Sovereignty: CAQ and QS voters are divided

The announcement of the candidatures of Bernard Drainville and Caroline St-Hilaire under the banner of the Coalition Avenir Québec (CAQ) ahead of this fall’s general election (in the ranks of Lévis and Sherbrooke respectively) has started the rumor mill of a sovereign revolution of the formation of François Legault (the prime minister denies preparing a third referendum on independence).

An unpublished poll conducted last week by Mainstreet Research corroborates the former radio host and former PQ minister’s claim that Quebecers currently have no appetite for independence. CAQ voters are more divided on the subject.

When asked: “If the government of François Legault held a referendum on the sovereignty of Quebec, would you vote… 1) For sovereignty: Quebec should be an independent country, or 2) Against sovereignty: Quebec should be part should be part of Canada”, 67% of respondents believe Quebec should remain within the Canadian federation.

The proportion of respondents in favor of sovereignty is 33%.

These results are generally consistent with studies published by various opinion polls in recent years. By December 2020, 34% of participants had answered (after dissemination of undecided and those who refused to answer) FOR the question “If it was the government of François Legault that decided to hold a referendum on Quebec’s sovereignty, would you vote FOR or AGAINST sovereignty? asked by Léger.

In February 2021, people polled by Mainstreet answered 64% NO to the question “If Quebec held a referendum on independence/sovereignty, how would you vote?” and 36% YES (see list of sovereignty polls here). Last week’s poll shows that support for independence has remained stable during the CAQ’s first term.

Many analysts often argue that Quebec sovereignty is a generational project. While this may be an exaggerated generalization, this Mainstreet survey shows a markedly weaker desire for sovereignty among young voters. Among 18 to 34 year olds, 73% would vote against independence and 27% would support it.

The gap is narrower for the over-65s: 57% against and 43% in favour.

Among French-speaking voters, support for sovereignty stands at 41%. On the other hand, barely 5% of the non-Francophone respondents in this demographic segment want to make Quebec an independent country.

Breaking down the results of the referendum question by respondents’ voting intentions, we find unsurprisingly that Liberal and PQ voters are well entrenched in their historical positions. However, opinions are much more divided among caquist and solidarity voters.

About 58% of CAQ voters want the status quo, while 42% would vote for sovereignty. Last year, 40% of CAQ voters said they supported independence.

On the Québec Solidaire side, we see results that are almost identical to the polls of recent years: 54% against sovereignty and 46% for this project.

Of course, the polls’ sub-samples should be cautious, as they contain more uncertainty, but these Main Street numbers are consistent with recent trends. Even if the party’s authorities say they are officially separatists, just over half of QS voters do not support sovereignty.

In light of this new data, several observations can be made:

  • Support for Quebec’s independence remained broadly stable during the first term of the CAQ. If the desire to make Quebec a country among voters hasn’t declined significantly, it hasn’t progressed either. Nationalism “in CAQ sauce” is not unanimous in Quebec, but it seems to appeal to a critical mass of Quebec voters.
  • During the press conference to announce his nomination as a CAQ candidate in Lévis, Bernard Drainville confirmed that “Quebecers [étaient] elsewhere” on the debate on the national question. From a purely numerical point of view, these data seem to prove him right.
  • Again, the notion of sovereignty remains much more popular in public opinion than the political formation that makes it the center of its platform, namely the Parti Québécois. Theoretically, if Paul St-Pierre Plamondon and his team managed to repatriate sovereign voters under one roof (not just the hardliners, but the moderates too), the PQ would be much more competitive than it is today.
  • However, these numbers also show us that, even if many Quebecers openly claim to be sovereign, many of them have neither the desire nor the motivation to embark on this adventure. This is both an opportunity and a denial for the PQ: the targeted electorate is indeed present and could be courted, but it seems largely indifferent at the moment to the party promoting independence.
  • Nevertheless, anyone who argues that sovereignty is a dead and buried project should explain how an idea that brings about a third of Quebecers together can reasonably be ignored by the political class. Granted, the Yes camp is far from the “50% + 1” it takes to win, but independence is by no means a dying project.
  • But given that polls say François Legault is Quebec’s most popular prime minister in recent decades and that he himself would suffer a crushing defeat if he asked the Quebecers to achieve independence (in addition to provoking the implosion of his own party), there is still a long way to go for the sovereign movement.

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This survey was conducted by Mainstreet Research among 1404 Quebec voters aged 18 and older on June 9-10, 2022. The margin of error for the total sample is ±3%, 19 times out of 20. The survey report can be found here.

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