News / Vancouver

Canadians open but ambivalent to electoral reform: poll

More than half of respondents said electoral reform would cause voter confusion

A woman walks past a voting location in Vancouver.

Emily Jackson/Metro File

A woman walks past a voting location in Vancouver.

For an electoral reform explainer, see bottom of story

Canadians are open to the idea of electoral reform but in no rush to see actual change in the way they cast their votes, according to a new Angus Reid Institute poll.

About 72 per cent of respondents said they believe an electoral system that better reflects popular support would increase voter turnout but only 37 per cent said they are in support of actually changing the system. 

“There is some openness, some acknowledgement of the potential benefits of changing but that doesn’t exactly equal a wholesale national call for electoral reform,” explained Shachi Kurl, executive director of the Angus Reid Institute.

That hesitancy may have something to do with how complicated electoral reform can be, she added.

The poll showed a handful of different voting systems to participants, including first-past-the-post (FPTP), mixed-member proportional (MMP), single transferrable vote (STV), open-list proportional (LPR), and rural-urban proportional (RUPR).

In fact, more than half of respondents (58 per cent) said a different electoral system would lead to voter confusion.

“You’ve got folks who are a little bit ambivalent. How often do you think about voting? How often do you think about voting systems? These are relatively abstract issues. It’s not necessary top of mind,” said Kurl.

This lack of enthusiasm for change is a common trope revealed in polls.

“We as people, as a society, are not that comfortable with change,” she said.

“This is change, if it came, would have to come slowly and gently and with a lot of voter education.”

Quebec was the only province where more respondents supported electoral reform than opposed it. B.C. came in second, with respondents coming back split on the issue (42 per cent against and 40 per cent for).  

Those results show more willingness for change among those who may feel ignored, said Kurl.

“When you have a geographical area where people have a sense that their voice is not being heard by the centre […] you can see that in the results.”

B.C. held referendums in 2005 and 2009 on changing the electoral system to STV. Both failed.

Voting systems 101

First-past-the-post (FPTP): The current system, where the candidate with the most votes in each riding wins. The party that wins the most ridings forms the government.

Mixed-member proportional (MMP): People cast two votes – one for their riding and another for the whole region, where people can vote for either a specific candidate or a political party. Seats are split into local and regional seats.  

Single transferrable vote (STV): Parties can run more than one candidate in each riding and voters rank their candidates in order of preference. Seats are filled according to a formula based on the rankings.

Open-list proportional (LPR): Similar to STV but people can only cast one vote

Rural-urban proportional (RUPR): Parties run more than one candidate for urban ridings and only one for rural ridings. Voters rank their candidates in order of preference.

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