been there seemingly forever and have the pulse of Quebec,” he said.

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