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More Canadians favour keeping first-past-the-post than don’t, except in B.C.: poll

By Peter Mazereeuw      

Well-off, highly-educated voters lean towards electoral reform.

Democratic Institutions Minister Karina Gould, pictured earlier this year, announced Feb. 1 that the Liberal government wouldn't pursue its campaign promise to change the electoral system. The Hill Times photograph by Jake Wright
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More Canadians support the government’s decision not to change Canada’s voting system than oppose it, a new poll suggests.

Toronto-based Forum Research asked 1,340 Canadian voters across the country if they “support the federal government’s decision to keep Canadian voting procedures the same” between Feb. 24 and 26. A plurality, 45 per cent, said that they do, while 38 per cent said they do not, and 17 per cent said they weren’t sure.

Voters who want Canada’s electoral system changed are more likely to be well educated, highly paid, and support the smallest parties in the House, the results of the automated phone survey indicated.

They are also in the minority everywhere except in B.C.

The poll results were weighted to be representative of Canada’s population and are considered accurate within three per cent, 19 times out of 20 for the total sample size, while sub-samples are less accurate, according to the polling firm.

“The plurality of people surveyed favour keeping the current first-past-the-post system; still, almost four in ten disagree with the decision keep it, so it’s not an expansive margin,” Lorne Bozinoff, Forum Research president, was quoted as saying in the firm’s poll release. “It will be worth watching to see if the opposition can use electoral reform as a wedge issue to drive voters away from the Liberals.”

More respondents agreed with keeping the current system than disagreed in Ontario, Quebec, Atlantic Canada, and the Prairies, including Alberta, where support for keeping the current voting system was strongest, at 53 per cent (34 per cent said no, while 13 per cent said they didn’t know in that province.)

Next door in B.C., it was a different story. Just 37 per cent said they agreed with the decision not to change Canada’s electoral system, while 44 per cent said they did not agree, and 19 per cent said they didn’t know.

The Liberal government was elected on a promise to change Canada’s first-past-the-post electoral system before the next federal election in 2019. Under the current system, electoral districts are won by whoever gets the most votes. In a three-plus-party system, that means parties can, and do, win powerful majority governments with support from less than half of those who voted, leading some to criticize the system as unfair or unrepresentative of the public’s will.

The Liberals reversed themselves on that promise after rocketing from third-party status to a 184-seat majority government in 2015, winning 39.5 per cent of the vote. Prime Minister Justin Trudeau (Papineau, Que.) and his cabinet ministers defended the decision not to change the electoral system by saying that they believed there was no consensus among Canadians for a new system.

The Forum Research poll showed that Conservative and Liberal supporters were almost equally likely to support the government’s decision, with 53 and 54 per cent, respectively, saying they did, while 33 and 31 per cent said they did not, and 14 and 16 per cent said they didn’t know.

The opposite was true of Green, NDP, and Bloc Québécois supporters. Only about a quarter of those who preferred the Greens (24 per cent) and NDP (25 per cent) supported the government’s decision, while 40 per cent of Bloc supporters did, in each case fewer than those who opposed it. Supporters of other parties were also more likely to oppose the government’s decision (41 per cent) than support it (23 per cent).

More Canadians supported the government’s decision than did not in the 35-44, 45-54, 55-64, and above-65 age brackets, with support highest among the oldest bracket at 54 per cent in favour, 29 per cent against, and 16 per cent unsure.

Young voters aged 18-34, however, were more likely to oppose the government’s decision to keep the voting system the same. Thirty-six per cent agreed with the decision while 46 per cent did not, and 17 per cent were unsure.

Respondents earning between $80,000 and $100,000 per year were more likely to oppose the status quo (41 per cent) than support it (38 per cent). Those earning between $100,000 and $250,000 were evenly split at 44 per cent for and against, and those in the remaining income brackets were more likely to support the government’s decision. That support was strongest among those earning less than $20,000 per year, at 51 per cent, with 26 per cent opposed, and 23 per cent saying they didn’t know.

Voters who had completed college or university were more likely to oppose the government’s reversal (44 per cent) than support it (42 per cent), and opposition was stronger among those who had completed postgraduate studies, with 46 per cent against, 39 per cent for, and 14 per cent unsure.

Conversely, exactly half of voters with a high school education or less said they supported the government’s decision, while 22 per cent opposed it, and 27 per cent said they didn’t know. Fifty-one per cent of voters with some college or university supported the decision, while 32 per cent did not, and 17 per cent said they didn’t know.

peter@hilltimes.com

@PJMazereeuw

Support for keeping federal voting procedures the same, by current party preference

% Total Cons Libs NDP Green Bloc Other
Sample 1340 414 449 177 76 81 44
Yes 45 53 54 25 24 40 23
No 38 33 31 58 59 51 41
Don’t know 17 14 16 17 16 9 36

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