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By Bruce Anderson and David Coletto

Our first past the post elections can be won or lost on movements of only a few points in voter support.

So, the question of what BQ voters would do, if there were no BQ candidates to vote for, is a pretty interesting one.  We’ve gone back over our data from surveys conducted by Abacus in recent months and here’s what we see.

  • About one in four BQ voters would just stay home, having no interest in voting for any of the other parties.  This is good news for all incumbents of other parties.
  • BQ voters tend to be on the progressive, left side of the spectrum (39% consider themselves left of center:  twice as many as place themselves on the right). Naturally then, a BQ collapse offers upside potential for the NDP, and to a lesser degree the Liberals.   Among those who voted BQ in 2011, almost 6 out of 10 are willing to consider marking a ballot for the NDP.  Fewer, (25%) say they’d consider voting Liberal.  Only 15% would consider voting Conservative.
  • Tom Mulcair is pretty well liked by BQ voters: 50% have a favourable view of him, only 11% a negative one.  Justin Trudeau has fans (27% favourable), but more doubters (40% unfavourable) within the BQ pool.  Notably, only 11% have a positive view of Stephen Harper, and a whopping 69% are negatively predisposed.

The upshot?

A collapse of the BQ would do nothing to help the Conservatives achieve their goal of picking up new seats.  Even if they could count on closing the deal with every past BQ voter who would consider voting Conservative, their vote from 2011 by lift by a very modest three percentage points.

The most readily apparent upside is for the NDP – from a progressive values and “friendly to nationalists” standpoint, the party and its leader look like an easier fit.

But it might be a mistake to ignore the strength of feeling these voters have against the federal incumbents.  Given what most national polls are indicating, the Liberals are better positioned to campaign on a theme of “if you want to change the government, you can’t afford to vote NDP”.

In the past, BQ voters have been indifferent to this theme – but that may have been because of: a) the option of a nationalist/sovereignist party and b) the weakness of the Liberal brand post sponsorship scandal in Quebec. Both those conditions having dissipated, will they engage more actively in considering what kind of federal government they want and/or don’t want?

In the months ahead, watch for this battle to unfold, the potential of a BQ meltdown to impact the national outcome will change the math for everyone else.

Bruce Anderson is Chairman of Abacus Data and a partner at i2 Issues and Ideas Advertising.  He a contributor with the Globe and Mail and a member of the At Issue panel on CBC’s The National.

David Coletto is CEO of Abacus Data, a national public opinion and marketing research firm.  He is also an adjunct professor at Carleton University in Ottawa.

Good Decisions Require Good Data.