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STV question still baffles most voters

The Globe and Mail, May 13

Vancouver — British Columbia voters continue to head blindly into a binding referendum next week that would drastically change the way the province elects its legislature.

According to a Globe and Mail-CTV poll released yesterday, 82 per cent of those surveyed admitted they know little or nothing at all about the proposed single transferable vote system they will be asked to approve on Tuesday, when they vote in the provincial election.

That is down slightly from the 89 per cent of the 1,000 voters who professed relative ignorance about the system when surveyed on the question at the beginning of the current election campaign.

Those who said they knew "a lot" about the proposed system went up from 10 per cent to 17 per cent.

The poll was conducted this week by the Strategic Counsel.

Under the new system, candidates would be elected in large, multimember ridings, more on the basis of proportional representation than the traditional first-past-the-post system.

Instead of casting a ballot for just one candidate, voters would rank them according to their preference: first, second, third, and so on.

The system's tabulation is designed to lead to voters' second, third and even fourth choices determining who is elected.

Despite voters' unfamiliarity with the new system, the percentage of those in favour of it has taken a significant leap, the new poll says.

Asked whether they intend to vote for the proposed change, 36 per cent said yes, a nine-point increase from the previous poll.

The number against also rose, from 15 per cent to 21 per cent, while 31 per cent said they are undecided.

If the same percentages prevail on election day, the single transferable vote system would be automatically installed for the 2009 election, since it must be approved by a 60-per-cent majority.

Support for the new voting system was virtually even across the province, ranging from 36 per cent in the Greater Vancouver Regional District and the Fraser Valley/Okanagan to 34 per cent on Vancouver Island.

The area most strongly opposed was also the Fraser Valley/Okanagan, a concentration of generally conservative voters, where 29 per cent of those questioned said they were against the proposed change.

Voter awareness has suffered because of a lack of funds on both sides in the debate and the difficulty of explaining such a complex, unfamiliar system.

The province's citizens assembly recommended the switch, saying the move would lead to less polarization and more consensus, and election results more reflective of the popular vote.

Its detractors, who include political foes such as former NDP premier Dave Barrett and former Social Credit premier Bill Bennett, argue that the system is too flawed to work properly and may entrench party politics even more than the first-past-the-post system.

Based on the sample size, the Strategic poll has a margin of error, plus or minus 3.1, 19 times out of 20.

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Referendum

Note: A poll of more than 800 B.C. residents

DK/NA/Ref: Don't know, No answer, Refused to answer

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Is B.C. knowledgeable about the single transfer vote?

April 13-16May 9-11
A lot10%17%
A little42%47%
Not at all47%35%
DK/NA/Ref.1%1%

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Is there support for the single transfer vote?

April 13-16May 9-11
For proposed changes27%36%
Against proposed changes15%21%
Undecided45%31%
Will note vote5%4%
DK/NA/Ref.8%9%

SOURCE: THE STRATEGIC COUNSEL

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