Academic journal article American Review of Canadian Studies

The Election Everybody Won? the Impact of Party System Change, Voter Turnout, and Strategic Voting in the 1998 Quebec Election

Academic journal article American Review of Canadian Studies

The Election Everybody Won? the Impact of Party System Change, Voter Turnout, and Strategic Voting in the 1998 Quebec Election

Article excerpt


In a rather surprising twist, Quebec's two traditional major provincial parties, the Parti Quebecois (PQ) and the Parti Liberal du Quebec (PLQ), and an upstart third party, the Action Democratique du Quebec (ADQ), could all claim victory in the 1998 election. The PQ with 42.7 percent of the vote retained a clear majority of seats (75 of 125) and renewed its mandate as the governing party. The PLQ defied the preelection polls by overtaking the PQ in total votes (43.7 percent) and gained some seats, bringing its total to 48. Although unable to increase its seat total beyond the riding of its young leader Mario Dumont, the ADQ over-achieved. It fielded candidates in all 125 ridings, captured nearly 12 percent of the vote provincewide, and increased its share of the vote in most ridings where it ran in the previous election.

The ADQ proved the only party capable of increasing its vote tally. Significantly, it upped its count in sixty-eight of the eighty tidings it contested in 1994 and in 114 of 125 ridings overall. Furthermore, the Adequiste vote exceeded the margin between the PQ and the PLQ tallies in more than one-third (37 percent) of all constituencies (see Table Five) and the party made impressive gains in Lanaudiere, Laurentides, Mauricie, and Chaudiere-Appalaches, constituencies that favored the "oui" side in the 1995 referendum (des Rivieres 1998). This outcome may be considered surprising, especially since few, if any, experts forecast such an improbable denouement. For the first time since 1966 a losing party won a plurality of votes in a Quebec election. In addition, not since the Union Nationale (UN) in 1976 had a third party picked up more than 10 percent of the provincial vote (Nadeau and Belanger 1999). Whether this election can be deemed "critical" or the harbinger of a "realignment" similar to the one that occ urred in the 1930s with the UN or the 1970s with the PQ cannot yet be fully assessed, but it does provide some important clues (Fitzmaurice 1985,183-197; Quinn 1979, 48-72; Lemieux 1995, 242-247).

This article represents an effort to make some sense Out of the election results. By examining party system change, strategic voting, and regional voting patterns, it can be said that, contrary to the 1997 Canadian national election--"the contest nobody won" (Clarke, Wearing, Kornberg, and Stewart 1997)--all the major parties achieved at least some success in the last Quebec election of the century. Our examination of the election and its implications proceeds in several steps. First, we present a breakdown of the results provincewide and by region. Second, we test alternative hypotheses regarding the possibility of transformation of the party system and the impact of voter turnout. In particular, we focus on the role and impact of the ADQ as an important player in any party-system transition. Finally, we discuss the extent to which strategic voting, rather than party-system change, had an impact on the outcome of the 1998 election.

Vote Change and Movement

There was a great deal of media speculation regarding the significance of this election, much of it wrong. Some pundits suggested that the strong showing of the PQ in the preelection polls convinced many of its supporters to stay home on 30 November, with victory seemingly assured. They suggested that low turnout by Pequiste voters distorted the electoral results. Other members of the media opined that the ADQ's impressive showing signaled an overall decline in the PLQ. They speculated that the Liberals might never again form another Quebec Provincial Government. Yet these and other viewpoints begged the following questions. Were "soft nationalists" moving away from the Liberals to the ADQ as a convenient alternative? Conversely, would the ADQ's success foreshadow the eventual demise of the PQ, which might splinter into "hard" and "soft" nationalist factions with the soft nationalists gravitating to the ADQ? …

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