OTTAWA (Reuters) - Separatists in the Canadian province of Quebec have strengthened their lead in public support and would most likely win a minority government if a provincial election were held today, a poll showed on Wednesday.
The CROP/La Presse poll put the separatist Parti Quebecois at 35 percent support and the Liberal Party of Quebec -- currently in power, and dedicated to keeping Quebec in Canada -- at 31 percent, each up one point from a poll taken two months earlier.
The gains were made at the expense of the right-leaning Action democratique du Quebec, which opposes holding a referendum on separation from Canada. Its support fell to 24 percent from 26 percent.
If the Parti Quebecois won only a minority of seats in the French-speaking province's legislature in the next election, it would need the support of an opposition party to launch a referendum on separation.
There have been two previous referendums on separation. One, in 1980, failed by 20 percentage points. The latest, in 1995, lost by only one point.
For the federal Parliament, support in Quebec for the separatist Bloc Quebecois shot up to 36 percent from 31 percent, while the Conservatives of Prime Minister Stephen Harper fell by four points to 27 percent. The federal Liberals were up two points in the province to 20 percent and the left-leaning New Democrats down two points to 13 percent.
The poll covered 1,000 people from January 17-27. Such a sample should give the same result -- within 3 points 19 times out of 20 -- as if the same questions were asked of the entire Quebec population. The last poll taken November 22 to December 2.
Reporting by Randall Palmer; Editing by Peter Galloway