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OTTAWA (Reuters) - A separatist party seeking independence for Quebec is losing support due to an internal power struggle, and now trails the ruling Liberals, according to a poll published on Monday.
The Parti Quebecois pulled well ahead of the Liberals in May 2010 and, until three months ago, looked set to win the next provincial election, due by late 2013.
In early June, however, several legislators resigned in protest at the policies of leader Pauline Marois, sparking chaos inside the party and sending its popular support lower.
A Leger Marketing Internet survey for the Journal de Montreal newspaper put the Liberals at 34 percent support compared with just 24 percent for the Parti Quebecois.
It also showed only 32 percent of Quebecers backed the idea of separating from Canada, down from the usual level of around 40 percent.
The Leger poll echoes a Crop survey released in late June, which showed support for the Liberals at 35 percent, with the PQ 29 percent.
The separatist cause suffered a severe blow in Canada's national election on May 2 when the Bloc Quebecois -- the PQ's sister party on the federal scene -- was reduced to just four seats in the House of Commons from 47.
The Parti Quebecois is committed to achieving independence for Quebec but to do so it would first have to regain power and then hold a referendum on splitting away from Canada. Its two previous referendums, in 1980 and 1995, both failed.
Marois has declined to say when a PQ government would launch another referendum, prompting criticism from hard-liners that she is not serious enough about independence.
Frustration with the endless debate over Quebec's future prompted former Parti Quebecois minister Francois Legault to announce in February that he was creating a movement called the Coalition for the Future of Quebec.
Legault has yet to formally set up a party but the Leger poll suggests that if he did, it would win 31 percent of the vote in the next election compared with 27 percent for the Liberals and just 16 percent for the Parti Quebecois.
The Leger poll of 1,003 adults was conducted between Aug 17 and 20. The firm said the survey was accurate to within 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Reporting by David Ljunggren; editing by Rob Wilson