Footnote on BC-STV

Had a really nice breakfast with Taylor Gunn of Student Vote yesterday. For those who aren’t familiar with their work I strongly encourage you to take a look at their website. For me, they are a great reminder that citizenship is a learnt skill and responsibility – and they work as hard as anyone to foster it.

Looking over the Student Vote website I was struck by their results for the BC election. I wasn’t surprised by the NDP’s strong and the Green’s (relatively strong) showing as young people tend to lean left. Indeed, if anything I was surprised the Green’s didn’t do better given how much I thought the party was driven by youth. No what surprised me was the referendum outcome – specifically how poorly the BC-STV vote did among student “voters” particularly in comparison to last time.

Gunn was telling me that last time, student “voters” passed BC-STV whereas this time the referendum was defeated 55.59% vs. 44.41% with 64 districts opposed and only 17 in favour. This means even among some of the most idealistic “voters” in the province support dropped at least %15 and likely more (I don’t know the specific results for the last election). My sense is that there are again two reasons for this:

1) that reframing the question to a choice between two systems as opposed to a “yes” or “no” for change may have affected voters more dramatically then people thought. Do people want change? Frequently they say yes. But show them what the specifics of what that change will be and they are often less enthusiastic. I’ve always been struck by an exit poll I remember seeing after the 2001 election in which only 35% of voters who voted “yes” in the referendum actually knew what they were voting for.

2) the second is that I think more exposure to BC-STV – both positive and negative – had a culminative negative impact. BC-STV supporters beleived that the more people learnt about BC-STV the more they would like it. I think they exact opposite occured. The more they learnt, the more questions they had and the less the understood or liked the proposed system. I’m open to the possibility that all these student voters were exposed to a negative add campaign that shifted their opinions but it feels a little like a stretch.

4 thoughts on “Footnote on BC-STV

  1. CharlesGYF

    We get the electoral system we deserve.If people like first past the post then so be it. There are other (maybe more effective) ways to change society than voting.

  2. Rob Cottingham

    Just as an aside, what did you think of the messaging each side used in the referendum, David? I was particularly floored by the pro-STV response to the complexity argument (“You don't necessarily understand how a car's engine works, but you use it anyway”)… which struck me as being potentially taken as a don't-you-worry-your-pretty-head-about-it reply, and utterly deadly with younger voters.

  3. ahodgson

    I was very disappointed that the government turned down requests to send a copy of the Citizens' Assembly report to all hosueholds again this time around, which meant that most voters had no direct access to the recommendation on which they were voting. Had they received this information and argument for reform, I believe that they would have been more favourably inclined.I agree that the change in phrasing of the question may well have played a role – I understand that Dr. Fred Cutler (Political Science, UBC) is trying to run a study to investigate this issue and I look forward to seeing his results.Re: why young people supported STV less strongly this time – I suspect that since relatively few of them had actually undertaken a study of this issue, their views largely reflect the opinions of their parents (with some evidence of increased support for STV – 44% in favour vs 39% for the population at large). I believe that the reasons for this decreased support amongst young people are therefore strongly related to why support dropped amongst their parents. Evidence so far (based on an Ipsos-Reid poll and some preliminary polling I've heard about from political scientists) is that NDP and Green supporters voted for STV in roughly the same proportions that they did in 2005, but that support amongst Liberal supporters plummeted from nearly 50% to about 22%. I interpret this as evidence that a largely partisan concern that one's preferred party might lose its majority position under STV was one of the main factors driving this outcome.Based on my interactions with many voters, I believe that most of them did not have the opportunity to engage in a respectful and honest deliberation about the strengths and weaknesses of the proposed system. At best, they heard an adversarial debate between proponents and opponents which tended to involve selective arguments and presentation of evidence designed to persuade listeners of their respective points of view. To me, the most remarkable thing about the Citizens' Assembly process was the fact that the 160 participants achieved near-unanimity about their recommendation. I think the adversarial public communications approach chosen by the government made it virtually impossible for a balanced and thoughtful public discussion to occur here.

  4. Michael Molson

    perhaps young people like to 1) know their representatives, 2) enjoy working in a left of centre economy that is thriving, and, at the end of the day 3) have no time for the greens or NDP who couldn't manage their way out of a paper bag. The greens in this province are particularly pathetic. I was visited in restaurants and on street corners by my… Read More local liberal representatives several times before the election. They were excellent educated representatives. One was a family doctor running for the liberal party. She was particularly interested in family health issues. She was committed, intelligent and green. I don't even know who my green rep was in my riding – bad form – i guess the greens will always be a second rate, one issue party full of hippies and underemployed academics.PS for parties that are full of young pple, the NDP and the NDP and the greens are equally incompetent – who texted, twittered, and facebooked of the fuck out of the election? – the liberals.

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