As Dumont goes down in the polls, Charest goes up

Poll questions reveal how differently voters view the leaders than two years ago

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The Gazette, Sunday, November 23, 2008

There are two elements in public opinion polling: voting intention and the fundamentals underpinning them. One is known as "the horse race," and the other is called "the attitudinals." While the horse race is usually the top line in a political poll, the attitudinals - voter perceptions of leaders and parties - are usually more revealing. Simply put, attitudinals drive voting intention.

A Nanos Research poll for Policy Options magazine, published in The Gazette yesterday, shows Jean Charest's Liberals nudging into majority territory in the horse race, leading the Parti Québécois 44 per cent to 36, with the Action démocratique du Québec a distant third at 12 per cent. The poll was taken from Nov. 14-18, with 505 respondents, and a margin or error of plus or minus 4.4 points.

But drilling down in the voting intention, the questions on leadership and the respective party brands give Jean Charest and the Liberals a huge advantage going into the final two weeks of the campaign. Not to put too fine a point on it - if the election were decided on leadership and party brand, the campaign would already be over.

Charest clearly leads in all six leadership attributes, and dominates two of the most important - competence and character. And the Liberal brand has a huge lead over the PQ, with the ADQ barely registering a pulse.

Consider: Asked which leader they regarded as most competent, 48 per cent of Quebecers chose Charest, against 25 per cent for the PQ's Marois, and only eight per cent for ADQ leader Mario Dumont.

Asked which leader "has the personal character to be premier of Quebec," 48 per cent again chose Charest against 24 per cent for Marois and 12 per cent for Dumont.

Being premier of Quebec is all about competence and character.

Vision and trust are also important questions on leadership, and here again Charest dominates his opponents. He is regarded as the most trusted leader by 36 per cent of respondents. While Marois scores a middling 25 per cent, and Dumont only 15 per cent. As to which leader proposes the best vision for Quebec, Charest is at 34 per cent, Marois at 25 per cent and Dumont at 15 per cent.

Mario is a man of the people, right? Apparently not, or not enough of them. To the question of which leader "has views most like your own," Charest is at 32 per cent, Marois at 27 per cent and Dumont at 17 per cent - his highest score in the deck of six leadership questions. Finally, to the question of which leader has the brightest future, Charest is at 45 per cent, Marois at 23 per cent and Dumont at 13 per cent.

The story here is the reversal of perception of Charest and Dumont from the last campaign. Pollster Nik Nanos asked the same set of questions in March 2007, when Dumont was surfing on a third wave, and Charest was decidedly out of favour with voters. Charest has improved his standing on every single leadership question, while favourable impressions of Dumont have plummeted in all of them, by double digits on most questions. For example, on who is the most competent, Charest has increased by 10 points to his 48 per cent, while Dumont has cratered from 21 to his 8 per cent.

This reversal of fortune, the trading of places in popular opinion between Charest and Dumont, is the story of this campaign. It's very clear that Dumont, as opposition leader in a minority legislature, blew his opportunity to present a government in waiting. He has done nothing so far in the campaign to reverse his negatives. Charest, written off as a spent force only a year ago, has masterfully played the role of a humbled leader who learned to listen, and gave Quebecers what they wanted - co-habitation in a minority House.

But his real story line has emerged outside the National Assembly, where he has been on stage as the host of Quebec 400, the summit of la francophonie, visiting back and forth with French President Nicolas Sarkozy and strong interventions defending Quebec's interests in the federal election campaign.

The questions on party perception clearly demonstrate that only the Liberals and the PQ have brand equity with voters. On which party has the best team, the Liberals are at 56 per cent, the PQ at 23 per cent, and the ADQ at three per cent. On which has the strongest platform, the Liberals are at 45 per cent, the PQ at 24 per cent and the ADQ at five per cent. Even on the benchmarking question of defending Quebec's interests, the Liberals are the choice of 48 per cent of voters as "the best at ensuring that Quebec receives its fair share within Canada," while the PQ is at 33 per cent and the ADQ at five per cent.

These are not good days for Dumont and the ADQ. It is not going well. And it is not going to end well.

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