Six Factors that Shaped the PQ Victory

Welcome back!
Labor Day marks the end of lazy days and with it our minds turn to shifting political winds - north and south of the border. 
Quebec Elects a PQ Minority Government
As the polls indicated, Pauline Marois and her Parti Quebecois party won a minority government (55 seats) with the Liberals in a close second (49 seats) and the CAQ with 19 seats and a clear hold on the balance of power. There were still a few seats that can change, but the die is cast. If Pauline Marois had won six more seats she could have counted on Francoise David's new Quebec Solidaires party (2 seats) to form a working majority. This means that there will be no chance of a referendum for separation in this term - which may last two years. Jean Charest has lost his seat which will no doubt trigger a quicker leadership race to ready the Liberals for next time. As he reminded voters, they lost by 1%, so anyone in future elections who doesn't think their vote counts, should think about that.
Six Factors that Shaped the Parti Quebecois Victory
1. The ballot question was "change vs. more of the same'. Jean Charest ran a very strong, energized campaign, but he could not overcome the 'time for a change' ballot question. The majority of voters, including a huge segment of the PQ vote don't want a referendum on separation. Yet they clearly wanted change. Pauline Marois certainly represented that.
2. The CAQ campaign exceeded early expectations. Francois Legault and his brand-new CAQ party did much better than early forecasts and were able to draw enough federalists away from Charest's Liberals to become the home of soft nationalists who wanted change. Not a bad effort given the 8 or 9 months since their creation.
3.Charest's key message came too late.  It was only late in the campaign that Jean Charest grabbed hold of a critical connection between the uncertainty of a threatened referendum and the economic impact of it. Pauline Marois, as a result, was allowed to sail through the debates largely untouched by some pretty hard questions that only got asked later.
4. The backwash of votes wasn't quite enough. The release of polls in the final days of the campaign showing a PQ victory was on its way triggered a pull back to the Liberals from the CAQ, but it clearly wasn't sufficient to stem the tide. It would have to have started earlier - as what happened in Alberta with the resurgent PCs under Alison Redford gaining as the Wildrose Alliance faded.
5. Quebecers embrace change - with limits. Quebecers trusted the PQ to give them change, but kept them on a short lease with a minority. They've seen radicalism in the streets, they have gone through referenda and uncertainty in the past. Now they are prepared to give change a chance. But change with limits.
6. Premier Charest took a gamble and lost. With a year left in his mandate, Jean Charest bet that a quick election was the only window he had to get an election over with before the Charbonneau Commission of Inquiry into the corruption issue takes off this fall. Like all gambles, your luck can run out. 
As always, Premier Charest was graceful and composed in his remarks. He took responsibility for the results and signalled that the party has a strong and enduring role to play. Although he has known loss before, he struck a gracious note and he managed to kept his emotions mostly in check, but combined it with the passion that he is known for. You've got to admire his tenacity and his personal skill sets as a political leader. He will be a hard person to replace in the political firmament in Quebec. 
The Democrats Have a Strong Convention Kick-off
The  Democrats opened up their convention with a clear theme ('Forward. Not Back.') and a strong string of speakers designed to carve out the differences between the Democrats and Republicans in stark terms. Governors Ted Strickland (ret. Ohio) and Deval Patrick (MA) pounded out their speeches strongly, with Patrick in particular galvanizing the Party's base. Gov. Martin O'Malley (MD) reached out to the 'greatest generation' and spoke to the middle class by reaching out to the values of previous generations and translating them to today's. No talks of compromise or bipartisanship. 
The first Latino keynote speaker, Mayor Julian Castro of San Antonio, presented a fresh face to the Convention in an effort to do what Barack Obama did at the 2004 DNC when he blew the doors off. Castro didn't reach those rhetorical heights, but he did well. He is positioned to reach the Hispanic vote in the election, but he gave his own career a big step forward with power, humor and lines like this: “My family’s story isn’t special. What’s special is the America that makes our story possible."
Michelle Obama Shines in the Spotlight
It was left to Michelle Obama to define the personal side of her husband and in so doing, she linked him to the voters that they need to reach - the middle class who are undecided. She did at least as well as Ann Romney. She was confident, poised and authentic in her delivery and her love for her husband. All without making it awkward or uncomfortable. She kept her focus on the message that "for Barrack the issues aren't political; they're personal." That had been essential to his victory in 2008 and she made a concerted effort to re-connect to that successful narrative to the voters.
What are the Polls Telling Us?

One of the best measures of how voters feel is illustrated in Poll Trackers' Talking Points Memo 'right track/wrong track' measure. The single biggest concern of the Democrats has to be that 63% of voters think the country is on the wrong track; while only 24% believe that it's on the right track. 
Keep a Close Eye on the Electoral College Numbers
As can be seen on the same page of the Poll Tracker is that President Obama holds a strong lead in the Electoral College projections of 273 to 191 for Romney (270 Electoral College votes needed to win). As we saw in the 2000 election, that is the name of the game. 
One cautionary note about polling numbers is that they don't reflect the lead in the electoral college.

It would be almost unprecedented for a sitting president to be re-elected given these numbers; however, it indicates the uncertainty voters are having over the alternative on offer. So, the Democrats in Charlotte need a bounce, and it will be built on differentiating their economic strategy - and their core values - from the Republicans. They need to come across as the voice of the middle class. That will mean managing a tight script also. 
So the stage is set for President Obama to knock it out of the park at the Bank of America Stadium on Thursday night. Unlike Mitt Romney he has a very high bar of expectations to meet in his oratorical skills. A powerful speech can create the bump he needs. 

The Republican Convention Results
It looks like Mitt Romney and the Republicans got a bump from their Convention - with Romney coming from 4 points back to tie with President Obama at 45% each. [Although Obama inched ahead a few days later by 1% as the bump appeared to be short-lived.]

As we discussed last week all Conventions are tightly scripted with a clear narrative running through it. For the Republicans, they followed a solid, safe strategy that pulled together the Republican voters with a sense of momentum. If the only unscripted 'edgy' element is an 82 year old actor's 'talk to the chair' performance, then you know the rest was completely 'on message'.  Hurricane Isaac distracted a huge amount of media attention and the cancellation of the planned first day of the Convention were clearly factors in neutralizing some of the potential for the Republicans. Luck always has a role to play in campaigns, and it looks like the GOP weren't exactly dealt the 'ace card'. However, they played the hand they were dealt and did a reasonable job at achieving their goals.
After this week, it will be the three Presidential debates that will be critical to victory. 

Until next time......

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