New Mainstreet poll confirms the BC referendum on electoral reform to be a 50-50 race

New Mainstreet poll confirms the BC referendum on electoral reform to be a 50-50 race
Just a few days after I published my own poll (conducted using Google Survey) on the referendum on electoral reform in BC, we now have a new Mainstreet poll. And it's showing exactly the same results!

Before talking about this poll, how remarkable is that? A $200 poll conducted using Google Survey can do just as good of a job as a full fledged, regular poll! You might not be excited about it but the political nerd/statistical geek in me is super excited. This is potentially revolutionary. Polling cost have already come down a lot in the last decade thanks to IVR and online sample, but Google Survey is just dirt cheap.

So, anyway, the new Mainstreet poll puts the "keeping the current system" at 50.5% among decided voter while "proportional representation" would receive 49.5%.

My own poll had 50.25% for keeping the current system (Note: yes when I published on Tuesday, "switching to PR" was slightly ahead -at 50.1%- but that's because I wanted to publish even though I still needed around 20 observations to be collected. Google Survey is great but it's crazy slow for the last few observations. It took almost a day and a half to collect these last 20 observations. When it was done, "keeping the current system" was back on top. It's irrelevant ultimately, with margins of error this was and is a 50-50 race).

The debate tonight between Horgan (NDP Premier of BC and pro-PR) and the Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson (deeply against PR, as is most of the BC Liberals) will be interesting and incredibly important. Proportional representation was ahead in every poll done before this referendum. So Horgan and his partner, Green leader Andrew Weaver, are currently losing this campaign it seems.

Turnout so far has been... abysmal! Only 1.4% of registered voters have returned their mail-in ballot. Of course not everybody got their ballots at the same time and the postal strike doesn't help. Still, I wouldn't be surprised if the overall turnout, at the end, doesn't go above 30%.

It'll ultimately come down to turnout and undecided. Unfortunately Mainstreet doesn't indicate how many people are undecided. I'll ask them. [ Update: I asked and they didn't offer an undecided option at all; This goes a little bit against what I had seen before where the question without undecided would be more pro-PR than the question with the option]. The poll also confirms what my own poll was showing: people under 35 are the biggest supporters of proportional representation.

The Mainstreet poll also confirms what is common sense: if we switch to PR, Multi-Member proportional is the preferred system. Maybe surprisingly, the never used before Dual member proportional is third while the weird urban-rural proportional is second. I would have expected the opposite.

Exclusive poll: The referendum on electoral reform in BC is a toss-up

Full disclosure: I voted to switch to proportional representation. I have never hidden the fact I was pro-PR even if adopting PR pretty much puts me out of a job since projections wouldn't be as important anymore. Just because I have an opinion on this topic doesn't mean I can't be impartial when doing an analysis.

According to a poll conducted exclusively for this blog by Google Survey, British Colombians are almost perfectly divided on the electoral reform referendum. An important share of the population is however undecided and could ultimately make the difference.

Even though we are in the middle of the referendum period (many people, including myself, have already returned their mail-in ballot) and the debate between the NDP-Premier John Horgan and  Liberal leader Andrew Wilkinson is this Thursday, we've had almost no poll. The only one is from over a month ago! So I decided to spend some of that Google ads money my site generated during the Quebec election and to order a poll from Google Survey (I guess Google is winning at the end). I had already tried for the Ontario election with good results (especially in hindsight since most polls underestimated the PC and overestimated the NDP, although my poll was done a little bit far from the election date, so I might have been lucky). I also ordered a "fun" poll asking people what they thought of Maxime Bernier's infamous tweet. Google Survey has also been used in the US with great success for electoral polling.

Google Survey uses the usual Google database (usually used for marketing purposes) to create a representative sample of the Canadian population. They are fairly cheap (20 cents per answer as long as you only ask one question; It increases to $1 and more if you want multiple questions). This poll was done from October 31st to November 6th (so right after the peak in interest for this referendum, thus when people would likely start voting; They have until the end of the month to do so). The sample size is 1200 respondents, although the final number of observations is just over 800 because many respondents didn't have an age and/or gender and were therefore dropped (given a weight of zero). The specific question I asked was "There is currently a referendum on electoral reform in BC. You have or will receive your voting package in the mail. Which following option do you intend to vote for?". I only asked this one question and didn't try to replicate the format of the referendum where a second question exists (you have to choose between 3 potential proportional systems). I did it for monetary reasons and because, quite frankly, the main question is whether BC will switch or not. No actual margins of error since the poll is online but a probabilistic sample of that size would have margins of 3.4% 19 times out of 20.

