Yesterday, The Gazette's front page had a startling headline: "64 per cent of Quebecers are impressed," with the surprising object of this sentiment being Andre Boisclair.
It was surprising because most analysts, including this one, don't consider Boisclair's performance to have been dazzling since he became leader of the Parti Quebecois in late 2005.
Yet, SOM found 64 per cent of respondents rated Boisclair's performance as fairly good or really good. But the devil is in the details: Only six per cent find it to be very good.
Quite a respectable 48 per cent of voters say they have a lot, or a fair amount, of confidence in Boisclair as leader of the opposition, whereas 43.5 per cent feel the same way about him as a potential premier.
But here comes that devil again: only nine per cent of voters have a lot of confidence in Boisclair as a possible premier, with 34.5 per cent having a fair amount of it while a sizeable 48 per cent have little or no confidence.
For Boisclair, the up side is that voters' overall perception of him is more positive than the one expressed throughout the media. The down side is that the percentage of those who have a lot of confidence in him as opposition leader (10 per cent) or as a possible premier (nine per cent) is too low for the PQ leader to take anything for granted.
The poll also shows Jean Charest knows what he's doing when he demands that Boisclair come clean on the sovereignty issue. While most analysts believe Quebecers don't want to hear about a referendum anymore, the SOM poll shows 54.3 per cent of voters, including 60 per cent of those who vote PQ, want Boisclair to "announce a specific agenda for a referendum on sovereignty."
The fact a majority of voters wants a clear agenda on this issue goes against the conventional wisdom not only of the media, but of the PQ's leadership, which usually sees the R-word as a vote-costing ball-and-chain it prefers to ditch before an election.
For Boisclair, this means most Quebecers disagree when he rejects what he calls "open strategy" on the referendum.
Could it be most voters have had it with the classic, more ambiguous stance PQ leaders take on sovereignty in the months that lead up to an election - with the exception of Jacques Parizeau in 1994?
This poll shows most Quebecers, sovereignists or federalists, prefer a specific plan to the usual "just-trust-me" approach. Could it be that after years of seeing Lucien Bouchard claim he wouldn't make a move without "winning conditions," or hearing Bernard Landry say he wouldn't have a referendum without the "moral certainty" of winning it, voters want the PQ to ask for a clear mandate so they can make a more informed choice at election time?
For Boisclair, this is a warning his twofold strategy has a few holes in it. One part was to turn the table on Charest, saying that federalists are now the ones with the burden of proof regarding Quebec's national question.
The second part is his repeated statement what matters now isn't "how" sovereignty should happen - meaning if and when there's a referendum - but rather "why" Quebecers should aspire to it.
Mind you, it's a safe bet most Quebecers also expect Charest to be clearer about his own "how" issue: how he intends to strengthen Quebec's role within Canada should he be re-elected.
But the PQ leader is obviously wrong to think he can safely sail toward the next election distancing himself from his party's program on the referendum, or pretending any clear game plan is nothing more than a question of "details."
Most respondents in the SOM poll are telling the PQ leader if the "why" for sovereignty does matter, the "how" matters as well.
They're informing Boisclair he would be wise not to go into the next election without telling Quebecers what precisely they will be voting for.
Boisclair should put sovereignty front and centre
Poll shows Quebecers prefer specific plan, rather than 'just-trust-me' approach