Polls and Electoral Reform

There’s a new Insights West poll out today and it shows that Canadians are divided on the topic of proportional representation. It asked people whether they support a switch at the federal level to Party-List Proportional Representation (41% in favour, 34% opposed) or Single-Transferable Vote (37% in favour, 37% opposed).

Here’s a few reasons why this shouldn’t discourage electoral reform advocates:

1) The poll doesn’t include Mixed-Member proportional. Considering that this is the form of proportional representation that the NDP are currently promising to implement and the same type that has been recommended by the 2004 Law Commission Report, it seems to be a major omission.

2) Question wording is important for the answers that are received. The descriptions that were provided to respondents were very brief and didn’t emphasize the primary difference between first past the post and proportional systems, namely that the outcomes reflect the popular vote.

3) British Columbians had the highest levels of support for STV. There were two referenda on STV at the provincial level in British Columbia, whereas STV has received little publicity in other provinces. This suggests that exposure to the idea or familiarity with the system might be party of the reason for higher support here.

4) The description of STV provided to respondents is insufficiently clear and could be read as a description of preferential ballot systems, which are not proportional, instead. The main difference being that each riding under STV has multiple MPs while each riding under preferential ballot still only has one MP.

5) Less than half of Green Party supporters are found to support electoral reform. This is a bit surprising since proportional representation would probably provide the Greens with the largest benefit.

6)  However, a 2013 Environics poll showed that over 70% of respondents would support proportional representation. In this poll, they were asked simply about the main principle of proportional representation (see Point 2). Only 6% of respondents in this poll stated that their support for proportional representation depended on the particular system (such as STV or MMP), suggesting that the breakdown into particular systems may not be particularly helpful at this stage of the electoral reform process.

All of this suggests that there is a continued need for education and outreach since it’s entirely possible people who had not considered the question before opted for the status quo due to the fact that the short descriptions provided likely don’t provide enough information to make an informed choice. While it’s unlikely that 100% of voters will ever agree that proportional representation would benefit Canadian democracy, there seem to be good reasons to believe that electoral reform may still carry the day.

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