PSEPHOLOGY – THE ART OF STUDYING ELECTIONS – HAS COME TEN thousand leagues since R.B.McCallum applied the term in the 1940s to his pioneering analyses of British elections and political opinion in the first of the now classic Nuffield studies. Putting the electors under a magnifying glass has ranged from examining them by means of formal logic and sophisticated mathematical procedures, to anecdotal accounts of the process through which democracies choose their governments. In this article, I seek to situate a particular contest – the 1998 Quebec provincial election – into the general political landscape.
The result of the balloting was that the reigning sovereigntist Parti Québécois (PQ) was returned to power under a first-past-thepost system with a resounding majority of seats but with fewer votes than the opposition federalist Parti Liberal du Québec (PLQ). As if that paradox were not enough, polls demonstrated without a smidgen of doubt that although the voters returned a government committed to holding a referendum on the sovereignty of Quebec, a significant majority did not wish a referendum to be held within the foreseeable future. Majorities of both francophone and anglophone electors opposed a direct consultation on Quebec's status in the federation.