Here are the results.


First observation: it's close! So, so close. Among decided voters, it's essentially a 50-50 race. And it has been like that all along the period during which the data was collected. "Keeping the current system" was actually ahead for the most part until the last 50 observations. This referendum doesn't have a qualified majority threshold, so 50%+1 would be enough.

Notice however the very high number of people who are undecided. I wish I had the budget to ask them a leaning question but I didn't. I'm not surprised by the high number though. Electoral reform can be seen as a complex issue, or one that doesn't matter. It also seems that online polls, and Google Surveys in particular, have a higher share of undecided. It's interesting to see more people being undecided on this topic than regarding Bernier's tweet!

Let's compare these numbers to the Angus-Reid poll of September. At that time, 33% were undecided, 31% in favour of keeping the current system and 33% wanted to switch. This meant that among decided voters, it was 52-48. My poll numbers match pretty well (not withstanding the higher number of undecided). Can we take it as evidence of a negative trend against proportional representation? Not really since once you apply the margins of error, both polls pretty much match.

With that said, we had seen a trend over the last year according to Angus-Reid. I mentioned it in my post about that poll. It's not clear if Horgan and Weaver are currently losing their referendum or if it's more a question of allowing a "not sure/Don't know" option in the poll. It is possible that pro-PR people are simply less sure of their choices than anti-PR ones. So the 40%+ of undecided in this poll might actually break slightly in favour of switching (note: I expect most of them not to vote at all). The Tyee wrote about comparing different polls with different methodologies already.

Still, I think it's fair to say that this referendum could be very close and I'm not sure the YES campaign is winning so far. Fear mongering arguments (proportional representation will literally allow a nazi party to have seats!...) and others, more valid arguments (the systems offered are half defined, in particular MMP where they haven't even chosen what kind of lists we'd use!) can easily convince some voters against taking the risk to switch. If Horgan is serious in his desire to adopt proportional representation, he'll need to give a convincing performance on Thursday. I'd suggest to maybe emphasize more on the fact that we'd vote again after 2 elections to confirm we want to keep PR. Also, I maintain my position that this referendum would be an easier sell if we could all agree that only MMP is a viable option (Dual member proportional is a system never applied anywhere, invented by a student in mathematics in Alberta and is, ultimately, just a modified version of MMP with more complex features such as vote transfers and forfeited seats; Urban-Rural proportional is too complicated -it mixes STV and MMP- and I can't see it winning). Doing so could clarify the choice for people. Just my 5 cents of course.

Ok, let's look at more numbers since, after all, I paid for this poll and I'm going to milk it. First, by age:



It seems to be Millennials vs Baby boomers (and older Gen X). The general trend isn't surprising but the extend of the difference between age groups might be bigger than expected. Millennials and later Gen X really, really support proportional representation while older Gen X and Baby Boomers, really don't.

The 18-24 is a little bit surprising and might be due to an overall small sample size (or way too many undecided, see below).

Finally, if I look at the age profile of the undecided, I find that they are younger than the population in general. For instance, over 25% of the undecided are between 18-24 while they only represent 20% of the total sample. On the other hand, only 5% of the undecided are aged 65 and over (versus over 8% of the sample coming from this age group).

Here is the percentage of undecided by age.


The fact the undecided are mostly in the age groups that are otherwise favourable to proportional representation is potentially good news for John Horgan and Andrew Weaver. But it also means they need to make sure to convince them to vote ultimately. Turnout will likely be very low (Prince Edward Island got 36% during a similar mail-in referendum last year but this province is used to turnouts much higher than in BC). So every vote could be very important. Now let's wait and see if the debate this Thursday will change this referendum.

It'd also be interesting to reweigh the data based on the age distribution of BC voters as opposed to the census. But that will be for another day for me.

If you'd like to have access to the raw polling data, email me your request along with the reason 9and who you are!).