The reality is usually far different. Many people will tell pollsters that they intend to watch the debate, and decide who to vote for accordingly, but don't; they tell pollsters that because they don't want to sound like indifferent ignoramuses.
They say so in the same way that they pledge every New Year's to lose weight and spend more time with their families; they know they should, they know they won't, but they think they'd look bad if they said otherwise.
Televised debates generally confirm people in their previous intentions; even a supposed knock-out blow, like the one that Brian Mulroney felled John Turner with in 1984, merely let voters ratify what they'd already decided.
So let us not despair or rejoice too much over poll results that announce the winner.
Let us, instead, look at Paul Martin's last desperate plea to Gilles Duceppe not to take away his country:
Mr. Duceppe, let me say to you that the Supreme Court, the Constitution of Canada and international law all make it very, very clear that you cannot have a unilateral declaration of independence. Let me say also that I am a Quebecer, and you are not going to take my country away from me with some trick, with some ambiguous question. You are not going to do an "astuce'' as Jacques Parizeau said. This is my country and my children were born and raised in Quebec, and you're not going to go to them and say that you're going to find some backdoor way of taking my country or dividing Quebec family against Quebec family. We do have an opportunity, and Quebecers understand this, to build a country which is without parallel, and if you take a look at the way that Canada is measuring up in terms of our economy, in terms of the strength of our social programs, in terms of our independent foreign policy, I believe that we do appeal to the deep attachment, the deep love of this country that Quebecers have and you're not going to win, Mr. Duceppe. Let me tell you that.
The media will no doubt declare Martin the winner based on this passionate declaration of patriotism and almost Churchillian defiance in the face of evil.
It is, however, further evidence of the arrogance beneath his bluster.
Who is he to think that he can order Gilles Duceppe not to take away his country, as though it were his peculiar possession, and as though Duceppe were the premier of Quebec in charge of the next referendum?
Where is this deep love of and attachment to Canada that supposedly exists in Quebec?
For that matter, when will the other three party leaders stop pretending that Quebecois have any real emotional attachment to Canada?
Stephen Harper was especially disappointing in this regard. Granted, he has to play to the Ontario voters who still believe that Quebec really wants to stay in Canada for love, not money. But he too told a couple of pandering whoppers:
The rise and support of the Bloc is not due to real support for sovereignty. It's a reaction to the corruption of the Liberal party and the damage it's done to the face of federalism in Quebec.
Adscam seriously damaged the Liberal reputation in Quebec, but if these voters were looking for a federalist alternative, they'd have gone to the Conservatives and NDP, not to the Bloc en masse. They're going to the Bloc in full knowledge of its separatist agenda, even those who are casting protesting votes.
Let me just say this; the only way Quebec is ever going to separate from Canada is if we create a federal government that is so tarnished in their eyes, so corrupt, so disrespectful of their jurisdictions that we drive them that way.....If federalism has a clean image, an honest image and respects Quebec's powers and jurisdictions we will never have to worry about Quebecers. They will always choose Canada.
Respect for provincial jurisdiction and clean government will not win the affections of a people who want to be maitres chez eux . No one ever loved a country because of its efficiency and integrity alone.
Quebec nationalism is not a malevolent force, but it is one that does not share any attachment to Canada beyond its perceived financial advantages.
Only fear of economic decline has kept Quebecois from voting for secession; promises of sovereignty-association and economic union have been counterproductive, because they provide the illusion of independence while keeping Quebec economically dependent on Canada. The separatist movement's timidity in this regard is not unlike that of federalist politicians in Canada when asked to consider taking a hard line on Quebec's demands.
If Quebecois were asked whether they would secede if they could be guaranteed the same or better standard of living, without an economic union , I suspect that they would say yes.