A majority of Quebecers and more than 80 per cent of Parti Quebecois voters say they have a positive impression of Andre Boisclair's performance since he took over the leadership of the PQ nearly a year ago, a new public opinion poll shows.
But despite Boisclair's line that he does not have to spell out a specific agenda for sovereignty in an election campaign leading to a potential referendum, most Quebecers and most PQ members say he should. There is also a hard core of voters in the population - 21 per cent - who say they would have zero confidence in the 40-year-old as premier.
The findings in the new poll, done exclusively for The Gazette by SOM polling firm, should boost the new leader's shaken confidence after the rough ride he got last week.
The survey results indicate that despite his rocky start last week as leader of the official opposition in the National Assembly, where he tangled with a more fleet-footed Premier Jean Charest, Boisclair's efforts since taking over the PQ from Bernard Landry in November 2005 have paid off among voters and his own troops.
Forty-eight per cent of Quebecers say they have either a lot or a fair amount of confidence in Boisclair as leader of the opposition, compared with 41 per cent who say they have little or no confidence in him in that role. Among PQ voters alone, 70 per cent say they have either a lot or a fair amount of confidence in him as leader of the opposition.
Asked how confident they would be in Boisclair as premier, 43.5 per cent of Quebecers surveyed said they would have a lot or a fair amount of confidence in him, compared with 48 per cent who said they would have little or no confidence at all. Among respondents who said they vote PQ, the confidence level rose to 69.5 per cent.
But it is in terms of his performance as leader since taking over the party where Boisclair shines in public opinion, inside and outside the party.
Sixty-four per cent of respondents rated his performance as very good or fairly good.
And an impressive 81.5 per cent of people who said they intend to vote PQ rated his performance as very good or fairly good.
"At 82 per cent, Bernard Landry would have stayed," SOM pollster Guy Larocque said yesterday in reference to Landry's decision to quit in June 2005 after bagging only 76.2 per cent in a confidence vote. Boisclair won the party leadership in November 2005.
"For those who thought (Boisclair) was fragile in his own party, look again: Inside the PQ, he's in a comfortable position."
SOM's poll was the first to include specific questions on Boisclair's leadership since he assumed the job.
Boisclair finally arrived in the National Assembly last week after winning a near-uncontested by-election in Pointe aux Trembles. He had been taunted for months by Charest about his refusal to enter the legislature.
But the poll shows things are not entirely rosy for Boisclair - especially in terms of his new position that it's not necessary for the PQ to spell out its sovereignist agenda during an election campaign that could theoretically bring the party to power and the province into another referendum.
Boisclair has said that the PQ is not only about sovereignty and that the burden of proof in terms of whether federalism is the best option for the province should be on the federalists' shoulders, not his.
But asked if Boisclair should announce a specific agenda for a referendum on sovereignty, 54.3 per cent of respondents said yes, compared with 31.7 who said no. Among people who say they will vote PQ, 60 per cent said yes and 31.7 per cent said no. Among Liberal voters, 51 per cent said yes and 39 per cent said no.
"Everyone wants him to talk about it except him," Larocque said. "That could be a problem."
And Boisclair is barely holding his own on the question of which sovereignist leader voters say is the most capable of leading the province to sovereignty through a referendum.
Boisclair's score was 23.8 per cent, compared with 23.3 per cent for another high-profile separatist leader, Bloc Quebecois leader Gilles Duceppe.
Larocque said Boisclair should take heed of another important number: While confidence in him as premier is more or less split, there is a core of 21 per cent of voters who express zero confidence in him as premier.
"Extreme positions are always the hardest to move," Larocque said. "It will take a lot of work."
The poll surveyed 1,002 Quebecers from Oct. 10 to Oct. 22. It is considered accurate to within 4.3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Strong Showing, but Not All Rosy for Boisclair
Impression of Boisclair's performance since his election to the leadership of the Parti Quebecois
Very good: 6 %
Fairly good: 58 %
Fairly poor: 18 %
Very poor: 6 %
Confidence in Andre Boisclair as leader of the opposition
A lot of confidence: 10 %
A fair amount of confidence: 38 %
Little confidence: 26 %
No confidence at all: 15 %
Confidence in Andre Boisclair as premier
A lot of confidence: 9 %
Fair amount of confidence: 34.5 %
Little confidence: 27 %
No confidence at all: 21 %
During a potential election campaign in Quebec, should Andre Boisclair announce a specific agenda for a referendum on sovereignty?
Yes: 54 %
No: 35 %
Which of the following would be most capable of leading Quebec to sovereignty through a potential referendum?
Andre Boisclair: 23.8 %
Gilles Duceppe: 23.3 %
Bernard Landry: 17.4 %
Pauline Marois: 13.3 %
None of the above: 13 %
Methodology: This poll surveyed 1,002 Quebecers from Oct. 10 to Oct. 22. It is considered accurate to within 4.3 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.
Where percentages do not add to 100, a percentage of respondents were undecided or did not give an answer.
SOURCE: SOM polling company
How Boisclair Fared
Percentage who rate Boisclair's performance as "very good" or "fairly good"
51%: Liberal voters
81.5%: PQ voters
64% of Quebecers are impressed
Andre Boisclair's efforts since taking over the PQ have paid off among the province's voters - and his own troops