Friday, July 30, 2010

The NDP in Quebec: Fluke, trend, or new political base?

If you've never visited, now is the time to do so. Eric, who runs the site, is parallel to FiveThirtyEight's Nate Silver, if not better.

But I digress. recently did a small investigation into the history of the New Democrat's vote in Quebec since its inception in 1962 under Tommy Douglas, all the way through to 2008. Right away, you can spot an easy trend coming out of the results:

There are three obvious spikes: 1965 under Douglas, who reached 12% and no seats; 1988 under Broadbent at 14.4%, which didn't result in a seat then, but soon after in a by-election, the Dippers had their first seat, Chambly, held by Phil Edmonston; and of course, 2008 under Jack Layton, who won the riding of Outremont in a by-election a year earlier, and held it this time.

So the question is, what will the next results be for the NDP in Quebec? The closest historical comparison is with Douglas' rise from '62 to '65, when they went from 4% to 12% - exactly like Layton. They then suffered a drop back down to 7%, when Trudeau came in, and the NDP lost votes. The same is possible in the next election, granted that the Liberals get their act together. I call this the "trend" theory.
Or will the polls prove true, and the NDP will hold their 12% and possible attain more? Most recent polls have the NDP fairly competitive in the province, anywhere from 11% to 15% - not bad results at all. With these results, it's most likely that project models, including 308's, would forecast the riding of Gatineau, which nearly went for the NDP in 2008, as their newest seat. I call that the "political base" theory.

Or, will the next election prove that the NDP, while certainly gaining in support, has only done so because of a drop in other more acceptable alternatives - aka, Liberals and Bloc, and to some extent, the Conservatives, who are all at fairly low amounts in Quebec, especially the former two. This could be proven by the fact that, back in 1988, the NDP were very competitive in many ridings, as noted by
But compare their top ridings in 1988 to their top ridings in 2008. The NDP's top five back in 1988 were Témiscamingue with 38% (but they had 10% in Abitibi-Témiscamingue in 2008), Chambly in Montérégie with 32% (now 14%), St-Maurice in Mauricie with 30% (now 8%), Abitibi with 26% (now 8%), and Jonquière with 21% (now 5%).
Yet, while in 1988, the NDP had almost 4 ridings with nearly 30% support, in 2008, they only had two - Outremont and Gatineau, which you can explain through Mulcair and Boivin's presence. The next two top ridings in 2008 - Hull--Aylmer and Westmount--Ville-Marie - can also be explained by the presence of two heavyweights, Pierre Ducasse and Anne Lagace-Dawson. Not exactly supportive of solid NDP support, right? I call this the "fluke" theory.

I think all three are perfectly valid ideas, because clearly, NDP support in Quebec on the rise it is now has to be explained by something. Can the NDP cement itself as a proper federalist alternative, or will it follow Québec Solidaire's sovereigntist route in some way? What do you think?


  1. Mulcair didn't exactly run against strong liberal candidates. Now, Martin Cauchon is back. I'm not so sure that Mulcair's seat in Outremont would be that secure now that he's going against somebody well known in the riding. Particularly if Layton doesn't whip his caucus into voting against c-391; Polytechnique is in Outremont riding.

    Anne Lagace-Dowson is back in broadcasting and has renounced politics. She ain't running again.

  2. True, very true, CK. I have doubts about the staying power of Mulcair as well. As for Dawson, she's better as a journalist than a candidate, or so I've heard.

    I would like to know what Boivin is up to, though.

  3. I believe Mme. Boivin has said she is running again, and she was elected the co-President of the federal party's Québec section.

  4. Thanks PG. I was hoping she wasn't - Liberal partisan that I am. I have doubts about her winning, given that the Liberals still retain their same base despite. But,I suppose she has a chance, anyways.

  5. The growth comes from two main directions: disaffected anglophone Liberal voters and left-leaning PQ/Bloc voters strategically voting to oust Liberals in their Montreal and Hull/Gatineau strongholds.

    Another critical factor is related to provincial politics. The PQ voter base has been fragmenting over at least two decades. This is most apparent in the formation of Quebec solidaire. Perceived as a social democratic but nationalist party, the PQ always put the "national question" before the "social question." They held their referendums in 1980 and 1995 but at the same time they introduced austerity measures against their working-class, social movement and trade union base built during the height of Quebec's social struggles in the early 1970s. Quebec solidaire has emerged from a long-term process of "left regroupment" which, while largely composed of sovereigntists, places the "national question" SECOND to social democratic reform. In this context, the NDP, which has been pretty odious for Quebec nationalists on the national question, has gained a new strategic relevance, especially to Quebec solidaire voters - of which there were 144,000 in 2007 and 122,000 in 2008.

  6. True, Doug, that was something I glossed over, though I just wanted to relate it through the numbers provided.

    However, while I agree that the QS is made up of quite a lot of disaffected PQ left-wingers, they are the end result of this merger of minor left-wing parties, sans PVQ which wanted no part. Their votes together could add up to the 3ish percent QS has so far attained. You would think that the PQ "splitting apart" would lead to a much larger voting base than 3%, unless its a very, very slow process of disintegration.

  7. It is definitely a slow process, but it is also pretty geographically uneven, making 3 percent across the board misleading given their impressive results in a number of Montreal ridings, as well as Hull, precisely where the NDP has seen its vote increase.

    As for the "proper federalist route," I think the question is far more nuanced than it is usually presented. Because the NDP is basically silent on the Quebec question, space has opened for left-leaning Pequistes and QS supporters to back the NDP, but because of the silence, this space is only tentative and never fully exploited and built upon by the NDP. The NDP knows that it will lose English Canadian support if it comes out in favour of Quebec sovereignty, but at the same time, the NDP fails to carry out a sustained campaign on a middle-route, like championing an asymmetrical federalism, distinguishing itself from the rigid centralism of the Liberals and the rigid sovereigntist position of the PQ. But we know this won't happen, so the spaces opened up right now for the NDP in Quebec are only temporary unless there is a substantial transformation of the situation, whatever that might be.

  8. A very good analysis, Doug. Thanks.