Poll: Dead heat in referendum on proportional representation

VANCOUVER — With just days left to get a ballot in the mail for B.C.’s electoral referendum, a Research Co. poll shows a dead heat between those supporting and those opposed to proportional representation.

The deadline to have Elections B.C. receive ballots is Nov. 30. The two campaigns are urging voters to mail a ballot no later than this week to allow time for delivery. Voters also have an option to fill out or drop off completed ballots at referendum centres throughout B.C.; those centres have weekday, day-time hours only.

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The latest poll results, released by Research Co. Tuesday, show that younger voters, 18 to 34, are more likely to be in favour of pro-rep. A majority of voters older than 55 want to stick with the existing first-past-the-post system.

The results show an even split: 40 per cent definitely or probably in favour of first-past-the-post and 40 per cent definitely or probably in favour of pro-rep. Among the 800 people surveyed from Nov. 14 to Nov. 16, 15 per cent were undecided, including 20 per cent of women.

“We are feeling the urgency of the impending deadline,” said Maria Dobrinskaya, a leader for the Yes campaign. “We’re focused on getting out the vote — phoning, texting and carrying out activity on campuses. We are encouraged, but we know it’s going to be close.”

Bill Tieleman, a leader for the No side, said their strategy is to have new advertising on radio and TV in the remaining days of voting. “We feel confident that voters will look at this and stick with the system they know,” Tieleman said.

In the third such referendum in B.C. in 18 years, British Columbians are being asked to rank three pro-rep choices that use different methods to have the popular vote reflected in how seats are allocated in the legislature.

Under first-past-the-post, each seat is decided by a winner-take-all vote, often resulting in majority governments where the number of seats won is far greater than the proportion of votes.

Research Co. president Mario Canseco said the poll result that caught his attention was of those in favour of sticking with first-past-the-post, the biggest reason was that they were confused by the options on the ballot.

Canseco said it makes it harder for the Yes side to sell an argument that proportional representation is a fairer system when people are confused about the options. “That’s a problem,” he said.

The margin of error — which measures sample variability — was given by the pollster as plus or minus 3.5 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.

Bryan Breguet, a Langara College economics instructor, has used statistical analysis of the time it has taken ballots to be returned to forecast that total returns are likely to be in the 30 per cent range, barring a late surge.

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