Poll finds support for PM Trudeau’s preferred electoral system—if it means winner elected with majority support

Posted on in Governance Debates

HillTimes.com – News/Electoral Reform – More than half of respondents to the Forum Research survey also said they supported online voting and mandatory voting.
Aug. 10, 2016.   By TIM NAUMETZ

A new public opinion poll indicates the ranked-ballot electoral system Prime Minister Justin Trudeau favours to replace Canada’s so-called first-past-the-post system of electing federal governments has the approval of only a third of Canadians—until they are told that under the system “the winning party is always elected with the support of the majority.”

The unusual Forum Research survey polled respondents on their support for electoral systems before and after giving an example of the ramifications of switching to each system. The poll showed that the majority of voting-age Canadians support the ranked-ballot system, but only once that additional information has been provided, as well as the proportional representation electoral system both before and after being given the additional information.

Support for proportional representation remained above 50 per cent before and after respondents were told that that system often results in coalition governments.

Canada’s current system of electing governments, where majorities are most often formed with less than 50 per cent of the popular vote across the country, won approval from only 42 per cent of respondents and even less, only 30 per cent, when the respondents were told the system means “winning parties often govern without the support of the majority.”

Fifty-two per cent of respondents expressed approval of proportional representation when the survey question stated that many parties are represented, often producing coalition governments. When the system was described without that caveat, it had support from 54 per cent of respondents.

The ranked-ballot system, where voters mark down support for their first, second, and subsequent party candidate choices and those choices are combined until a majority is reached by one of the parties, initially received approval from only 35 per cent of respondents.

But when Forum explained in a separate question that the ranked-ballot system means the winning party is always elected with the support of a majority of voters, 56 per cent of the survey respondents overall approved of the system, but with only 49 per cent of Conservative respondents approving.

Forum Research president Lorne Bozinoff said the shift in support to a ranked-ballot system over proportional representation occurs “when respondents are presented with the reality of small parties and coalition governments” under proportional representation.

Majority support mandatory voting
The Forum Research survey of 1,345 electors on Aug. 6 gives a glimpse into the views of voting-age Canadians on the main options for a new national voting system, as the government and a special House of Commons committee gather opinions and evidence about the type of electoral system Canadians want. Results based on the total sample are considered accurate plus or minus three per cent, 19 times out of 20.

The Commons committee began hearing witnesses on July 6 with testimony from Democratic Institutions Minister Maryam Monsef (Peterborough-Kawartha, Ont.), and Chief Electoral Officer Marc Mayrand, former chief electoral officer Jean-Pierre Kingsley, and other witnesses testified later in the month.

The government has imposed a deadline of Dec. 1 for the committee to report its findings and recommendations to the House of Commons, while all 338 MPs, who have been asked to sound out constituents, have until Oct. 14 to provide the committee with summaries of what they heard.

The 12-member committee, chaired by veteran Montreal Liberal MP Francis Scarpaleggia (Lac-Saint-Louis, Que.), is comprised of five Liberal MPs, including Mr. Scarpaleggia, three official opposition Conservative MPs, two NDP MPs and—following pressure on the government to include smaller parties in the spirit of electoral reform—Bloc Québécois MP Luc Theriault (Montcalm, Que.) and Green Party Leader Elizabeth May (Saanich-Gulf Islands, B.C.).

The Forum Research survey also found 55 per cent approval for compulsory voting, another aspect of the electoral system the special committee is studying under the government motion that established the inquiry. Online voting was approved by a thin majority, 51 per cent.

The option of mandatory voting, enforced in Australia and more than 20 other countries around the world, found approval in all regions of the country and among supporters of all political parties.

Just over half of Conservative supporters, 51 per cent, approved of mandatory voting, while the idea found approval among 56 per cent of those who specified the Liberal party as their current federal vote preference, 60 per cent of New Democrat supporters, 50 per cent of Green supporters and 78 per cent of Bloc Québécois voters.

NDP MP Nathan Cullen (Skeena-Bulkley Valley, B.C.), one of his party’s two members on the committee, noted the Forum survey results showed what has been found in earlier polls about proportional representation—that it has widespread public support when electors understand that the system results in Commons representation for smaller parties and their supporters.

He said although the ranked-ballot system results in winners with majority support, it does not widen representation on a proportional basis.

“It’s a majority of votes, some of them are second choice, some of them are third,” Mr. Cullen said in response to the poll results.

“It works fine either in municipal elections or in countries where they have two parties. At the municipal level you rarely have parties, you have individuals, typically, with a few exceptions,” Mr. Cullen said in an interview.

Mr. Trudeau, as early as the 2013 Liberal leadership race, has personally rejected proportional representation in favour of a ranked-ballot system.

Ms. Monsef told the committee, however that the government is open to seeing the results of the committee work, as well as views the government and all MPs are gathering.

The Forum survey confirms what the NDP says it has believed for decades—that with the evidence in, Canadians would like proportional representation, said Mr. Cullen.

“When you explain to Canadians the results of these things, we feel confident that [from] what we’ve heard so far, we’re on pretty solid ground with our policy,” he said.

Ms. May did not provide comments in response to the survey after a request through her office.

The Conservative party in a fundraising email last week described a “Liberal plot” to impose a new electoral system without a referendum, and Mr. Cullen noted that Ms. Monsef did not respond directly when she was asked at the committee hearing on July 6 whether she would support the committee’s recommendations in Mr. Trudeau’s cabinet.

“I am looking forward to reading the report and making an informed decision once I’ve received it,” Ms. Monsef said in response to a question from Ms. May.

“As eager as we are for this work to arrive at a conclusion, I think it’s important to allow this process to unfold,” Ms. Monsef told the committee.

Mr. Cullen said he feels the response indicated a “certain lack of faith.”

“She wouldn’t agree to be held to what the committee and what all the MPs are doing,” he said.

“The committee’s job is take everything that comes from the different MPs and their town halls all over the country, all the experts, our own cross-country tour, and then make a recommendation, and she said she wouldn’t be bound to that,” Mr. Cullen said.

Tim Naumetz is a staff news reporter for The Hill Times. He can be reached at tnaumetz@hilltimes.com. Follow him on Twitter at @tnaumetz.

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One Response to “Poll finds support for PM Trudeau’s preferred electoral system—if it means winner elected with majority support”

  1. Jane says:

    This is a lie. No one I know in the west approves of PR form of election, it is EU construct, and it is proven the minority govt.s it produces are ineffective, cause division and only crease size of govt. I only say this in the most way, that if there is not a referendum the west will consider separating as we do not feel our voice will have any weight what so ever,. As it is now our representation sucks, I feel if any changes occur, that each province should have equal representation in passage of referendums, constitutional changes and international policy, as Provinces are equally affected by policy.

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