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Angus Reid poll shows majority support for proportional outcome

Today’s Angus Reid poll shows that three in five voters (61%) prefer the election results that would have been produced if their ballots had counted proportionally.

Supporters of a proportional outcome were a majority in every province. Predictably, Liberal voters were less enchanted with this particular hypothetical outcome than others, considering first-past-the-post delivered their party a 45-50 seat bonus compared to the popular vote. Support was particularly high among Conservative (78%) and NDP (80%) voters.

Angus Reid’s 2021 poll question differed from previous polling questions. It showed voters a hypothetical outcome―seat numbers―under a strictly proportional representation system in this election based on pre-election polling. 

Generally, polls ask Canadians how much they support the core principles of PR―that the seats in Parliament should more closely match the popular vote or that every vote should count. 

An Angus Reid poll after the election in 2019 (69%) and a Leger poll in September 2020 (76%) showed strong majority support for PR across all provinces and across party lines.

Taken together, these polls reinforce the findings of numerous others conducted over the last 20 years showing strong support in Canada for proportional representation.

“This poll shows that Canadians are comfortable with less popular views getting fair representation. Our modelling, which is done using systems that have actually been recommended for Canada, should reassure them even further,” says Anita Nickerson, Executive Director of Fair Vote Canada.

Two caveats are important to mention when looking at these results:

1) People will vote differently under a system where they know their vote will really count toward the makeup of Parliament

2) No model of proportional representation that is recommended or realistic for Canada is perfectly proportional. Angus Reid showed voters a simulation with 21 People’s Party of Canada MPs, while Fair Vote Canada’s simulations show 6 or 8 PPC MPs.

Two of the systems most commonly recommended for Canada have been used: Mixed Member Proportional (MMP) and Single Transferable Vote (PR-STV).

To accommodate our geography and maintain strong local representation, they tend to be designed to deliver moderately proportional results.

Research also shows that voters are less likely to vote for far-right parties in proportional systems compared to those with winner-take-all systems like ours.

See below simulations produced by expert Byron Weber Becker, who did modelling work for the federal Electoral Reform Committee. 

Given partisan interests which hinder progress and fuel distrust, what is the most viable path to improving our voting system? In September 2020, Leger found that 80% of Canadians support a National Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform.

A citizens’ assembly is a trustworthy, non-partisan, independent process. Members of a citizens’ assembly are selected in much the same way a jury is selected, with added steps taken to ensure that they are truly representative of all Canadians. They would examine the evidence and make a recommendation that is in the interests of all voters and democracy in the long term.

In the last Parliament, the Procedure and House Affairs Committee―including the Liberal members―voted to study a National Citizens’ Assembly on Electoral Reform. This work needs to begin immediately.


Single Transferable Vote (PR-STV)

With Single Transferable Vote, several local ridings are merged and voters collectively elect several MPs using a ranked ballot (allowing them to mark candidates 1, 2, 3 etc. in order of preference). STV is a great example of how a ranked ballot and proportional representation can work together.

If moderately proportional STV had been used in the 2021 election, the results would have been more proportional:

Note that the seat results for most parties are much closer to proportional than Canada’s current system, but not a perfect match. 

For those noticing only one seat for the Green Party (compared to 2 they just won with first-past-the-post), it’s important to note that the Greens just had their worst election in decades.

There were no Green candidates on the ballot in one quarter of the ridings in Canada, so those votes weren’t there to factor into a simulation. Greens received only 2.3% of the national vote―about one third of their share in 2019. A simulation cannot capture an outlier like Mike Morrice’s win in Kitchener Centre.

When their support bounces back to more traditional levels, we are confident that Greens would win substantially more seats under STV than first-past-the-post, as they do with STV in Ireland, Tasmania and Australian Capital Territory.

Mixed Member Proportional (MMP)

With Mixed Member Proportional, voters elect both a local MP in a larger riding using first-past-the-post and one or more MPs that serve the entire region. The regional MPs, selected by voters from an open list, compensate for the distortions of the first-past-the post results and ensure that the overall seat totals for each party more closely reflect their share of the popular vote.

If a moderately proportional MMP system had been used in the 2021 election, the results would have been:

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