08/17/2012 01:25 EDT | Updated 10/17/2012 05:12 EDT

The Nanos Number: Is a vote for the PQ a vote for separation?

Nik Nanos digs beneath the numbers with CBC News Network's Power & Politics host Evan Solomon to get at the political, economic and social forces that shape our lives.

This week: The Quebec Election. Is a vote for the Parti Quebecois still a vote for separation?

A new survey by Angus Reid reveals that a PQ victory doesn't necessary mean that Quebecers want to separate. Sixty-seven per cent of the respondents in Quebec said a PQ victory means the province just wants a different government, while 20 per cent said a PQ victory means Quebecers want a sovereign state.

Nationwide, 45 per cent of respondents said a PQ victory means that Quebec just wants a different government, compared to 29 per cent who believe a PQ victory means Quebec wants a sovereign state.

Angus Reid Public Opinion conducted the online survey among 1,505 randomly selected Canadian adults who are Angus Reid Forum panelists. It was done between Aug. 13 to 14, 2012.

The PQ is currently leading in the polls and Nanos says it's because they have not been talking about separation.

"They're not talking tough about a referendum and a separate Quebec state. It's kind of lulling voters into a sense of security and trying to make the election a referendum on the Jean Charest government," he told Solomon on Power & Politics.

Nanos says tough talk on sovereignty makes a large group of Quebecers nervous, and staying away from the controversial topic has been key to the PQ's rise in the polls so far.

Race and ethnicity on the campaign trail

The current campaign is different from past ones in other areas, Nanos says, pointing to racial controversies that have arisen in recent days.

This week the mayor of Saguenay, Jean Tremblay, was in hot water for mocking the name of PQ candidate Djemila Benhabib, who is originally from Algeria. He says Benhabib has no business telling Quebeckers what to do, referring to her personal disagreement with her party's proposed "secular charter."

PQ Leader Pauline Marois is suggesting civil servants be banned from wearing anything overtly religious, such as hijabs, but would keep the crucifix hanging in Quebec's National Assembly, a suggestion Benhabib took issue with.

It's not just the PQ. CAQ Leader Francois Legault was in trouble for comparing Quebec students to Asians, suggesting young Quebecers are more interested in living the good life and could learn a lesson from Asian students.

Nanos says these incidents could change the polls dramatically.

"Watch the polls because I think they're going to turn probably in favour of the Liberals because of these very controversial comments," Nanos said.

"In Alberta we saw a couple off-handed comments by the Wildrose derail their chances to win. Watch these comments and watch the polls move in the province of Quebec," Nanos said.

Recognized as one of Canada's top research experts, Nik Nanos provides numbers-driven counsel to senior executives and major organizations. He leads the analyst team at Nanos, is a Fellow of the Marketing Research and Intelligence Association and a Research Associate Professor with SUNY (Buffalo).