Are social media conversations driving voters to the Coalition Avenir Quebec?

by politicalthing

For the last three weeks I have been keeping tabs on Quebec’s provincial election while monitoring conversation trends on social media. What party is getting the most mentions? What leader is sparking the most conversations? How are daily events impacting those conversations? What topics are people talking most about?

When compared to polling the social data raises some interesting questions; chief among them: to what extent is social chatter fueling the Coalition Avenir Quebec’s rise in the polls?

The campaign so far.

Quebec premier Jean Charest dropped the writ on July 26th after months of sometimes violent student protests over proposed tuition increases. The protests have forced the resignation of two education ministers, Line Beauchamp in May and her replacement, Michelle Courchesne, who announced in mid-July that she would not run in the next provincial election. Charest’s Bill 78, a law aimed at putting limitations on when and how students could protest the government, was denounced as Draconian by student protestors, the province’s opposition parties, labor unions, and Canadians outside Quebec.

Polls released just days before Charest called the election showed that his Liberal Party would find themselves in a tight race with the Parti Quebecois (PQ) but would still win a small majority government. Seat projections said the Liberals would win 60 seats and the PQ 55. The Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), in it’s first general elections since amalgamating with the former Action democratique du Quebec (ADQ) in January of this year, was expected to win eight seats.

Four days after the campaign launched polls showed that the PQ had overtaken the Liberals, moving into minority government territory. As of August 15th the PQ’s lead had moved into majority government territory. Naturally, the PQ’s stance on Quebec sovereignty emerged as a major theme in the race, however it has not proven to be detrimental their electoral prospects.

The real gains have been made by the CAQ. Despite low seat projections as the campaign began, CAQ leader Francois Legault opened a new front in the campaign against Charest’s Liberal Party when he announced his party’s star candidate: Jacques Duchesneau, who claimed that CAQ was the only party to “clean up” the province. Ducheneau had been appointed by premier Charest to investigate rampant corruption and collusion between the provincial government and the province’s construction industry in 2010. After submitting his report to the government Duchesneau leaked the report to the media for fear of the government burying it. The report turned out to be a quite damning.  Almost over night seat projections for the CAQ increased from eight to fourteen.

The Social Conversation.

Monitoring all mentions of the major political parties and their party hashtags in conjunction with all mentions of the #qc2012, #qcpol, #quepoli, and #polqc revealed the following conversation trends.

As noted above the mainstream media has been focused on the question of sovereignty as the Parti Quebecois moved into majority government territory in the polls. Quite natural but social conversations are less concerned with questions of sovereignty then they are about corruption, by a significant margin.

Sparked by the CAQ conversations related to corruption have dominated social media conversations.

Is social chatter impacting voter intentions in Quebec?

It’s impossible to link social chatter to voter intention, as I’ve written about previously, but it is clear that it has had a significant impact on social media. What is clear is that while the mainstream media is largely focused on the PQ’s march to a majority government and the Liberal Party’s downfall, social media users are receiving CAQ’s central campaign message and repeating it widely.

Politicos of all stripes will tell you that the opinions of friends and trusted sources of information generally have a more significant impact on voter intention then the messaging coming out of party war rooms. So while it may not be possible to link the CAQ’s rising political fortunes to social media conversations, it’s not so easy to simply dismiss it either.